Incentive travel is an important subcategory of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry, used by many companies as a perk to motivate employees and partners. Often tied to a company’s long-term goals, top-tier employees are effectively given a “carrot” that can range from an annual team-building retreat at a mountain resort to exotic cruises or paid vacations.
In a report by Golblatt and Nelson; an incentive event is defined as “a corporate-sponsored meeting or trip to reward and recognize effort, often built around a theme; and a celebratory event intended to showcase persons who meet or exceed sales or production goals.”
However you define incentive travel, employee rewards and corporate events have changed. Uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has carried with it lasting effects such as travel restrictions, work-from-home initiatives, and social distancing that could span from months to years, and may even trigger a long-standing transformation in the way the world works. The good news is, there are alternatives out there.
COVID changes everything
For decades, high-performing organizations have used incentive travel as an effective management strategy, but as IRF President, Stephanie Harris notes, while travel incentives are not a viable option at this time, recognition, motivation and rewards are still critical aspects of any business. So what are incentive planners and program owners to do to garner the same level of success in motivating employees via virtual events and alternate awards?
“Although incentive travel has been postponed, employee motivation and recognition continue to be critically important during these challenging times,” said Stephanie Harris, president, IRF (Incentive Research Foundation). “Incentive program owners are shifting their 2020 strategies to focus on virtual recognition events and providing alternate awards—while planning a return to incentive travel in 2021.”
Offer Flexible Alternatives to Incentive Travel
With most day-to-day activities taking place virtually, the question now lies on how to ensure optimum productivity and employee engagement – virtually. Employers then need to consider innovative ways to inspire, retain and engage their best staff with rewards like hosted lunches, reward points and cash bonuses to boost employee buy-in, engagement and productivity. In theory, when employees are highly motivated to increase certain activities, they are more likely to put in the extra effort to hit the targets that drive the company toward larger profits.
Incentives come in many forms, but the draw of extra money, especially in these uncertain times can make all the difference. Again, pointing to alternative incentive rewards as indicated by the IRF – digital incentive cards provide users with a flexible, easy-to-use reward, that can be reloaded over time for additional desired behaviour. Prepaid cards in particular work well for such programs as they can be co-branded by the company providing them unparalleled flexibility for employees to spend rewards on what truly matters to them.
Engage with Tiered Reward Offers
For companies looking to increase attendee engagement in virtual events, conferences or internal recognition programs, gamification can be a useful asset. Much like a tiered loyalty program (Starbucks is a great example), companies can offer “virtual” tiered reward levels to attendees that help direct them to their most valuable resources, tools or seminars. Using badges, top-earning tiers and points help give attendees public recognition for their achievements. It also lets them exchange ideas, success stories and challenges with other company trailblazers. This year, ensure you keep your attendees engaged with ongoing loyalty offers and points, that translate to flexible rewards.
At TruCash, we pride ourselves on providing the most flexible reward programs available using a combination of points issuance and flexible rewards that convert to cash, on a prepaid card, for spending all over the world.
Recent 2020 IRF survey findings support this notion, in a recent survey they found, “Interestingly [enough], offering cash was mentioned more frequently as an alternative award in the July study. Given the economic impact of COVID-19 and uncertainty it has created, there are likely causes for this shift including bridging potential financial gaps where salaries have been reduced or commissions are few and far between due to sales slumps.”
Continuing this trend, a recent PYMNTS article points to the need to make dollars stretch in 2020, challenging companies to help find “helpful and easier ways to make dollars go further”. Jill Cress, PayPal’s Vice President of Consumer Marketing, notes: “More and more people across the country are turning to their credit card rewards as a helpful and easy way to make their dollars go further. And in the current environment, two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) now view these rewards balances as a way to buy the things they need, such as groceries and other essentials.”
This year, in helping cater to changing preferences – ensure incentives are rewarding, help stretch the budget and are convenient to use. We have seen a dramatic uptick in brands introducing virtual prepaid cards, that can be sent and spent virtually with a couple of clicks – a great idea, especially during these uncertain times. Virtual card programs can be deployed quickly, to any number of recipients, also promoting touch-free reward access, as they are designed for use online whether for grocery delivery, online orders or purchasing.
Expand Your Program with Referral Rewards
There’s no better endorsement than a referral. That’s why it only makes sense for companies to “get back to basics” when it comes to sharing their internal reward program, online conference or virtual event. Value-added incentives, points or one-time monetary rewards are exceptional tools in delivering high-quality referrals, whether by customers, employees or vendors. Tie rewards to your social campaigns, websites and internal messaging for an even more engaging experience.Consider incentives, loyalty and referral programs in 2020. Brands can increase online attendance by offering incentives, keeping clients engaged with ongoing loyalty and increasing exposure with the use of referral rewards.
Prepaid card programs are a great platform for these initiatives. Prepaid cards are flexible, in providing a seamless, branded and rewarding experience, especially online with virtual cards that can be delivered via email. Rewards are convenient and easy to use. Rather than implementing a legacy program that offers merchandise as the reward that recipients most likely don’t need, reward with cash. The pandemic has had a negative financial impact for many, offering a financial incentive could prove to be the most motivating in our current circumstances.
Motivate and encourage positive behaviours and support job growth for optimal post-pandemic economic development efforts, whatever they may be.