Considerations When Choosing The Right Incentive Reward

It is late in the year, you’re planning an incentive program and you see it as being an integral part of a successful 2021. You know that providing your sales channel and business customers with an incentive based rewards program will boost sales.

You’ve decided on the right incentive strategy to achieve your business goals, and the method to engage with partners and customers is tried and tested. It is now time to figure out how to position your incentive and in what form it should take.

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What are you going to reward your partners and customers with?
Here are the factors you need to consider.

Choosing the right rewards often feels like picking the winner in a football final: a battle for glory where both sides are equal. All rewards contenders are strong, with proven track records of success across industries and target audiences. And yet, you can’t afford to not get it right: the right reward is crucial in driving engagement in a program, whether it’s launching or an existing offer.

When it comes to picking the right reward for an incentive program, many factors impact behaviours and outcomes. Choosing the wrong reward will undermine the best-laid strategy. Your channel structure, segments, and participants will have unique drivers and all will need to be motivated by the incentive. Optimising the outcome by using rewards that engage channel participants is critical but is often the most common way a program lacks cut through.

So, how do you make sure you choose the right reward?

Start with these thoughts on different reward options.

Merchandise, Branded Cash or Travel?


A timeless classic in the reward space, merchandise is a proven winner in most reward programs, as it gives you a wide range of options to play with. Merchandise can be tailored to any demographic, so your target audience gets a reward selection that suits them.


Value for Budget
Merchandise offers the best value for budget. Reward catalogue items are often purchased at wholesale prices, which give a customer a more attractive perception of value. Reward catalogues can be customised to meet any budget, starting from an entire range down to a fixed budget.

Visual drivers / Goal setting
Encouraging a program participant to set rewards as goals give them a tangible target to work towards. Communicating and driving them to achieve that reward builds a meaningful outcome for the effort they’re making in the program. Redeeming the rewards creates a strong sense of accomplishment, which in turn can reinforce the motivation to strive for more.

Trophy Value
Merchandise has a strong “trophy value” since the receiver can show it off to others as a measure of their success. If the reward’s commonly desirable, you can imagine the impact that rewards being delivered to a customer’s workplace might create, with the “winning” individual sharing where it came from. From a marketing perspective, it’s invaluable.


Limitations in the product catalogue Obviously, you can only put so many items in a rewards catalogue. Not every catalogue will have something for everyone, which means you risk a small part of your team or channel being put off by the rewards on offer.

Differentiation from “reward offers” Merchandise is the perfect starting point for rewards and incentive programs, as they are the easiest to source and add to the program offer.

But this also means that competitors may well be doing something similar with merchandise. Without this being a major point of difference, you might not get the “cut through” you were hoping for.


A relative newcomer to the reward mix, Branded Cash (Prepaid Visa) is the natural evolution of store gift cards and cash rewards. Branded Cash gives program participants flexibility to get what they want, and delivers another way for program managers to brand their program (and business) with customers.


Branding & Recall Value
Branded Cash offers something no other reward can: your brand in the wallet of customers. Every time they pull the card out to use, your brand’s staring them in the face. It’s instant, easy, and cost-effective brand awareness for your program and company.

Prepaid Visa is the ultimate in choice, unrestricted by brands like store gift cards. Prepaid Visa can be used anywhere: in-store, online, and overseas. This is perhaps one of its strongest points for participants, and hard to match in any other reward.

A gift or reload Branded Cash (Prepaid Visa) can fit into any program design, either as a single load gift card or ongoing recognition via a reloadable card.

Each card option has its own unique function. This flexibility in the reward mechanism means that finding the Branded Cash that complements the overall outcomes of a program is easier to achieve and easily communicated to your target audience.


Unlike merchandise, there’s no cost-benefit (like wholesale prices) for Branded Cash. The cash value is the amount you have to contribute to the program budget. This can impact in a couple of ways: the total reward opportunity value for a customer would be less than merchandise, as a points balance doesn’t stretch as far. This can create a perception of value. Or, if a program has a fixed budget, you can either reward fewer customers as there’s less budget, or you blow out the budget in over performance. (If your program designs awards on over performance, this incremental awarding is a good problem to have!)

Not branded, no separation from daily spending
If you include Visa Prepaid cards that aren’t branded, you lose the opportunity for any trophy value and the rewards are no longer separable from daily expenses like fuel or groceries. Like store cards, you have a reward that promotes another brand, not yours.

Ultimately, you want a reward that creates an emotional connection. If the reward is just being used for everyday expenses like filling up a car, your reward won’t create a connection and you haven’t achieved any severability for the day to day.


Incentive travel is seen as the pinnacle of reward offers. It inspires and excites partners to achieve results like no other rewards. Travel celebrates the success of partners who’ve achieved big results or gone well above and beyond expectations.

Even with the COVID crisis, travel incentives should remain in the mix, the questions of when we can travel and where can we travel to are still ongoing. But when comparing the core strengths of what the reward means to your target audience, these points still hold true.


It’s true: travel incentives are more aspirational than the other rewards. Travel has a strong value proposition, and the status that comes with earning a place on a trip is far greater than any other reward. Offering a holiday to Queenstown or New York immediately puts your program at the forefront of a customer’s thinking: “What do I need to do to get a place on that trip!?!”

Qualification and community-building
In most incentive programs, travel’s typically awarded to the top performers for your business. This shared drive and qualification build a community of like-minded, successful customers associated with your brand. Plus, with a travel incentive, you’ve got a captive audience for the duration of the trip. Imagine what you can do with that time!

Brand association
Travel incentives build your brand by simple association. Word of mouth from a travel incentive can spread like wildfire. And, if you deliver an itinerary true to your brand, more and more of your target audience will strive to achieve. Put another way, travel gives you a powerful tool to grow your sales channels.


Limited numbers, limited winners
If you’ve ever offered travel incentives as a reward, you’ll know that only a fortunate few will make it under your budget. This can alienate customers who put in the yards to succeed but failed to book their spot in the top 20 or 30. If this happens over and over, “I’ve gotta make this!” turns to “Why bother?”, and you might start to see negative changes in behaviour.

There’s no way around it, but travel needs a reasonably hefty budget. What’s more, you’ll need to estimate the success of the program BEFORE you see the results of the program. This makes it a risky proposition if things aren’t calculated correctly. This “budget from the outset” sets travel apart from other rewards, all of which can usually be funded out of actual or incremental sales.

Expectation management
A trap of travel incentive is trying to go one better over the previous year’s destination. In order to exceed expectations, the choice is often to go bigger and that means more strain on the budget, or trying to do the “champagne destination on a beer budget”, which is a risky move. To make this work, activities are removed to make the basics fit into the original budget, which in turn makes the holiday a lesser one. Not planning how to manage the expectations can directly impact the quality of the travel program and the experience a guest receives.

So, the most effective reward for my 2021 program is…

Results are in… and it’s a dead heat! Hedging your bets on a single reward more often than not negatively impacts the results of incentive programs. Rewards shouldn’t be about the “absolute best”, but which ones are best for your program participants right now.

Your reward offers should evolve over time as the target audience and/or business environments change. If you are kicking off a program, start with a mix of rewards to provide a wider choice, then analyse and determine which rewards drive what changes in behaviour. A stagnant reward can be just as much of an obstacle to a program as a complex program mechanic or poor program design.

It’s for this reason we have created and sourced a full reward suite in-house. This gives our customers access to a variety of rewards that are flexible in their positioning and delivery. If your competition ‘zings’ with one offer, you ‘zang’ with a reward that has a clear, beneficial point of difference that people talk about and most important of all, ENGAGE with.

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