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Premium Incentive Products Magazine - Products and Ideas That Inspire Performance

Power Up Your Program

Make Your Incentive Program More Memorable

The most effective and lasting incentive programs are designed to achieve attainable organizational objectives in a manner that is impactful, memorable and relevant to participants.

The first thing that companies need to be aware of in the planning and program design stage, said Mike Ryan, senior vice president of client strategies for Madison Performance of New York City, is the expectation of participants. We live in a world that is highly personalized. Whenever people go on their phones or go on their computers or interact with one entity or another, the information is rarely broad-based. So, when you are putting together an incentive, it is important that you personalize the goals as much as possible.

Many organizations practice "SMART" objective setting, Ryan continued, "which I think is important—where SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. But I also think that in focusing on those goals, companies would be wise to make sure that they don't overlook the what, the why and the where of objectives: What is it exactly you are asking the participant to do? Why is what you are asking important to the organization and to the participant's success right now? How can my manager and my organization be involved on a macro level, and where do those goals need to be addressed? Are there specific clients that we are targeting? Are there specific marketplaces or products? The more personalized, the more nuanced goals can be, the more effective they are going to be."

Eric Thiegs, chief revenue officer, National Gift Card, Crystal Lake, Ill., agrees. An incentive program, he said, "will garner the biggest impact when the reward resonates with the person receiving it. You see this happening all over the consumer marketplace right now—bespoke services and products tailored specifically to the individual. The same goes for receiving a reward or incentive."

To get the behavior you want from the end user, Thiegs added, the carrot, or incentive, needs to motivate that person. "Universal rewards, like a Visa prepaid card, which were once considered the easiest and most impactful incentive option in the market, are now being challenged by creative offerings from other incentive options such as niche gift cards that speak to the end user's passions—for example, a Blue Apron gift card for the home cook enthusiast, or an exclusive travel getaway for a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Impact begins when you turn someone's head—when the reward speaks to a participant's interests, hobbies or aspirational needs, Thiegs contends. Cultivate an incentive offering that starts to address this, and sprinkle in some surprise and delight touch points through incentives that are low in cost but high in perceived value, and your rewards program will be more impactful than you can imagine. "This is the part of my job I love the most," he said. "Consulting with incentive program buyers and managers on how to get the biggest impact out of their programs for their audience."

The most effective and lasting incentive programs are designed to achieve attainable organizational objectives in a manner that is impactful, memorable and relevant to participants.

Consider your audience. Organizations have top performers, average performers, and people who are struggling. It is important that, at a minimum, you think of your goals as objectives that are relevant to each one of those groups. This would more effectively move the needle throughout your entire organization.

Sure, today it's more about considering your audience, which blends into your participant experience, agreed Mike Donnelly, president, Hinda Incentives, Chicago. Especially with the prevalence and use of e-mail, and the ability to go one-on-one with program participants, he said, you want to try to get a more personal touch. When you look at most reward catalogs, it is no longer one-size-fits-all, although you do see a few programs like that. The fact that you can personalize programs plays into how you make your reward have impact.

"Mike is right on target with personalization," explained Hinda Incentives Marketing Director Ric Neeley. "We now have the ability to really customize programs and personalize rewards. But the other thing that I tend to see that makes a real impact with incentives is looping in and engaging managers, and having them recognizing people before their peers. Look at some of the demographic profiles that have been researched recently, especially studies of millennials and gen Zs. They want to be recognized for their efforts. So, if you are engaging their managers and showing managers how to more fully engage their people by recognizing them in front of their peers, you can make a bigger impact across the entire organization. It doesn't make any difference whether it is a sales incentive program, if it is an employee engagement program, or a wellness program. You want to recognize those people in front of others, and say exactly what they did to be recognized. That makes a huge impact with a program."

Think about life stage awards. Try to align the reward opportunities with the different life stages that people are in, so that they are getting a memorable award they are going to use regularly. The idea is to connect the reward right back to your program consistently.

Other Keys to Success

To achieve significant program impact, then, you need to ask, are the awards being offered of interest and appealing to the participants? Ira Ozer, president, Engagement Partners and Innovation Meetings, Chappaqua, N.Y., said, "Do the awards fit their demographics and personal interests? Do they have enough value to make them worth the effort? Are they selected around a theme? Do participants have the ability to make a choice? The more personally appealing, the greater the impact will be and the more useful that awards are over time, the more memorable they will be. Group incentive travel is generally the most memorable type of incentive award, but expensive and time-consuming, so limited in the number of participants who can win."

If achievement in the program and the awards provide "trophy" value, which can be shared with peers and family, "this provides powerful psychological validation of success through social recognition," Ozer said. "This has great impact and is memorable."

Leaderboards can have positive reinforcement impact for competitive programs such as sales incentives, but can provide negative reinforcement for team-based employee programs such as peer recognition.

Other keys to success, Ozer contends, are:

  • Communications: An impactful communications strategy must be developed, with a campaign approach that starts way before the incentive program and then runs through and beyond it. The campaign tactics should include multimedia elements, including a program website, personalized e-mail blasts, print pieces and themed promotional items as "teasers."
  • Measurement: Progress reports that show how the participant is doing toward success should be sent to participants using personalized e-mails in addition to the program website.
  • Training: Ensuring that participants have the knowledge and skills to achieve the results, by providing an integrated training program, with at least basic content with quizzes, is highly impactful and memorable in terms of the skills that will be learned and used on an ongoing basis.
  • Coaching: "Coaching is often overlooked. Providing coaching and recognition training, along with progress reports to managers, so that they can best coach and recognize their participants to achieve program success, is highly impactful and memorable and it improves trust, collaboration and ultimately culture."

