Connect with customers through brand, not rewards

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An incentive programs’ brand identity is its backbone, its strength.  A strong and identifiable brand ensures it is compelling, secures attention, and draws a targeted audience into the offer.

Program participant (or soon to be participant) numbers are maximised and are connected to this visual identity. From there, you as program manager have the opportunity to change the behaviour of a broader, deeper, and more engaged customer group.

A strong program identity provides program managers the flexibility to adapt strategy and reward offers without damaging customer goodwill.  The Covid outbreak is an ideal example. It is during times like this that companies and their customers have used strong B2B incentive program branding to deliver relevant messaging, opportunities, and rewards.

Program participants must trust that the outcomes of any program change will hold true to the brand and the value they receive from it. But to accomplish this, putting your brand centre stage instead of the reward (a common mistake), is crucial. It is, however, not created overnight and must be analysed and focused on at the earliest opportunity by program managers.

Travel incentives in B2B reward programs, more than any other reward type, were impacted severely due to Covid. Most, if not all, travel incentives programs were either postponed or cancelled.

Businesses that did use travel as an incentive are unsure whether they will deliver a travel program again. Even before Covid, 212F warned clients and the marketplace that travel incentives alone were a risky play. Instead of building a brand, companies relied too heavily on the reward or destination.

The following scenario is common, particularly in companies who organise travel incentives internally;

‘So Mr. Managing Director (says Sales Manager), we can’t take Bill and his wife to Brazil this year, how the heck are we going to incentivise him, and more importantly, his wife, who together make all the buying decisions. Even more than that, how are we going to speak to him and make sure he maximises his share of wallet next year with us. I have convinced him every year when we are away on the annual trip, what the heck am I going to do this year to make sure they remain loyal to us?”

The conversations our clients are having are different because we have ensured they have focused on the brand, not the destination.  Build a brand and a community that customers, channel, or sales teams can identify with. A focus on destination has locked many businesses in a position that they are finding very hard to move forward from, and are extremely worried about this year’s sales as a result.

212F clients participants return from incentive trips and say “Wow, the Elite Circle trip was unforgettable’. Businesses that focus on the destination and not brand hear “I went to Queenstown and it was great” from their participants.

One statement is merely stating a holiday destination, the other is actively promoting a program brand and subtly encouraging others to take a closer look.

It is the same with any reward.

Having a robust program brand means your program participants engage with you, not the reward.

To design a stronger B2B reward and incentive program brand, we recommend using the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism as part of the onboarding and design phase. This method distills what your brand means and how those attributes carry across into a program identity, while also creating a stronger proposition for the program.

To demonstrate the Brand Identity Prism, we’ve created a sample for a fictitious incentive program brand Elite Circle, below. The industry segment is IT, with a traditional B2B sales channel as the route to market.

At the heart of the prism lies your company and program logos. In the left-hand column are external-facing elements around how you want a customer to see your program, who they are, what relationship you have with them, what you want them to see, and the association they have with your brand.

B2B incentive program

The right-hand column is internally facing and helps identify how you envisage your program’s brand identity. This includes your brand’s personality, which guides you on how to express your content, language, and culture. By doing this exercise you keep the elements of your incentive program, such as rewards and communications, consistent with your brand and image. Clarifying and understanding self-image sets the framework for ongoing emotional connection and status with the program.

Coming back to travel… there are several industries across Australia and New Zealand that led with destination as the incentive offer, rather than brand last year. They now find themselves in a position where communicating the value of their programs is difficult.

With a solid brand identity and proposition, these industries and companies could have addressed these challenges with the following:

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• Emotional Connection – over time, customers build an emotional connection with a program brand. People with strong loyalty are more forgiving if & when their expectations are not met

• Messaging – rather than a focus on just the rewards, you’re able to promote other program benefits.

• Brand Promise – a customer knows the quality of the program, what to expect from it, and implicitly trusts it

• Budget Creep – there’s no need to try to outdo the last program, or your competitors’ program, with the same budget,

• Budgets Cuts – there’s more flexibility to change the program reward offer when economic challenges arise, as the program has a “safety net” which is there as a result of this focus on brand building

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It takes time to build the value proposition of a program. However, by putting the spotlight on your brand, you change the conversation with your customer. Over time, they see your brand as a partnership, not an expectation. This gives you the flexibility to change propositions and rewards.  Recent events have shown this to be extremely relevant and valuable.

Understanding your brand and developing a clear program identity makes it easy to relate and talk to your participants. It sets a clear direction for communication and connects with people who become your strongest advocates.

Few businesses would create a logo or business name based on a single product, as it would restrict plans for new products or services. The same concept applies to the brand of your incentive program. So, instead of leading with the reward and locking yourself in, build a strong program brand and lead with a strategy to maximise its potential.

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