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IRF Study: Heady Days for Rewards, Recognition, and Gifting

A survey of 377 incentive industry professionals comprised of 45% corporate buyers, 33% incentive provider, and 21% suppliers, conducted between July and August 2019 by the Incentive Research Foundation, finds net optimism for the economy at 41%, nearly double the response in 2017: 85% of respondents forecast that their companies will have strong economic performance in 2020. While the percentage who measure program results has increased in terms of participant satisfaction, there is no mention of return-on-investment analysis. 
 
The Incentive Research Foundation’s 2020 Industry Outlook for Merchandise, Gift Cards, and Event Gifting finds almost across-the-board budget increases in all aspects of rewards, recognition, and gifting, with the following percent of respondents projecting budget increases in the key budget categories:
Overall use of reward and recognition programs (43% versus 38%)
Gift cards, 42% (compared to 38% in the 2019 survey)
Merchandise, 35% (compared to 28%)
Experiential rewards, 44% (compared to 28%)
 
About half of respondents forecast an increase in the number of people winning an award next year, and over 40% of respondents say they are increasing budgets in technology platforms and 31% in communications.
 
This year’s study finds a big increase in reporting and analysis of incentive programs: 73% of corporate program owners state that they have some form of reporting and analysis, up from only 47% the year before. However, the survey finds that reporting still focuses mainly on program satisfaction levels and participation rates, with a shift from simple participation rates to satisfaction as the key metric. There is no mention of return-on-investment or any other more sophisticated measurement factors.
 

Logoed Branded Merchandise Favored by Corporate Buyers

In the merchandise category, the report finds that “logoed brand-name merchandise, electronics, and sunglasses are the most popular categories.” Food gifts registered the biggest decline in growth, with 38% reporting more spending, versus 52% the year before. The average value of ndividual rewards and gifts averages $160.
 
Gift cards, with an average gift value of $100, are dominated by online retailers (Amazon, for example) as the most popular type of gift card, with coffee and big box retailers following close in popularity. Dining, electronics, home improvement, apparel, are also popular categories. Nearly 70% of corporate respondents say they purchase gift cards at retail. 
 
The survey finds that 58% of respondents are increasing event-gifting budgets, versus 43% in last year’s study. Half of respondents now say incorporate merchandise boutiques into their events, with 70% of suppliers saying they now offer this service. Over two-thirds of sponsors offer custom-made items or on-site fittings, compared with under 60% last year. Most popular gifting programs include national brand programs; custom fittings; locally relevant goods and crafts, and locally sourced food and beverages. Factors that go into gifting decision-making are: Budget (43%); attendee delight (38%); meaningfulness (31%); memorability (30%). 
 

Methods of Measurement

Source: Incentive Research Foundation 2020
 
Here are the reported methods of measuring program impact. Note that there is no mention of return-on-investment; goals achieved, or actions performed, etc. 

IRF-2020-Outlook-graph


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Resources: The Brand Media Coalition, the only guide to the story-telling power of brands and where to source them for business, event, promotional gifting, and rewards and recognition. 2019 Enterprise Engagement Solution Provider Directory. The only directory of engagement solution providers covering all types of agencies and tactics as well as insights on how to select them.
 
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