Incentive Marketing: Gain an Edge For Incentive Programs

Make Incentive Marketing Top-of-Mind

Today’s retail incentive promotions routinely involves a push (channel incentive) and pull (consumer rebate) strategy.  The marketing approach and investment seems to be carefully planned and executed with compelling multi-touch point content for customers.  Yet, incentive marketing isn’t always top-of-mind.  As retail promotions grow in complexity, so should your channel incentive marketing communication plans.

How to Spread the Word? Incentive Marketing is Key

Imagine yourself as a sales associate working for a big  box retailer.  Your specialty is digital imaging and you are the guru on all photo specialty products.  Knowing each product benefit and feature is essential to how you do your job.  However, knowing which product provides a monetary benefit will ultimately motivate you to lead with that product over the competition.

Now, imagine you’re one of the many vendors that sells through that retailer.  You just launched a new sales incentive (“SPIFF”) program to combat a competitor’s recent product launch.  Have you thought about what kind of incentive marketing communication tactics you will provide your retailers?  Do you hope that if you build the incentive program they will spontaneously know about it?  Did you give your internal sales teams the appropriate tools to spread the word about the incentive program?

If You Build It, Will They Come?

I love the movie Field of Dreams, but unfortunately sales associates are not phantom baseball players. We can’t apply the “if you build it, they will come” approach.  We also cannot rely on intuition alone to drive awareness and engagement when developing new incentive programs.  Building channel incentive marketing plans are essential and necessary to bridge this gap.

Incentive Marketing Rule: Awareness Results in Engagement

Channel incentives, such as Spiffs seem to lack the attention and planning necessary to ensure sales associates are motivated to lead with a specific brand or product.  Beyond the incentive itself, program owners need to focus on creating awareness.  They also need to communicate the details of the program to their audience so they know it exists and understand how it will impact their compensation.

If an employer was planning to launch a new bonus plan for its’ employees, in most cases an announcement would be sent out, followed-up with a company-wide meeting outlining details of the program.  As a best practice, it’s up to the manufacturer to communicate downstream to sales associates when a new sales incentive program is available.

It’s not enough to only inform your internal Area Sales Manager (“ASM”) of a new incentive program.  As it stands, they already have a lot on their plate.  The additional responsibility of communicating onto the sales floor the details of a new incentive program, could result in watered-down messaging and miscommunication.  This could also create slow adoption, lack of awareness and low engagement levels in your incentive program.

If ASMs are the only audience that you have contact with then a tiered plan inclusive of detailed content and follow-up reminders is essential.  Give ASMs the tools they need to easily communicate the incentive program.  Some examples of this could be program marketing collateral they can use as a leave-behind or an electronic flyer.  If the advertising team plans to mail retailers Point-of-Purchase (“POP”) kits, be sure to include a piece of collateral within the kit that markets the incentive program.

Some of the largest companies in the world have forgotten about this key component.  However, there’ is a simple rule: awareness results in engagement.

Ask Ten Questions to Achieve Incentive Program Success

When planning your incentive program, ask the following ten questions to achieve success:

  1. Have you identified and mapped out your channel personas and audiences by brand?
  2. What challenges do you expect in reaching your audience and how can you proactively address them?
    Note: Content should be driven by facing these obstacles in a strategic way. Strategy will also be impacted. For example, depending on current data integrity you may or may not have to adjust the approach.
  3. How have you communicated to your audience in the past and do you have metrics for those tactics?
    Note: Understand what works and determine if best-practices need to be implemented.
  4. Do you actively collect and store compliant channel email data securely?
  5. What does your audience currently think and what do you want them to think?
  6. Are there digital properties outside of emails that can reach your target audience such as LMS platforms, eNewsletters, apps, intranet sites?
  7. What is your channel incentive marketing budget?
  8. How will you measure marketing success?
  9. Do you have a short and long-term communication plan?
  10. Who do you need to involve (i.e., agency partners, legal, incentive technology vendor, additional approvers)?

Know Your Audience & Develop Champions

We live in a world where the expectation across audiences is that relevant content will be provided in a timely, targeted and meaningful manner.  Planning how you will launch and communicate a new channel incentive program is essential for your audience (i.e. retailers, distributors and sales associates) to push the products you want them to.

