Online recognition programs let you reward people any time, anywhere in the world, with incentives custom-designed to meet their motivational needs
By Richard Kern
For nearly 100 years, print catalogs and collateral materials have been the preferred foundation for incentive and reward programs. And even as we inch ever closer to that much-talked-about-but-still-elusive “paperless” world, few things grab the attention of incentive program participants more than the inspiring, upscale glossiness of a publication like The Taraci Collection or the mouth-watering, gourmet splendor of the photos gracing the Harry & David catalog.
But even though ink-on-paper publications may not be going the way of the dinosaurs just yet, more and more companies are looking to computer-based incentive and reward programs to inspire workers and recognize their efforts – especially with employee turnover costs rising and recruiting, training and administrative expenses going up along with them. The truth is, web-based programs offer a host of features and benefits that traditional catalog-based programs just can’t match.
“We’re seeing people starting to switch off traditional programs that they’ve been in for some time and begin to look for technology solutions,” says Michael Trepeta, President of Ace Marketing & Promotions. “I had a call recently from a company that was still using kind of an archaic program to reward incentives to employees. It was a basic catalog program where if you’ve been with the company for so many years, you fill out a form, get X amount of points and choose a gift from a catalog. Kind of impersonal and dinosaur-like. A lot of people like that are calling us to help them with the technology to cross over to something more viable, both for rewards and for staying in touch with a target group for whatever reason.”
In addition to costing less than print catalogs and collateral materials, online recognition programs also offer the ability to change motivational messages and rewards easily and inexpensively, keeping them different and exciting, and they provide a way to track the progress of a program, collect data and analyze it. Thanks to such efficiencies, even small companies can now afford a sophisticated recognition program.
Online recognition lets you reward individuals or groups of people anywhere in the world, for numerous reasons, and do it promptly and fairly. Some program suggestions:
While this kind of flexibility is a plus, it also underscores the fact that standalone reward programs are growing less attractive. “We believe that rewards are only one part of a successful engagement and motivation program,” says Bruce Bolger, President of Selling Communications Inc., which also markets the Solata permission-based communications platform and helped develop the Corporate Rewards Exchange. “Getting people engaged through the enrollment process, getting them focused on meaningful objectives, equipping them with useful information, helping them communicate among their peers, communicating relevant and appropriate information, downloads and reward opportunities where they are appropriate – these are all critical components too.”
And therein lies another opportunity for tech-savvy marketers – the fact that technology can help improve a company’s internal connectivity as a whole, not just in terms of rewards and recognition. “Some companies look to us to integrate their incentive technology into other platforms,” says Michael Trepeta. “So we don’t typically go after a client to recommend a straightforward incentive program – it’s more of an overall communications program. We do everything from branding and creating merchandise to developing websites, e-commerce sites, reward and recognition programs, and using integrated marketing with all of that to look at how they communicate with employees, with channel partners and with customers.”
Although a number of companies offer online and computer-based incentive and reward programs, a couple of recent developments illustrate where the industry may be headed.
Built with collective input from incentive companies, fulfillment firms, incentive representatives and end-users, the Corporate Rewards Exchange is designed to enhance the current field rather than “disintemediate” any of the traditional players.
This new online tool helps organizations improve the effectiveness and lower the costs of their corporate gift programs by enabling qualified companies to buy gifts directly from the leading brands and their authorized incentive fulfillment companies. CRE also gives incentive users access to local expert assistance for the implementation of their engagement and reward programs without the necessity of a big budget. Participating incentive fulfillment companies include the nation’s most recognized names in rewards supply and fulfillment,
“What we saw was that there are a lot of portals, or exchanges in the market that ease the transactions of buying and selling – providing a centralized store if you will,” says Bruce Bolger. “But there wasn’t one for the incentive market. We’re not talking about onesy, twosey type purchases – we’re talking about someone who may need to buy fifty or a hundred of some brand name award item. If you look at it, it’s really a site that can be accessed from two perspectives. From the first perspective it’s for a company that wants to buy merchandise for a gift or meetings program, and from the second perspective it’s for an incentive company looking for ways to increase their capability and value to their clients. Essentially, everyone wins.”
Another tech tool available from Engagement Technology LLC (which also markets CRE) is the Universal Rewards Platform (URP), which is designed to enable incentive and marketing companies to have their own completely customized catalogs with near real-time access to inventory and a completed automated redemption and tracking process, etc.
In addition to Engagement Technology, NJ-based Paramax is bringing integration and connectivity to the incentive industry. The company has been offering a points platform to incentive companies for nearly a decade, but its latest connection with Amazon.com has upped the ante. “When Amazon.com entered the incentive market, we obviously wanted to connect to them and be able to connect our users to them,” says Dalton. “So a little over a year ago we started that integration, and now we’re running programs using Amazon’s fulfillment engine.” says Paramax President Jeff Dalton.
The Paramax system allows the participant and the company to essentially manage the program. “It’s the website where the participant goes to enter a sale or to order his award,” explains Dalton. “If it’s a recognition program, he might send a nomination to somebody, or he might go to take a quiz or a survey related to the program. Think of it as the portal that manages the points, the participants, the prizes and the rules of the program – it’s where the content is, and the awards catalog kind of hangs off the side of it. So the software really runs any type of program you can imagine, from employee service and recognition programs to consumer loyalty programs to channel programs to traditional sales incentive programs.”
In choosing an online recognition company, consider such factors as:
“Technology will continue to innovate, and access to data and opportunities to reach people in new and prolific ways will transform how we market programs and reward individuals and teams,” says Michelle Smith, Vice President, Business Development for O.C. Tanner. “Rewards and recognition will be redefined because of all of the new options available for communications, award selection and marketing. But as is always the case with new technologies, it will be up to us to use these new developments in a responsible and productive fashion.”