Here’s a look at some merchandise trends that will guide you in providing the right rewards and incentives for your employees, sales team and channel partners this year. Whether you are using these gifts as part of an incentive travel program or for individual incentives, they are sure to be meaningful and motivating to keep your people thriving.

  1. Well-Being
  2. Techies
  3. Choice
  4. Sustainability and Social Good
  5. Memory Merchandise

1. Well-being – People are realizing that they should not only eat healthy and work out, but take care of their entire well-being, including their minds and spirit. Gallup has a Well-Being Index that measures consistency and progress in the following categories: Purpose: liking what you do and being motivated to achieve goals; Social: having supportive relationships and love experiences; Financial: managing your economic life to increase security; Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride; Physical: having good health and substantial energy. Well-being can be encouraged with tangible rewards such as personal fitness trackers, but since much of this mindset consists of intangible ideas (such as motivation, love, security and energy), you can also go a more experiential route.

Here are some ideas:

  • Purpose – A half-hour session with a personal coach.
  • Social – An experience that includes a cooking class and dinner with four friends, a famous chef and a signed cookbook.
  • Financial – Financial advisor or workshops/classes. Maybe an account allowance at the Society of Grownups, an initiative aiming to educate millennials in responsible finance management.
  • Community – A memento of the community project that took place. T-shirts are most common, but the possibilities are endless. How about a branded tool after working to build a playground? Or Worldbeing, an app and wearable wristband, that helps consumers manage their daily carbon footprint.
  • Physical – Fitness trackers, sleep monitors, yoga classes, and thermometers that report children’s temperatures to parents’ phones. Did you know that according to Rock Health, 82% of users believe that wearable technology has enhanced their lives? Or try a group sound bath, which is the new meditation that incorporates sounds and vibrations into a relaxing experience.

2. Techies – The items in this arena are plentiful and won’t be slowing down any time soon. Connected tech is the thing – from 3D printers, drones and Bluetooth devices to any type of wearable. Wireless earbuds and smart watches are sure to continue at the top this year. As the Incentive Research Foundation observed, there is an app FOR everything and an app IN everything. People and companies will continue to look for ways to make people’s lives more convenient and predictive with technology. This trend is not just for technologically savvy people anymore; it has become ubiquitous. There were more mobile subscriptions in Q3 of 2015 than people, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report, and connected devices are set to triple to over 38 billion by 2020, according to Juniper Research.

Here are some cool items for a range of price points:

  • The Tile will help you find your lost keys, phone, wallet and just about anything else you can attach the tile to.
  • The Oculus Rift Virtual Reality device, which is available for pre-order now.
  • The Bluesmart smart luggage, which can be tracked from an app on your phone for those who travel often.

3. Choice – As an enhancement on an incentive travel trip, meeting or event, the opportunity for choice is highly desired. Customers love small format stores – think Starbucks Express in a grocery store. You can emulate this same small format experience by creating a custom jeans bar, a watch fitting or a personalized fragrance experience at your next event. Destination-specific setups are also a fun way to incorporate the event setting and luxury of choice. These “merchandise bars” let people choose from an array of ski goggles, hats, scarves and gloves for a mountainous location, or flip flops, sunglasses and towels on the beach. Gift cards are still a popular option, as they allow the recipient to purchase exactly what they like on their own time. But be aware that if you are trying to build loyalty to your brand, gift cards may not be the best route, due to their generally impersonal nature.

4. Sustainability and Social Good – The holiday season may have passed, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still in the giving spirit. In fact, according to the The Philanthropy Outlook, contributions from all sources have increased and will increase in 2016. Relating worthy causes to merchandise can be very impactful. If people feel that the reward you’ve given them has also helped a worthy cause, they will feel good about the reward as well as the company promoting it. As an example, if a company’s charitable focus is to assist children in need, it may elect to invite the CEO of TOMS as a keynote speaker and gift its attendees a pair of TOMS shoes. The keynote can help bring the corporate focus and charitable cause full circle and meeting attendees will be reminded of the impact the host company made every time they wear the shoes.

Other ideas that promote good corporate citizenship:

  • Pura Vida bracelets, which help local Costa Rican artisans prosper, provide awareness and donations through special campaign bracelets such as for the American Heart Association.
  • Warby Parker sunglasses provides a pair of glasses to those in need for every pair sold.
  • Freedom From Animals is a sustainable and cruelty-free luxury bag line that uses recycled materials such as a plastic water bottle lining.

5. Memory Merchandise – Our “experiencing self” and “remembering self” process things differently. Merchandise and its tangible effect can play a big role in creating memories. Do you have a favorite T-shirt from a rock concert? Or a stuffed animal after visiting the zoo? There are many simple ways to bring back memory merchandise from an experience and the most obvious is through photographs. But how can we take this to the next level and create an experience with the merchandise itself? Here’s an example from a familiarization trip taken by one of our employees: she was given a brief history lesson on Hawaii, and was then asked to select a map of her liking. The map was framed and sent to her home. The arrival of the package upon her return not only reminded her of the trip, but also of the history lesson and the local pride conveyed to the visitors. The map has become memory merchandise from an experience and a personalized remembrance of the trip.

Other memory merchandise ideas:

  • A personalized photobook following an incentive trip, including group photos and individual shots. Most programs typically hire a photographer and sites like Shutterfly make uploading, sharing and even publishing easy.
  • An etched wine bottle that represents a vineyard tour complete with vintage, winery and name of the trip.

So what’s the bottom line?

Knowing your audience and providing meaningful, motivating and memorable merchandise is key to creating a bond between the giver and receiver. Choosing the right merchandise for group incentive travel programs or individual incentives is essential to a successful program.

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