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Feature Story

June 2018

IRF Study Looks at Corporate Program Owners of Incentive Programs

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The Incentive Research Foundation released "Voice of the Market, Part 1: The Use of Non-Cash Rewards & Recognition," a qualitative study of incentive program owners and end users. Based on a series of extensive interviews conducted by the IRF, the study details the elements of a successful incentive program according to the professionals who manage their company's reward programs.

"The great news is that end users are strong believers in the merits of non-cash rewards, and just as important, they report this positive sentiment is broadly shared among their executive teams," said Melissa Van Dyke, IRF president. "We gathered so much insightful information from this series of interviews with end users, and 'Voice of the Market' summarizes these 50 case studies in one comprehensive report."

The IRF research team interviewed 50 end users representing a wide range of non-cash rewards programs. These end users spent anywhere from $25,000 to millions of dollars annually on programs that included one or more of the following types of rewards: travel, award points, merchandise, gift cards and branded items. There was a broad range of program complexity, industry awareness, vendor resilience, and experience managing incentives.

"Voice of the Market, Part 1: The Use of Non-Cash Rewards & Recognition" reports that owners and managers of non-cash reward and recognition programs are strong advocates for the work they do. They speak confidently and absolutely about what their organization needs, what is meaningful to their participants and the overall impact of their programs. Additional insights from incentive program owners include:

  • Investments in non-cash rewards are seen as complementary to cash-based rewards, and often serve a completely different purpose.
  • Non-cash rewards are viewed as 'vehicles of celebration'—fun, memorable and more easily discussed than cash.
  • Incentive spending is often decentralized across office branches of facilities, with little coordination, sharing of best practices or corporate guidelines. Gift cards can be easily targeted to specific audiences. Restaurant cards are popular for employees with families, while grocery and gas cards are powerful rewards for a minimum wage workforce.
  • Incentive travel is highly appreciated by employees, their families and executives for the attention and energy generated from offering the reward.
  • Program owners report their biggest challenge is keeping programs fresh and energized year over year.

The study was supported by IRF Research Advocacy Partner, MCI USA. Part 2 of the study, "Voice of the Market, Part 2: Engaging Program Owners in the Incentives Marketplace," will be released in July 2018. For more information, visit