The Messaging Around an Incentive Program Can Have a Major Impact on its Effectiveness.

Incentive professionals place a high priority on selecting trips and gifts that will have the greatest impact on participants. But the rewards themselves are only part of the story. Enticing a sales­person with a trip to the Caribbean, a coveted watch or a simple gift card might miss the mark if the messaging isn’t spot on.

“A secret program is not a successful program,” says Richelle Taylor, vice president of strategic marketing, incentives and recognition for performance-improvement organization One10. “You want participants to get excited before the program launches — create a buzz.”

Following are seven tips that will keep the program top of mind with participants and ensure it generates the maximum impact.

1. Reach out in more ways than one.

“In this day and age of constant communication, people are inundated with marketing, so you must be sure to provide program communications in a variety of ways to reach your audience/demographic,” says Taylor.

For example, a client in the agricultural industry mailed printed materials to product distributors, announcing the launch of the program website where participants could get product information and earn rewards for sales. One10 replicated the mailing in digital communications and email blasts to further encourage enrollment, Taylor notes, but the printed version helped cut through the clutter of email inboxes.

Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications for Halo Recognition, agrees: “There are several types of workforces and work environments out there, and it may take multiple channels to reach everyone, which is where a marketing plan can help immensely.” 

2.  Ultra-customize your messaging.

Target your message as much as possible, both to the program and to the individual. Marketing materials should be specific to the organization and the program it’s promoting, even to individual subsets of your audience. For example, to generate excitement for a telecom client that launched a call center referral program, One10’s team designed pop-up banners and posters that were displayed in the call center, letting employees see their progress toward the goal.

“What is the voice of the client? What do employees expect to hear, and how do they want to hear it?” asks Kate Bek, content strategist for BCD Meetings and Events, who oversees communication campaigns for the company’s incentive programs. 

BCD meets with clients to identify business goals from the start, building out a custom communications plan based on the attendees’ personas, business goals, and factors such as how people tend to consume information, their locations, languages and so on.

“Everything needs to be unique to the client and the incentive program,” says Bek. 

It’s important to give participants frequent updates on their progress, and to share success stories to keep managers and peers actively engaged.

“No employee really feels valued by messages that refer to them as ‘valued employee’ or other generic titles,” says Himelstein. “Some customization is necessary to make the marketing effective.”

3. Make it fun to play.

The marketing of an incentive program can be motivational in itself, if designed to be fun for participants, according to One10’s Taylor.

“Trends in B2B are things like gamification, leaderboards and live feeds using technology that replicates things people do everyday in social media,” she says. “Injecting a sense of friendly competition or fun into the program is often received well by participants.”

4. Use data to better understand behavior. 

Mine data from email analytics, web traffic, online awards catalogs and the event app to build out attendee personas with more detail and create a more targeted incentive program. Note how visitors are interacting with the website, what they are interested in, and which touch points get the most positive responses and highest engagement.

5. Remember: The trip is not the goal.

The trip is important, but it’s not the end game. “You shouldn’t even source a destination until you’ve mapped it back to your business objectives,” says Bek.  

While the reward is bound to be played up in marketing materials, it should not be the sole focus. “Every piece of an incentive program is part of an overall attendee journey,” she adds. “It’s a perfect platform to build synergies and a 360-degree employee-marketing campaign. Ultimately the goal of the trip is to have a positive impact on employee behavior, and to build brand love and retention.”

Too often, program managers adopt a “set it and forget it” mentality, says Halo Recognition’s Himelstein. “You have to be looking at program participation rates and making moves to keep people engaged on a regular basis.”

6. Play up the award presentation.

The presentation of the award itself is one of the most powerful moments of communication.

The giving of the award itself is one of the most powerful moments of communication. It is even more powerful when the organization “builds a legacy” around the award, says Bek. The hardware itself should be a solidly branded and coveted memento. Everyone should know what it is and want to earn it. Like the Stanley Cup or Academy Award, a powerful prize takes on a life of its own.

“If you build legacy and prestige around an award, it’s going to kind of market itself,” says Bek. “It helps drive sales, culture and excitement.”

If the organization employs many remote workers, the program organizer can livestream the awards moments, allowing participants to invite friends and family members or even customers to take part by tuning in and experiencing the awards ceremony with the rest of the company.

Social sharing takes the concept of “public celebration” to a new level. “Take pictures of your award presentations and share them,” says Himelstein. “Create specific social media accounts or hashtags to showcase award presentations and related achievements on your organization’s official Twitter or Facebook pages. Getting leadership involved with the celebration is always good for optics.”

7. Embrace the entire journey and beyond.

With the incentive trip as the destination, set and celebrate milestones throughout the program. In the lead-up to the trip, says Bek, “They’re almost like billboards along the way.” 

Pictures posted on social media during the trip create that FOMO, or “fear of missing out” for those back home, fueling their motivation to win next year.

Once the trip is over, don’t consider the campaign finished. This is a critical time to drive future business goals. 

“You want the story, that branding, to continue to resonate long after the trip home; you’re building it back up into the next incentive program,” says Bek. “It doesn’t stop.”

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