One Size Does Not Fit All
Experts Talk Individualization Strategies for Incentives
Businesses use incentives to motivate employees and help attract and retain customers. Even more important is that those incentives often work best when they are suited to individuals, rather than the masses.
In fact, some research shows the importance of and push toward more individualization. In the Incentive Research Foundation's (IRF) 2017 trends study, it stated the emerging "next level" of experience: individualized experiences and the importance of emotion. The study indicated, for example, that "One of the primary ways to tap emotion is through experiences." Also, "The push toward individual experiences has continued to grow on a number of fronts, especially individual travel experiences and merchandise experiences."
Achieving Individualization in Rewards
Finding incentives that suit an individual's needs involves delivering the power of choice through a wide variety of carefully chosen premium reward options.
"Incentive programs must include a diverse mix of product rewards that appeal to an equally diverse audience," said Allyson Krichman, senior director of product sales for Rymax, Pine Brook, N.J. "Everyone's personal preferences are different. Some are based on want and some are based on need … and most times they mirror retail trends."
A successful program offers top brands with a strong retail presence to satisfy all of those varying demands. "So, understand your audience's preferences and offer them an assortment of in-demands products that matter most to them," Krichman said.
Similarly, Rick Buer, CEO of GC Incentives, Omaha, Neb., said that to accomplish personalization and individualization with incentive rewards, you have to offer choice.
"One item does not fit all tastes, lifestyles and income levels in an organization," he said.
One of the reasons gift cards are so popular is that a gift card to a restaurant or popular store gives the recipient access to the dining experience or item choices within that store or online catalog that inspire them.
"GC Incentives clients give their recipients a GC GiftPass, which includes a personal message or digital animation, photos or videos and lets the recipient choose from over 200 merchant gift cards and really find what speaks to them," Buer said.
Eric Thiegs, president, National Gift Card, Crystal Lake, Ill., said, "Reaching individuals requires the ability to offer a unique selection of gift cards in both format and category that relates best to the person's usage preferences and stage of life or shopping interest."
For instance, he said, a millennial woman who is about to have a baby might prefer a digital gift card as her incentive reward that she can redeem online immediately at a brand such as Kohl's or Buy Buy Baby.
"This is uniquely different than a gen X male who is a new homeowner and may want his reward sent as a physical gift card to redeem at The Home Depot," he said.
What's more, "Programs that can tailor both the delivery option of the gift card incentive (digital or physical) with a brand that fits the unique stage of life or preference of the individual," he added, "will find much more engagement and excitement from the users in their program as the relevance of the reward translates directly to the uniqueness of the individual at this point in their lives."
Incentives always are a matter of personal choice as such selection across all significant reward categories is key to ensuring that your programs are designed to meet the needs of a broad audience, according to Rob Purdy, founder and CEO of Carlton One Engagement (formerly Carlton Group), based in Toronto, Canada.
"Within our programs we include a broad selection of merchandise, retail gift cards and media including digital music, movies, magazines as well as mobile top up," Purdy said. "In addition, we provide a very robust global travel engine with over 400,000 hotels, car rentals, experiences, cruises, airlines as well as hundreds of thousands of highly discounted weekly resort getaways."
Within his company's Rewards 3.0 whitepaper, he explained that identifying that reward selection is no different to any e-commerce relationship, meaning that his company's reward galleries need to use similar e-commerce technical features, such as deals of the day, on-sale featured rewards, related purchase suggestions, items for $50 or less, as well as quick searches that enable members to get to their desired rewards faster.
"Today's UX [user experience] makes searching for that special reward very easy, and let's face it, if our reward selection doesn't match the competitive realities of other e-commerce sites, then your members will redeem for a gift card every time," he said.
"At Global Reward Solutions, our UX is designed to enable our reward merchandisers to merchandise all reward categories in a way that makes it more compelling for our members to redeem for rewards across all categories. Merchandise remains one of our largest redemption categories while online travel and digital media continue to grow in importance with all of our clients and their members," he said.
To boot, "merchandise rewards are seeing a real renaissance within our overall reward mix, which we know is due to the fact that we have expanded our listings to include over 2,000 brands with deeper selection across all of the major brands and categories that really sell," he said.
