Incentive Program Design: Create Communications

Mike May


SO_12.5Steps_strategyFar too often, the incentive promotion strategy is an afterthought late in the incentive launch. Like any successful marketing effort, a sufficient incentive needs a comprehensive campaign strategy, creative theme, targeted messaging, and communications timeline to support your incentive deliverables and create top-of-mind awareness.

In today’s world, people are bombarded with information—emails stuff in boxes at the rate of 200+ per day. Users glance for a fraction of a nanosecond, with their index finger on the delete-key, rapidly clicking like a teenage video gamer. It’s vital that your promotional strategy not depend solely on a few emails; your message must break through the clutter.

#1 Mistake: Tiny communication or promotional budgets. Your incentive will become the best kept secret!



A clever, attractive theme can go a long way. Tie it to your program goals. Use the natural attraction of the travel destination or awards for visual interest. Evaluate style preferences — conservative, hip, retro, fun, corporate, or informative. Ask yourself: what do you want the audience to feel or think when they look at the graphics?


Before officially announcing the program, distribute a teaser — something that hints of events to come. It might be a small promotional item or a creative, visually-appealing email to pique interest.


Custom design a promotional flyer to generate excitement and share high-level details (incentive dates, eligible employees, program objectives, rules, and, most importantly, the awards). Promote the overall program and direct everyone to the incentive website for full details. Include a clear call-to-action.


Convert the kickoff announcement to a PDF or graphical, HTML email, and blast it to participants. Consider breaking the graphics and messages into pieces for a multi-touch email campaign.


If your participants are in a large office or just a few locations, try to add a launch event announcing the new incentive program, live and in person. Make it a party with decorations and themed snacks. Demonstrate a personal commitment to the incentive’s success, as well as challenging your audience.


Direct mail postcards are making a dramatic comeback. Email marketing is over-saturated, with open rates and click-thrus declining further and further. Mail a visually-engaging, custom-designed, full color, cardstock postcard to catch their attention and convey importance.


Consider online ads (especially for external channels). Post ads on employee intranet sites and partner portals too.


Themed, 18×24, full-color posters are super billboards in large offices or break rooms of retail businesses.


Consider mailing reminders to the participants’ homes to create additional family support. Something as simple as a program letterhead can be used to reinforce both theme and incentive.


Electronic statements give detailed feedback on points, current ranking, and status; communicate messages from the management; recognize winners, and announce new program information. For improved user experience, personalize your message with variable content based on the user profile.


Tangible, promotional items generate excitement and motivation for the incentive program. When an employee uses a practical object like a pen or mouse pad or is amused by a tactile toy like a stress ball, they are reminded of the incentive program. We recommend one giveaway at kickoff and another at program mid-point to serve as a useful reminder.


We love 3-dimensional kits with a “thud factor” — a custom box of collateral and giveaways that makes a thud sound when it lands on a desk. Kit ideas include giveaways, brochures, selling aids, tip sheets, notebooks, pens, posters, window clings, etc.


• Create a catchy theme

• Include graphical look and feel (creative art design)
• Prioritize and narrow core messages
• Consider brand guidelines: Follow closely or creative freedom?
• Is this incentive for external customers or internal employees only
• Design your communications campaign upfront, but be flexible as needs arise
• Kickoff the program with a bang – don’t make the common mistake of sending one email and expecting it to be enough
• Keep the program visible with ongoing repetition
• Publicize success and add meaningful recognition
sales incentive programs
Mike May

Author Mike May

President | Author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. Expertise: bucket-list incentive trips, motivational incentive program design, matching event goals with the perfect destination & hotel, cost savings strategies, global channel reward programs, and targeted communications.

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