Trends Driving Today’s Incentive Rewards

By: Maggie Wenthe
couple outdoors overlooking scenic views
We’re consumers, just like the individuals we aim to motivate in our engagement programs. That's why it should come as no surprise that our consumer experiences have a significant impact on the expectations we have for successfully motivating our people, whether we're designing consumer, employee or partner programs. And successfully motivating our people includes providing the right reward choices at the right time—rewards that participants trust, and that provide an experience. 
The concept is driven primarily by the following social trends:
  • Consumer behaviors are evolving; it’s no longer just quantity that matters, but quality of experience
  • Human connection is hard to come by, so people are seeking ways to reconnect
  • People expect every interaction to be personalized
  • Companies are moving beyond seeking loyalty and searching for true advocates

The Experience Economy and Minimalism Movement

Almost everyone has taken a picture of a meal and posted it on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook in the last month. That’s sharing your experience with your social circles—and in a small way, makes you part of the experience economy.

The experience economy was coined in the late 90s, but continues to remain relevant—even more so today based on other economic changes. The experience economy occurs when a company intentionally engages individuals in a way that creates a memorable event. That includes consumers like in the example above, and extends to all people you're looking to engage and motivate.

Related: Learn how to motivate millennials in today’s experience economy.

Minimalism offers a life with less stress, less distraction, more freedom and more time, while emphasizing things an individual finds personally valuable. All things people today are desperately searching for.
There are many reasons the trend has hit a resurgence—worldwide financial turmoil, environmental concerns, personal debt, global social awareness and more. But it's also tied to the fact that through the internet and social channels, we can actually see others doing it successfully—and believe we can do it too.
As a result, a growing community sees through advertisers’ claims that our next purchase will bring us satisfaction. People have tried finding happiness through possessions and have been left unfulfilled. As a result, they're beginning to seek happiness and fulfillment in other places: relationships, social causes and significance.
The key to motivating individuals in the wake of this trend lies in demonstrating that what you offer them in exchange for their effort grants them a quality experience they are unlikely (or unable) to create on their own.

Human Connection Is Hard to Come By

Another major trend the digital age has brought forth is people lacking quality connection with others. It’s a paradox: we’re lonelier than ever, even in this hyper-connected world.
When looking to engage people, it’s important to create communities to congregate and form bonds. Here are a few ideas for doing so.
  • Create online forums or in-person events where they can discuss their common interests, challenges and experiences
  • People are increasingly relying on the workplace to be their social hub. Rather than dismissing it (or discouraging it!), encourage social interactions, thereby creating a more productive environment.
  • When designing incentive travel rewards, incorporate experiences that facilitate meaningful connection points by incorporating creative elements such as community volunteering or interest-based excursions

Personalization Is Key

Personalization is tailoring a service or a product to accommodate specific individuals. With the emergence of artificial intelligence and other machine learning capabilities, consumers expect to be treated like the individuals they are. The more we know about our customers, channel partners and employees, the easier it becomes to offer rewards they trust and value.
Put yourself in their shoes.
  • How do they want to receive rewards?
  • Is it a digital experience?
  • Do they prefer a gift delivered to their home where their family can take part in their achievements?
These are just a few examples of the myriad of ways we can stay in touch with participants today with the reward experience.
Related: Find out and why switching from monetary to non-monetary incentives can result in increased satisfaction and higher motivation

Companies Are Moving Beyond Loyalty and Searching for True Brand Advocates

We need to shape these experiences to move from loyalty to advocacy.
Brand advocates are the pinnacle in marketing today—how do you get your customers, partners, and even employees to rave about your business and essentially sell your products and services without your request to do so?
The digital world allows consumers, channel partners AND employees to “shop around.” There’s an endless amount of information online, and the savvy consumer or program participant uses it to ensure they’re making the best possible decisions.
Take employment—the landscape of work itself has changed—instead of working for one company your entire life, people are more likely to make multiple career switches. Self-employment has also been rising consistently as more people try to avoid working for major corporations. This lowers the importance of traditional loyalty. We're all moving to a much more experiential type of loyalty where we want to engage with a brand and form a relationship.
So how do these world trends relate to choosing the right incentive rewards?

Best Practices for Choosing the Right Incentive Awards

People are inspired differently. Whether it’s redeemable points, physical merchandise, events, closed-loop cards or open-loop cards, it’s important to provide a good mix to hit on all (or at least most) of the preferences of your audience. Brand names continue to be important. The right brands quickly convey trust and confidence. Just ensure that company’s brand promise mirrors or complements your own.

A recent IRF and IMA Participant study defined the total award experience as including four components.

  1. The reward itself
  2. The person who recognizes the recipient
  3. How the award is communicated
  4. What professional impact the award carries
The study found that out of 452 respondents, 99% had a unique set of preferences amongst those four categories—different from every other person in the study. The outcome verifies that individuals are unique and that we need to provide motivating choices when rewarding and recognizing.
IRF president Melissa Van Dyke said, “The study findings [show that] programs should be as heavily vested in the presentation and professional development as they are in the award itself.”

Developing Your Incentive and Recognition Strategy

As you start to develop or optimize your incentive and recognition strategy, there are strategies you can implement to set you apart from the competition and become a partner- or employer-of-choice. Consider these ways your company can make performance recognition work, and start driving performance for your organization.

Maggie Wenthe
Maggie Wenthe

Maggie strives to help the world understand the power behind personalized motivation that aligns people with business goals to drive powerful results. As the leader of Marketing Strategy at ITA Group, she analyzes market trends to develop world-class solutions that help Fortune 1000 companies motivate and engage their employees, channel partners and customers. She is certified through the Incentive Marketing Association, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, as well as Pragmatic Marketing Level VI. Between marketing and three little boys, Maggie doesn't have free time. But when she can find a few minutes, she loves listening to audiobooks on marketing, business and sci fi thrillers.