For example, Purdy's company now offers more than 20,000 fashion products and 25,000 outdoor sports products, including Cabela's branded merchandise. "Since their launch just 18 months ago, these two categories have exploded in terms of overall order volume, which reinforces our position that as we expand our merchandise selection our members are now shopping and buying more merchandise than ever," Purdy said.
And, selection is the key to increasing overall merchandise volume, and this is true for other reward categories, including travel, media and experiential products. "If we cannot secure the hotel you need with a matching flight, then we cannot truly service the reward needs of our members," he said.
How to Motivate People
The best way to motivate and reward people as individuals is to make the reward relevant with that person's life, Thiegs said. "This requires understanding the demographic of your program's audience, too," he said.
"For instance, if you have a high percentage of members in your rewards program between the ages of 20 and 30 that live in metropolitan areas, adding the Uber gift card to your program would be ideal," he said. "When programs understand the different end user segments, it's easy and fun to tailor an award catalog that offers up the most relevant and exciting options to incentivize and motivate behavior."
Meanwhile, Purdy said that he's not sure that the role of business is to simply please people. Instead, great businesses work to provide the very best work environment as well as a culture of appreciation, which in turn creates a more highly engaged workforce.
"Rewarding within this type of culture becomes much broader than simply monetary rewards, it really begins with defining workplace goals along with regular measurement at an individual, team, department and company-wide level so that management can measure the level of engagement and overall program success," Purdy said.
Companies with higher engagement scores don't get there by chance. "They have worked to create an engaged workplace which is always a top-down commitment. In the end rewarding employees will include added time off, child care support or even on-site child care services which is growing very quickly as a major work perk," he said. "Added time off to help care for aging parents, on-site subsidized lunches, health care and fitness centers are just a few of work perks being used to both recruit and retain employees and these are often built into corporate engagement programs as well."
Today, companies are taking a much broader view of how they motivate and engage their workforce, and this isn't at the expense of formal incentive and recognition programs.
"In fact, we are seeing a rapid evolution of 'engagement technology' becoming the hub that delivers all of these services," Purdy said. "At Carlton One we see recognition technology as the cornerstone to engagement across all employees, sales teams and end customers because each of these stakeholders needs to be fully engaged.
"Today's technology is designed to engage and reward all stakeholders and doing this well will produce significant competitive advantages for companies that look to design a fully integrated,
company-wide engagement program. One central solution, uniquely tailored to each stakeholder group, is the future for Engagement technology."
Krichman suggested that companies "Be conscious of what's important to today's consumer, and make sure your program offers a way to reward, recognize and engage in ways that are long-lasting. Using merchandise for programs is a key component as people will incorporate them into their daily lives.
"They'll always remember it was your organization that gave them the TV they watched when A-Rod got his 3,000th hit, and they'll think of your company every time they wear their power necklace to a board meeting or to give an important presentation," Krichman said.
What's more, keep things new and exciting to keep people engaged. For example, interactive events can be a great way to connect with employees and customers and keep them motivated.
"They can select rewards in-person, in a unique setting, which not only excites them, but also gives them a feeling of exclusivity," she said.
"This shows people that they are appreciated and further drives their loyalty to your organization. Plus, people love to provide feedback. Listen to the needs and opinions of those that are engaged in the program," she said. "For ongoing programs, we ask for feedback during and after the redemption experience so that we can incorporate products from the audience's wish lists into the next event. This not only helps us to constantly keep programs fresh and effective, but it also leaves the audience feeling valued and understood."
In addition, Buer suggested getting to know them and encouraging your leaders to know their team members so they can make rewards relevant.
"It also helps to know how people prefer to be recognized. So much recognition right now is digital with online systems and while there's nothing wrong with that, delivering points for rewards in a digital system can take the meaning and personalization out of the recognition," he said.
Buer recommended looking for ways to incorporate the addition of a personal message to the digital delivery, such as a video or photo or something to make them laugh.
"Also, you can add social sharing of the reward experience so their peers and others can share in their recognition," he added. "And offering relevant choices in rewards shows them you have thought about the demographics of your team/recipients and are working to find meaningful reward experiences that matter to all of them, and not just an elite few."
