Creative Group President, Janet Traphagen, participated in Incentive Magazine’s 15th Annual Industry Roundtable which gathered 12 experts in motivation and engagement to discuss the state of the incentive industry. According to the Incentive Federation’s Incentive Marketplace Estimate Research Study – 84% of U.S. businesses use non-cash rewards to recognize and reward key audiences in the form of award points, gift cards, incentive travel, and merchandise – up from 74% in 2013 and just over 23% in 2006. Companies have recognized that the incentive industry can help change employee behavior in favor of corporate initiatives. Anywhere there are people, the incentive industry can help and that’s becoming more and more recognized as well. Read on for Janet’s responses.

INCENTIVE: According to The Conference Board, U.S. CEOs’ top concern for 2016 was: “What is the role of inclusion in fostering a culture of innovation?” How can incentive, loyalty, and motivation programs help?
JT: An Incentive Federation study found that organizations that reward idea generation produce 250 percent more ideas than those that don’t recognize it. In this industry, as we all know, what gets recognized gets done.

INCENTIVE: How are Millennials changing the way we see incentives?
JT: At the Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) Annual Education and Incentive Invitational conference this summer, we did a Millennials panel — they range from 18 to 35, so now there are newer Millennials and there are more senior Millennials with management-level responsibilities. One man got a little passionate and said, “You keep telling us we’re entitled. You keep telling us we don’t act like grown-ups. That’s because that’s how you treat us. Stop treating us like we’re fragile and treat us like professionals.” Engagement is a two-way street. I think we have to treat them like adults and say, “We’re expecting you to engage with us just as much as we are going to commit to engaging with you.”

All of our participants are hungry for an authentic experience and to really immerse themselves in the destination at its most local level. That’s not exclusive to Millennials.

INCENTIVE: Another CEO top-three concern The Conference Board uncovered is promoting a culture of engagement. That’s a core strength of this industry. What can we tell those CEOs?
JT: When we are talking to our clients, to that C-level, about the culture of engagement, I think on an intellectual level, some of our clients really understand that. There’s been a lot of research showing that engagement matters — it boosts profits and morale. But often, when we’re talking about strategies, it’s an awkward situation because the client thinks we’re going to help them create a culture. That’s not what we do. We create programs that help shift or reinforce a culture. Culture is not imposed. Culture is what’s there and a company’s culture starts at the top.

INCENTIVE: What are the hot award categories? 
The new Polaroid cameras are interesting — it’s sort of a throwback, it’s experiential. Instant print cameras have become a huge hit with people who may not have ever seen them before. Clearly, what you want to post on Instagram or Facebook you can still do with your phone.

INCENTIVE: Are “merchandise bars” still growing more popular?
Yes, the gift of choice is still very popular. Sunglasses are always a popular option, and now Revo sunglasses have added the give-back component: For every pair that you, the corporate buyer, purchases for your winners, they’re giving “the gift of sight” to someone via a charity whose spokesman is the rock star Bono. There’s a social component to your gift.

INCENTIVE: What trends are you seeing in gift card awards?
Gift card awards are definitely still part of the mix. We counsel our customers to remember that how the award is presented and how it’s leveraged as a recognition opportunity is still key to the recognition’s impact on the employee. You’re recognizing — presumably — targeted behaviors you’d like to see, and when you do see them, you’re making that a moment of recognition. They’re not simply distributed.

INCENTIVE: Are travel budgets up? Where are people spending that money?
The IRF Pulse Study did show that budgets are up, and spend per person is up. It didn’t drill down to exactly where companies are spending it.

I’m going to say it’s very client dependent. We have a customer in the gaming industry — app-based video games — whose participants are super young, but the company is doing very, very well. They’re going to put their money primarily in a lot of adventure travel. Others are rewarding the top 15 percent, but they’re upgrading the top 5 percent to suites or to first-class airline seats.

INCENTIVE: What are the hot international destinations this year?
JT: Long haul is back. We’re seeing Dubai and New Zealand, South Africa is back in the mix too. Unfortunately, not a lot to Asia, but I think that’s a cyclical scenario as well.

INCENTIVE: Are all-inclusive hotels still gaining favor?
JT: Definitely, they’ve come a long way. All-inclusive hotels went from tacky to definitely classy. The product has so improved, and for the right customer, it is a great buy. The IRF Pulse Study found that about 10% of respondents are switching to an all-inclusive in 2016.

INCENTIVE: What are you seeing in the cruise segment?
I would say river cruising is the fastest-growing cruise segment with us. It’s more intimate, unique, and highly experiential.

Watch the interview here.

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