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Incentive Magazine launched a new podcast series to provide insights on motivation from industry experts. Their very first episode featured an industry colleague and me pontificating on “How to Market an Incentive Program.”

I’ve been asking: “did Incentive Mag start with the brightest and most dynamic experts?” (my version!) Or, “am I just a warm-up act for their headliners?”

If you lack the 15 minutes to hear from Incentive Magazine’s “industry experts on motivation,” here’s the Cliff Notes version – with 9 Do’s and Don’ts on effective promotional communications for sales incentive programs.

Is Promotion Even Necessary For An Incentive Program?

Many companies mistakenly think the reward is the entirety of the motivation. The Incentive Research Foundation published a Landmark Study on Participant Award Experience Preferences, which scientifically determined “the experience is much more than just the reward” with 40-50% of the total motivational experience being the presentation, presenter, and professional development opportunities.

Takeaway: yes, the carrot is definitely the biggest piece. Often, it is 75% of the incentive budget. But too many companies neglect the other 25% for communication, administration, and technology.

DO clarify goals

When launching a new sales incentive program, we strongly recommend three disciplined steps in creating the marketing campaign – (1) goals, (2) audience, (3) message. Ask: What are the primary goals to accomplish? How are the goals different than past incentives? Put the goals in writing. The clarity of a written goal is amazing!goals

DO define the target audience.

Ask: who is the target audience? And, who is it not? Most companies immediately know the basic demographics of their audience – but think about their psychographics too. What is their level of buy-in or engagement now? Their current level of motivation. Extrinsic or intrinsically motivated. Their attitudes and opinions.

Audience for how to start an incentive travel program
DO 1-3-1 for focus

This is a great tip! I call it “1-3-1”. 1 core message. 3 supporting points. 1 call-to-action. In business today, we tend to under-communicate (by getting distracted or assuming the audience fully gets it) – or we over-communicate (by dumping every single message, feature, benefit, rule, timing, process, etc.). Further, in culture today, we’ve all become more ADD. TV interview segments are 3-4 minutes. Commercials have shrunk from 60 seconds to 15 seconds. Video cuts every 1-3 seconds. If we want to get our audience to respond, we must narrow our focus to one core message and one clear CTA. 1-3-1 is a fabulous tip to give attention and simplicity.

DON’T rely on email only

Q: What was your favorite video game? Was it a shooter game?

My video gaming days were the 1970s and 80s. I’m old school. I loved Pac Man and Space Invaders. When you played a shooter game, you clicked the button with your index finger as fast as you could. You risked a teenage version of carpal tunnel syndrome! Today, emails stuff our inboxes at the rate of 200+ per day. Like a teenage gamer, users glance at emails for a fraction of a nanosecond, with their index finger on the delete-key, rapidly blowing away marketer’s email attacks. With email, open rates averaging 10% presently, don’t rely on email only (and especially not one gigantic email violating the 1-3-1 tip).

DON’T have a tiny communication budget

Most incentive program owners have spent weeks planning the incentive, discussing it with peers and upper management, analyzing multiple reward payout scenarios, and gaining budget approval. They make the mistake of viewing the new program from their chair rather than the audience. (remember tip #2 on the audience) The incentive launcher is very familiar, so they mistakenly assume the audience feels the same and will quickly grasp the incentive rationale, the rewards, the rules, the timing, the tracking, etc.

DON’T overcomplicate the rules

Story > Last year, I helped a prospect with a free review of their top performer trip rules. (I gladly make the same offer here. Email me for a free review of your incentive rules.) The VP Sales Ops shared a 3-page document – with 7 tracking metrics – with complex phrases (such as MRR for monthly recurring revenue, DSO for day sales outstanding for collections, customer count net gain, and charge-offs) – along with lengthy definitions.

I told the VP Sales Ops that his rules were far too complex, even for me, a president of an incentive company with 20 years’ experience. He assured me the front-line participants understood. One year later, I heard a new CEO asked the incentive trip winners how they won, and Mr. New-CEO said, “no one understands the rules!”

DON’T end up with “surprise, you won”

Another Story > Nortel Networks, which had the highest stock market value in Canada and was growing rapidly, launched one of their many sales contests. The grand prize was a domestic getaway trip to a beach in California or Florida, with flights, 5-star hotels, activities, and spending money with a total prize value of $5,000. A man named Andrew was the winner, and when I called to notify him personally, he was very excited. Then, he said the dreaded statement: “now, what contest was this, and how did I win?” This story highlights the difference between recognition and incentive. Andrew received the recognition which is beneficial, but the higher goal of an incentive is to drive incremental motivation – and sales and ROI.

Far too often, the incentive promotion strategy is an afterthought late in the incentive launch.

DO invest in professional graphic design

Too many internally managed incentive programs scrimp on communications and design. Riding the elevators and walking the halls of Fortune 1000 companies, I’ve seen a lot of cheap clip art. Frankly, it looks likes a teenager created the flyer. Audiences today have a discerning eye. They might not consciously think, “oh, that’s creative art design,” but subconsciously, the quality of your graphic design sends a symbolic measure of importance.

DO have a marketing calendar.

Just as you would if you were launching a new consumer product into the marketplace, create a marketing calendar for your sales incentive contest communications. Include:

• Teaser – to create suspense
• Kickoff event – in person, a conference call, webinar, or meeting
• Kickoff announcement – both print flyer and pdf
• Emails – of course, but use multiple drips and varied formats
• Direct mail – postcards are very reasonable, and have higher read rates than email
• Posters – if in an office or large group setting• Online ads – use e-banners or button ads on intranets

In Summary

• Create a catchy theme
• Use professional art design
• Prioritize and narrow core messages (1-3-1)
• Add ongoing repetition to keep the incentive visible
• Leverage all internal communication channels (meetings, team calls, newsletters)
• Use parallel communications (both print and electronic)

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Mike May

Author Mike May

Mike is a wearer of many hats. President of Brightspot, author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program, past Chairman of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. His expertise includes 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. Mike maintains his certifications in many specialties including Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), Certified Incentive Travel Professional (CITP), and Incentive Professional (IP).

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