Why Does Individualization Matter?
Individualization is important because people want to feel appreciated and acknowledged.
"People need to feel that they are a valued part of the team," Buer said. "Individuals come to work and perform for your company, and those individuals want to be recognized for accomplishments in a way that is meaningful to them.
"If a reward or incentive is attractive enough and given out under the right circumstances, it can change behavior. In our industry there is often too much focus on systems to administer programs and not on the people," he said. "GC believes in keeping your solutions simple, communicating clearly and keeping your budgets focused on the rewards for your people not complex systems."
Buer also suggested finding some ways to send personal and meaningful communication to employees for their achievements, for example, and give them a choice of rewards that have value to them.
The fact is, "We are all individuals," Purdy said. "We express who we are in so many ways including how we dress, what we eat, how we socialize, our beliefs, education and even our hairstyles all define, at least, in part, who we are. When it comes to rewards, we have seen a massive shift to more personal rewards being selected by our members, including fashion and outdoor sports because these categories represent the very things we love to do."
Making a statement through fashion is a very emotional purchase, he noted, saying that his company has members who work very hard to earn enough points to redeem for that special brand of handbag; and some have even redeemed for more than five different bags.
"They can do this because of the amazing on-sale fashion offers that we merchandise by brand each and every week within our rewards gallery," Purdy said.
For the outdoor enthusiasts, that special brand of fly fishing, such as a Winston fly rod, is a very personal reward choice and one that they will use for many years. "As a passionate fly fisherman, I can assure you the right fly rod speaks volumes to fellow fishing enthusiasts and in exactly the same way that a Gucci handbag does," he said. "We all associate the traits of who we are within the brands that we shop for and in the end you can only meet the individual needs of any shopper by carrying a broad selection of the things they would love to redeem for."
This is what has made Amazon so successful, he said. "Amazon has created this expectation that you can get it here and within the rewards industry we can no longer ignore how we merchandise rewards within our programs," he said. "Curation simply limits selection and this is often a means to drive the consumer to a core reward offer such as a gift or prepaid debit card, but is that motivational or even memorable?"
And, when it comes to personal shopping, it all begins with the category and the brand that you're most passionate about. "Within electronics, Apple is the most sought after brand in the world, but for many program participants they cannot afford to redeem for an Apple product. However, by offering online point top-up features and even instant financing, members can instantly purchase a much broader array of rewards including Apple," Purdy said. "Connecting financing options to a real-time monthly payment feature also opens up amazing opportunities for companies that may want to reward behaviors such as individual fitness results as part of their health and wellness programs."
An Apple watch can track your results instantly, enabling employers to measure and reward your success.
"Measurement is the key and connecting Apple this way creates a very powerful reward offer," he said, adding that in the end, "selection is king and the easier we make the online shopping experience for our members the more they will embrace it."
He stressed that successful online programs must ensure that every step of the ordering process is "absolutely perfect."
"This starts with the initial reward search and related UX, to confirming an order, to instantly communicating the delivery details to the member, along with proactive service-level support, collectively determines the success of your online rewards solution," Purdy explained.
"In short, the best sites deliver a promise that anything is possible here. After all, we are delivering a true reward experience and making members' dreams come true is what we are here to deliver to all of our members. Where anything is possible; isn't that what motivates us?" he added.
Thiegs also noted that it's human nature to respond to things that interest you most. "We're not all attracted to the same type of person. We're all not interested in the same type of foods. That's how life works," he said.
"We are all unique, with our own tastes, aspirations and desires. These deep-seated preferences are what drive us to act, love, and engage in the world around us. I coach clients to think the same for their incentive and rewards program. Offer choice," he said. "Give end users a colorful menu of rewards that pertain to various life stages, demographics, and ages, and you'll find that those programs far exceed the relevance and ability to evolve with their members over time for the greatest engagement, retention, and advocacy."
In the same way, Krichman said "Everyone has specific wants and needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not make an impact.
"To fully engage your audience, to fully show them that they are valued and strengthen your relationship," she added, "you have to understand what motivates them personally and deliver exactly that."