Imagine having all the people who affect your organization – employees, your distribution channel, customers, vendors, etc. – focused on your company’s best interests. It’s a valuable, but difficult task. People typically focus on what they think is important. Especially if they are rewarded in that manner.

What if you could reward them in a different manner, using differing rewards? What if you could connect with your audience to build a collective mentality instead of an individual one?

Award Type Influences Brand Relationships

Most incentive and reward program designers will include various rewards as options when people demonstrate a behavior or hit a goal. The awards are typically cash, debit cards, gift cards, points redeemable for merchandise or individual travel, or a group travel award. All these awards have a place in a well-designed influence portfolio. The problem lies in relying on one over another. Specifically, relying on cash or debit/gift cards.

“What’s in it for Me?” Awards

Cash and gift cards are singled out because when they are included in a program, their “value” is expressed in dollars. This creates a transactional relationship between the program and the rewards. Participants start thinking of all the things the company is asking them to do in terms of “what’s it worth to me.” You don’t want that. You want to build a culture of brand advocates. That’s why points-based programs exist.

If you think about it, different award types follow a continuum from awards that are all about “me” to awards that are more about “us.” As you move to the right on the chart below, the rewards tie participants closer to the company and they become more focused on company goals versus individual ones.

And it makes sense. In a cash-based program, you send a check to an individual, who due to social norms, doesn’t share it with anyone (except maybe a significant other).  It’s a “me” award. It’s all about what they did individually. It would be taboo for someone to hold up a bonus check at a party and announce how much they got paid.

“What’s in it for Us” Awards

As you move down the line, you can begin to share the award. Take debit card deposits. You can pull out the card at a restaurant and say, “I’m buying! My company rewarded me for hitting a goal.” A little more socially acceptable, but still tied to money. And if it’s a gift card to a specific retailer, they’ll likely say they “got this grill at Lowes,” rather than from their own company. So much for connecting behaviors to reward!

Now, once you get to points-based award programs you’re a couple steps removed from money. Participants can show off their new TV, lawn tractor or Coach purse – and share the story about how they “earned” it in a company program. No money – no worries.

Lastly, as you move into the experiences category – it’s almost impossible to keep it to yourself. Dining, music, travel and other experiences are shared with friends, family and likely on social media.

At the pinnacle of collective awards is the group travel award. The conversations during these experiences center around how great the host organization is to “provide ‘us’ with this experience.” It would be very difficult to sit in a 5-star hotel, woofing down King Crab and sipping top-shelf scotch in the company of other top performers and not have the “warm and fuzzies” for the sponsor.

The Exception to the Rule

There may be some people out there that no matter what the award – will look at it through “me”-colored glasses and want the cash. But remember, these programs are designed to maximize both the company goals and the participant goals. And believe it or not … research shows that even those that scream “give me cash” – choose experiential awards more often when given the opportunity. 

About the Author: Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers.

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