“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Leadership Skills for Managers
Whenever I meet with prospective clients who’ve had poor experiences with past incentive programs, I usually find that their programs lacked a well-thought-out marketing plan. At times, clients will fixate on their program’s award budget—and specifically the marketing element of the budget—without fully taking into account the important role that their marketing communications play in the overall success of the program. Beyond the strength of a well-publicized launch, a successful program requires consistent, ongoing communications to help keep participants engaged, excited, and motivated to achieve. Frequently, this means designing and implementing a sophisticated marketing strategy that includes branded e-statements, custom mailings, short-term promotions, vendor-sponsored messaging, surveys, training initiatives, and more. However, some clients will try to get by with a basic, piecemeal approach that ultimately does their program a disservice. In fact, this failure to develop a coherent and consistent marketing blueprint is frequently what dooms a program before it even begins.
Instead of implementing a piecemeal marketing strategy program planners should view effective communications as essential budget-line items that need to be planned for in advance. In terms of raw numbers, it has been suggested that a program planner carve out between 10 – 12% of his/her overall program budget for marketing communications. However, in some cases this modest slice of the budgetary pie may not cut it. For example, programs focusing on new customer acquisition, end-user data collection, new product launches, or rebranding may need to consider raising their marketing budget upwards of 25% of total program costs. While this may seem excessive, it’s important to remember that your communications also double as customer service instruments, and that they can prove invaluable not just for providing program information, but also as tools for marketing and engagement.
As you search for a third-party incentive partner that can provide full service marketing and communications services, keep in mind that a truly effective partner will be one that understands your company’s overall business objectives, boasts extensive industry knowledge, can set measureable goals, knows the best and most efficient ways to communicate to your customers, has the ability to integrate with your CRM or POS systems, possesses sophisticated back-end reporting and analytics to regularly measure results, and can adapt with any program changes in order to keep your program on track. This all may sound like a lot, but it’s what’s necessary in today’s business environment in order to stay competitive.