The Power of the Brand

"When we advise our customers on how to run incentive programs," said Scott Kooken, president, Links Unlimited, Cincinnati, Ohio, "ease of engagement is key. You'd be amazed how many times people run these types of programs, whether it is a safety program, recognition of years of service program, or a true loyalty incentive program, and they pick the right award products, but the process of how to get the gift is not well thought out. It is amazing how a lot of companies do everything right except the way a customer can order the gift (product)."

To achieve significant program impact, then, you need to ask, are the awards being offered of interest and appealing to the participants?

Kooken believes strongly in the power of the brand. "We first want to start with the experience. The next thing we look at is brands. We believe in the impact of a brand. We believe in market leaders, brands that are very well thought of in the retail space. We think that is the type of gift that should be used in an incentive program. Think about it: If you are giving away a knockoff S'well water bottle versus the S'well Water bottle, the award tells you what you think about the audience with whom you are trying to engage. There are many gifts out there that don't cost that much, but we try to teach our distributors the power of the brand. We understand the importance of the experience of receiving an award. When done correctly, it reinforces a customer's emotional connection with the company. The reward delivery experience must show appreciation for their patronage and help reinforce the brand promise."

Pick the product where you get the most bang for your buck, where people are very appreciative, Kooken said. Remember that in these incentive programs you are building loyalty or you are influencing decisions. You want to make sure the product is used and delivered in the right manner.

Make an Impact

Donnelly has been in the incentive business for a long time, he said, and "one of the big things that hurt incentive programs in the past is that they cut communications out. Now, things have changed. There are so many fun ways to deliver a message. For a sales incentive to our own people, we used a cartooning approach, using really simple videos that were fun and engaging and created a participant experience that engaged people.

"We are now looking at doing programs that include text messaging as part of the communications campaign," Neeley said. "What different types of messaging and communication are we going to do based on the technology the participants are using? What we do know is that we have found a very consistent approach, where when we are sending out communications, the more graphic they are, the more likely they are to be read."

The best incentive programs stand out by doing the following three things, Thiegs said:

  • Offer a relevant reward/incentive catalog that's curated to the program's unique user base.
  • Offer a variety of redemption means—for example, digital, mobile and physical. Many people still want to hold their reward, to feel it or give it to someone they love, which means offering a physical, tangible incentive is instrumental. But others, especially gen Z and gen Y/millennials, require their reward to be delivered in real time. If your program is multi-generational, to make it stand out, you'll need to offer a variety of redemption delivery options.
  • And finally, ensure that the reward is delivered fast and accurately.
  • "For instance, one of our responsibilities at NGC is to make sure the right gift card gets to the right person in the quickest amount of time possible with 22nd century level security. These things are important to the world's largest agencies, FI programs, healthcare rewards companies, and employee incentive providers. You need to have a reliable, trustworthy service and source for your incentives, as that fulfillment and redemption engine is the core of what gets the right reward into your participant's hands or mobile wallet."

    Fulfillment is critical. You want to make sure that fulfillment experience mirrors what you would consider now as the expectation, Kooken added. "As a company, we want to make sure that the product is boxed properly, the box itself looks good, it ships within 24 hours and it is at the recipient's address looking good and that the entire experience is pleasant."

    Call it the Amazon effect. "People expect an order to be at their house in two days," Kooken said, "so there is no way you can run a reward program where the recipient does not have that expectation. You have to ensure that you are set up properly to succeed. You can have the best products, the best website, you can have great turnout and engagement and then the product shows up in six weeks and you've failed."

    Hinda initiated a 2018 study based on the different types of packaging that people receive, and the result was informative. "You can make a reward special just by sending it out, we found, in a white box with a thank you tape on it," said Neeley. "That gets to be a hugely memorable award and the recipient starts looking at your company differently because you sent the gift to them in that way.

    "We found that if you sent the reward in a regular brown box with regular tape that makes it look like anything else, people really couldn't tell the difference from something they might have ordered from Amazon," he added. "So it doesn't seem to have as high a value on it, but packaging it in a white box, it becomes not just an award, but a gift. A big difference in their perception simply based on the outside packaging. And we're not talking about a huge expense either."

    Delivering an award in a special box or packaging that includes a thank you card from an executive makes the experience memorable. A follow-up call from customer service to verify delivery and their satisfaction with their award helps remind the customer why they like doing business with a company that cares while promoting their continued support.

    It always comes back to the issue of what people expect, explained Ryan—programs should respond to or appeal to the way people go about their work. They need to be available 24/7. They need to be available on whatever device a person is using. It is not uncommon in some organizations for people to be using multiple devices.

    "Many organizations," Ryan said, "practice a bring-your-own-device-to-work philosophy, where one person can be using an Apple, another person has a Samsung, so it is important that the program be not only available to an individual participant, but it renders and appears the way it is supposed to render and appear effectively, no matter what device you are using."

    "It is important that the program is built in what we call responsive design—how a program can stand out increasingly to a participant," Ryan explained.

    "Sales people are getting younger and younger," he said, "and when you look at what appeals to younger workers, they want to be involved in companies that have 'cool technology.' It is important that your sales and incentive program reflects this. That it looks cool, it acts cool, it personalizes all the goals and objectives that the company is setting. And it is very accessible to people 24/7. Gen Z is used to being hard-working, focused and they want cool technology. They are used to it. They grew up that way and when it is not that way it raises an eyebrow."

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