How to Support Innovation in Long-Standing Incentive Programs

ITA Group
ITA Group

incentive brochure on desk

Businesses are paying more attention to the benefits of encouraging innovation than ever before. Sixty-three percent (63%) of companies now have chief innovation officers to help drive new ideas and systems

But encouraging innovation isn’t easy. Doing it effectively is tricky and time-consuming. From juggling competing company priorities to overcoming internal resistance, there are a lot of things that can get in the way.

No matter what industry you’re in, unlocking the potential of your people and partners comes down to a mix of program objectives, shared values, motivation and strategy.

Of course, there’s no single solution to how to encourage innovation. This process differs from company to company and depends on things like workplace culture, ingrained systems and the talents and skills present within your staff.

Strategy Keeps Innovation in Focus

The problem with innovation improvement efforts is rooted in the lack of an innovation strategy.

Good strategies promote alignment throughout the organization, clarify objectives and priorities, and help focus efforts around them. Organizations regularly define their overall business strategy and specify how various functions—such as marketing, operations and finance—will support it.

An explicit innovation strategy helps you design an incentive program to match your specific motivational needs and performance goals.

Reporting & Analytics Tools Identify Areas to Improve

Examining hard data (like platform usage, response/bounce rates, time spent browsing the program site, etc.) with reporting and analytics tools is a great starting point to find out where overall engagement with the program is lacking. 

Cross-referencing these findings with organic feedback from frontline participants yields a clearer picture of what needs to be adjusted. Use this information to try a new engagement approach and observe any changes.

You can identify opportunities for innovation by adapting your incentive program to the way your partner motivation is changing. For example, if you’re a program owner, you might consider running a multiple or tiered incentive program to reward top talent as well as additional participants.

You could also innovate by introducing new technology, techniques or working practices—perhaps using better processes to give a ensure more effective recognition.

Finding creative ways to engage and motivate partners remains an ongoing challenge for program owners and incentive planners. From marketing programs, to recognizing the winners, to tracking data to ensure rewards are making the maximum impact, effective incentives require a mix of art and science.

Incentives Should Change With Partner Demands

Organizations clearly see the power incentive programs have, but for them to be most effective, they also need to be targeted and able to change due with partner preferences. Demographic shifts, style trends, even communication preferences are influencing how incentive programs are developed and used. 

Programs are most effective when they're tied to company values—aligned with your brand and reinforce key messaging. Incentive programs can also be used to motivate certain behavior. Having incentive programs also encourages those who want to go above and beyond—to get new clients, to network, to go to events. But you must make sure everyone can participate, not just top-tier talent.

Additionally, more companies are using incentive programs in the recruitment process to attract new team members during the ongoing war for talent. Just something extra, on top of the expectation of benefits, salary and time off. 

Tailor Communications to Your Specific Audiences

It's not enough simply to know who your channel partners are. You need to communicate effectively with them as well.

Put care into how programs are introduced. Build a structured rollout of excitement and buzz—then launch it with a bang! Actively share and promote it on social media or use internal leaderboards to add friendly competition. Make it an inviting experience with a bit of a journey and a satisfying end point.

Communication involves not only listening to their needs but also actively observing their behavior around products and services they’re incentivized to sell and generating ideas on how you can make improvements to the program to ensure the results you want.

Keep a Close Eye on Reward Trends & Participant Feedback

To design your incentive program optimally, seek feedback from your participants, and also look at demographic characteristics. With immediate communication and gratification so important to many, having a dynamic recognition program is critical. 

Employees or partners typically want items they wouldn't purchase for themselves. They may want luxury items like a Michael Kors handbag or Gucci sunglasses, and iconic brands such as Callaway golf clubs or Baccarat crystal. 

The good news is that luxury brands have made a strong entry into the incentives market in recent years. Gone are men's and women's categories. Today's popular incentive rewards are gender-fluid and timeless. In addition, audiences want flexible options that deliver convenient online access, fast shipping, ratings systems, and even flexible payment options (such as part points, part cash, or credit) and methods like Venmo. 

By integrating coveted brands, technology, immediacy and values alignment, managers can boost the effectiveness of their incentive programs.

It’s Always Best to Keep Things Fresh

Any time you're asking for long-term engagement with an ongoing program, things need to evolve along with the participants. They must adapt to stay fresh and remain appealing—relevant. You can’t possibly know what everyone wants at any given time. But what you can know for certain is they won’t be impressed by the same old thing.

If you’re program isn’t open to innovation, you could suffer from stagnant revenue and disinterested partners. Download our ebook if you answer “yes” to the following: Is Your Channel Strategy On Autopilot?

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