Market Leaders Address Challenges to Corporate Gifts, Rewards & Recognition
What are the biggest challenges facing the corporate gifts, rewards and recognition market now, and how will those challenges change over time? These questions and other issues were addressed in a recent meeting of industry thought leaders, under the banner of Special Markets Dialogues. During the meeting, 31 invited attendees representing brand merchandise manufacturers, national marketing companies, performance improvement companies, association professionals, gift card providers, promotional products distributors and suppliers and manufacturers' representatives talked about the current state of the corporate gift, recognition, rewards, incentive and motivation marketplace.
Discussion topics were mostly generated by attendees before the gathering took place, and focused on key trends, challenges and issues affecting the market:
- Current government regulations, such as the newly imposed tariffs on imported products, California's Prop 65 requirements and the Supreme Court's recent ruling on Internet sales and use taxes.
- Revelations about the advancement of technology and the impact of artificial intelligence on speed to market, creating more powerful client databases and emerging digital platforms.
- The growing number of digital platforms for administering rewards programs by HR professionals, which allow employees to manage rewards and recognition.
- The concept of "frictionless awards" created by retail point-of-sale terminals, beacon technology, mobile wallets and even instant financing to drive higher-end merchandise.
- The focus on health and wellness as the fastest-growing reward category, driven in part by wearable technology.
- The growth of experiential and event rewards, which are often preferred by younger employees over cash or other non-cash rewards.
- Recent acquisitions and mergers in the broad incentive and promotional market, and the interest of private equity companies in acquiring employee engagement firms and other industry players.
- Several challenges experienced among incentive and multi-line representatives, national marketing companies and brand manufacturers as they work to improve their working relationships.
- Updates on the proliferation of association and private entity trade shows and events, hosted buyer and traveling show programs.
- Announcements of upcoming association educational programs, research projects and public outreach programs.
- Review of the current efforts under way to establish workforce standards for the incentive, reward and recognition industry, and for employee engagement.
Most attendees reported positive results in 2018, despite various challenges, and predicted positive opportunities in 2019.
The Special Markets Dialogues meeting has been conducted annually since the early 1990s, and is considered one of the industry's most important venues for company owners and executives to network. Share ideas, discuss strategies and debate the future of the marketplace. The forum was founded by the late George Kling, longtime marketing consultant and subsequently rebranded by Pete Mitchell, retired director of B-to-B Sales for Samsonite. Dialogues continue today under the leadership of Mike Landry, vice president of Special markets for Tumi Inc., Dean Resnekov, owner of Indigo, Karen Wesloh, executive director of the Incentive Marketing Association, and Steve Slagle, retired former president of Promotional Products Association International, who also has planned and moderated the past three Dialogues forums.