Email marketing remains the main medium for manufacturers to reach their target audience.  Usually email engagement rates vary based on the channel’s commitment to the brand.  Responsive emails are a key part of most channel incentive marketing plans but should not be seen as exhaustive.  Even if you have an extremely high email open rate (40%+), you are still only telling less than half your channel about the promotion.  You need to know what other mediums you should employ to ensure your message is heard.

One of the biggest challenge manufacturers face is direct contact to their target audience about their promotions.  There are three ways we have seen manufacturers overcome this challenge.  First, make sure you equip those in contact with your target audience with the right information.  Emailing the Area Sales Manager or giving them program marketing material at site visits to distribute at store locations is a great start to building these champions.

Secondly, develop program champions using word-of-mouth (“WOM”) strategies with those who you have direct line of sight to.  For example, we reward a sales representative for selling a product, why not reward them for getting their colleagues to participate in the program, and in turn, lead with your products.  Engaging active program champions is fundamental to spreading awareness within your retailer network.

Think Outside the Incentive Marketing Box on Engagement

Finally, think outside of the email marketing box.  When launching a new rebate program, think like “agency advertisers”.  Plan a digital and social strategy along with traditional media campaigns to complement in-store signage and direct mail advertisements for your offer.  When thinking about channel communications, don’t lock your focus on email marketing alone.

I recently had one client who determined their primary audience would visit their booth at a conference. They set-up a station within their booth to drive awareness to their incentive programs and collect email addresses.  This is an excellent example of thinking outside the box and connecting with your sales associates.  Consider a multi-touch-point approach to ensure awareness and adoption of your offer to broaden your reach.

Eliminate Assumptions to Gather Richer Insights

The best way to find out what touch-points you need in your marketing plan is to ask your retailers/sales associates directly.  If you do not have line of sight to them, ask your ASMs who work with your target group and know what mediums will help effectively communicate to your audience.

Surveys help manufacturers make informed decisions on how to plan marketing strategies.  We can sit in meetings and stew on what a communication plan should be comprised of, but if you have eight people sitting in a room for an hour with an overhead cost of $150 / person you would have spent $1,200.  This is the equivalent of purchasing a three-year subscription to an online survey marketing tool for simply asking your audience how to convey a message to them effectively and eliminate assumptions.

We all want to make data driven decisions.  Surveying your target audience to gather richer insights on the composition of your marketing plan versus making assumptions on how to increase reach, is now the norm.  Many manufacturers use this way to tackle other hypothesises to drive program success.

Invest in Channel Incentive Program Branding

More and more, we see retailers, distributors and sales associates referred to as “customers” by the manufacturer.  These manufacturers invest heavily in marketing rebate offers with promotional branding and media to draw customers in and create brand advocacy.  Shouldn’t the same investment be made for your channel marketing communications?

Gone are the days of sending word documents and text-based emails to channel customers.  By delivering branded, targeted and customized content to retailers and sales associates demonstrates an investment in your incentive programs.  Ultimately, this places emphasis on the importance of the program content and generates buy-in.

Today, the concept of involving agency partners for channel marketing communications is also becoming a growing trend in channel incentive marketing.  This ensures a cohesive brand experience across consumer and channel collateral.

Brand recognition of channel incentive programs is the new benchmark.  Rewards programs now have names, logos, and voice of customer satisfaction surveys. Some even have their own brand guidelines.  Creating a brand for your channel incentive programs ensures your audience knows of its longevity and drives loyalty.

Incentive Marketing Final Thoughts

In a competitive channel landscape, it can be challenging for brands to remain top-of-mind.  The secret to gaining a competitive edge starts with effective, strategic and measurable channel marketing of your sales incentive programs.  This ensures your resellers lead with your product because they are aware of the overall monetary benefits.  Be sure to consider your channel incentive audience(s) and strive for content that is created and delivered in a meaningful way.

In summary, know your audience and think outside the box on how to engage with them.  Create early and ongoing adoption of your channel incentive programs.  Budget accordingly to ensure you have the means to execute a communication strategy that reaches your target audience.  Finally, develop program champions, build an air tight work-back schedule and give yourself enough time to create and roll-out your communication plan flawlessly.