It’s late December again—why does it always come around so fast? And, as with every late December, we turn our thoughts to the year ahead: what caught our attention this year, and what we see changing going into the next. Here are our top 6 incentive trends to kick off 2019:
Over the past few years, the incentive industry has seen a noticeable rise in rewards focused on wellbeing: physical health, mental health, rest and relaxation. That includes everything from stress-reduction merchandise like fidget spinners to wellness-centered experiential rewards like spa packages. The Society for Incentive Travel Expertise (SITE) found in its latest study of the industry that wellness options such as yoga or healthy food were among the most popular inclusions on group incentive trips.
So, what’s the explanation for this change? Maybe it’s just randomly trendy, like mason jars or avocado toast. But consider the world we live in today, with its barrage of stressors and constant overstimulation. We’re always connected, always working, and we constantly have one eye on our phones. It makes sense that the rewards we’d start to value those rewards that help us slow down and relax.
Hopefully they’re nice rulers. Every industry sees a constant push to develop and incorporate new technology into their products and services. The incentive industry is the same: as artificial intelligence gets smarter and I continue to stockpile canned chili in the underground bunker I’ve been keeping ever since I saw 2001, more companies will look for ways to use it in their incentive programs.
Since the rise of household AI like Alexa and Siri, it’s simply something we’ve all gotten used to. Chatbots are an especially useful element to incorporate into an incentive program. As they continue to get more sophisticated, they create a more accessible, personalized user experience, quicker than waiting on hold for a customer service rep and easier than navigating an FAQ page.
Well, not really. Incentive travel’s most popular destinations—Paris, Cancun, the Bahamas—still hold the top spots. The SITE index reported that 85% of North American incentive users chose the Caribbean as their destination. But more unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations are also starting to gain ground. Nobody wants to be mainstream.
At Incentive Magazine’s annual industry roundtable, Hugo Slimbrouck of Ovation Global DMC said, “It’s the second-tier destinations that are really catching up… I think this audience is much more educated. They’ve seen the Parises, Amsterdams and Londons of the world and now are out to discover new destinations.” Our favorite unique places? Iceland, Colombia, and Eastern Europe.
We’ve talked about the priceless value of experiential rewards before, and it’s holding true as we head into the new year. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting stuff. Stuff is a lot of fun: golf clubs, watches, the latest tech. But when it comes to finding the perfect reward, stuff might not be the most fulfilling choice. Rather, an unforgettable experience may be the one you’re looking for.
In a 2015 study, the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) partly attributes this change to millennials: generally speaking, “in the act of appreciating performance, it’s no longer about just providing a reward, it’s about creating experiences.” Whether it’s travel to an exciting to place, VIP tickets to a sporting event, or a backstage pass to a Broadway show, experiential rewards offer people a chance to do something they normally couldn’t or wouldn’t do on their own.
At its most basic, an incentive program can be as simple as an exchange: do this, get that. But it could be so much more. A more sophisticated program can actually help you and your program participants all grow together. If you want to enable your channel partners, for example, you can offer them e-Learning courses that help them better understand how to use your products, which in turn helps grow both their business and yours.
Why do we think this is more of a trend now? Because the old seller-customer relationship is evolving. It’s no longer a salesperson just pitching a product to a potential client: it’s about building connections, forming mutually beneficial relationships.
Once again, we get to blame millennials for this: the same IMA study found that to achieve the “authentic connection” that millennials value in their companies and sales reps, “there needs to be a sense of mutual benefit that goes deeper than giving points for selling stuff.”
Our final trend for 2019: personalization. We’re getting progressively more used to having everything from Netflix recommendations to Facebook ads tailored to fit our interests and needs. That’s why personalization is the name of the 2019 game. Your program participants want—and, increasingly, expect—personalization on some level.
Personalization comes in all forms: from utilizing artificial intelligence to craft an easier user experience, to helping program participants find merchandise they’ll love, to letting group travel attendees pick their own activities.
At the Incentive Magazine roundtable, Josh Lesnick of Associated Luxury Hotels said of group incentive travel, “A lot of the stuff we’re seeing is very personalized and customized and curated. A lot of the groups just don’t want to go and have everybody do the same thing.”
Wellness, artificial intelligence, unique destinations, experiential rewards, enablement, and personalization. At HMI, we make sure to incorporate all of these elements into our incentive programs. After all, it’s our mission to create the most effective, rewarding, and worthwhile programs we can. We’re so excited to see where the new year takes us and our clients!