Continuously Improving Your Incentive Program

By: Nichole Gunn, Vice President of Marketing & Creative Services, Incentive Solutions

The first years after launching an incentive program are an exciting time for craft beer producers: supply chain trading partners, drawn by the excitement of new promotions and an improved channel partner experience, are more responsive, more motivated and more likely to recommend the brand’s products to restaurants and retailers. During this time, craft beer producers often experience a period of rapid sales growth or improvement in other KPIs the program was designed to target, such as improved partner data profiles or increased referral business. The incentive program’s ROI grows exponentially.

  However, often after 12-30 months, growth begins to stagnate and the ROI curve starts to flatten. If left unaddressed once an incentive program’s novelty starts wearing off and supply chain trading partners become habituated to the program’s value proposition, the incentive program’s ROI may start to decline, leaving craft beer producers scrambling to find ways to replicate the program’s success.

  The good news is that by planning ahead, craft beer producers can anticipate this drop off in interest level and continuously improve their incentive program in order to sustain a competitive advantage in their channel.

Keeping Incentive Programs Fresh

(and Profitable!)

  In order to stay relevant, a channel incentive program has to be able to evolve with the interests of its participants, scale its value proposition over time and respond rapidly to the tactics of the competition. Below are several factors that craft beer producers can focus on in order to continue to drive ROI once program growth begins to stagnate:

•  Evolving incentive program technology.

•  Incorporating elements of gamification.

•  Adding new, richer reward-earning opportunities.

•  Personalizing brand interactions to build loyalty.

•  Re-launching the program with updated features and branding.

  Ideally¬, these are all elements that craft beer producers will consider from the inception of the program, with plans for program expansion at certain intervals. However, these factors can also be incorporated to bring new life to existing programs.

Evolving Incentive Program Technology

  Today, incentive programs are a technology platform, and craft beer producers should be as mindful in selecting incentive program technology as they are in selecting any B2B software platform. From an administrative standpoint, this means choosing an incentive platform that integrates with existing CRMs and other business software and provides streamlined admin tools and generates detailed reports on engagement and ROI.

  However, perhaps more importantly, craft beer producers should focus on selecting incentive software that is fully supported and will be continuously updated to improve the user experience for their supply chain trading partners. More and more, B2B customers expect a seamless B2C-style user experience. Partners will be less likely to engage with a rewards program that uses stale, outdated software, no matter how exciting the reward offering.

  Additionally, agility is key. Craft beer producers should look for incentive software that allows them to quickly go to market, adapt to the tactics of the competition and launch new promotions. These factors will offer an edge when it comes to maintaining engagement throughout the lifetime of their program.

Incorporating Elements of Gamification

  Gamification is the use of game-like elements – such as points-scoring, interactive leaderboards and other competitive components – to increase engagement with a web-based application, such as an incentive program. Gamification is a powerful tool that supply chain trading partners already seek out in their day-to-day lives, from collecting likes on their Facebook page to scoring achievements on Peloton bikes.

  When interest in the program begins to stagnate several years after launch, adding gamification features can give the program new life. Interactive trivia, spin-to-wins, badges and achievements, personalized leaderboards and limited-time point bonuses make the program more compelling and can give a sustainable boost to the program’s effectiveness over time. Additionally, by not relying strictly on reward value to drive engagement, craft beer producers can help lower program costs to increase their ROI.

Adding New, Richer

Reward-Earning Opportunities

  As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons an incentive program can lose its effectiveness overtime is that participants become habituated to the program’s value proposition. Top performing supply chain trading partners may have already redeemed for their most coveted rewards and find themselves with more points than they know what to do with. The competition may have launched their own reward program with comparable, or even more compelling, rewards.

  It’s up to craft beer producers to constantly up the ante with their program’s value proposition. For instance, launching a points-based merchandise reward program alongside an existing debit or gift card program will offer new value for participants. Elevate a points-based program by offering top performers a concierge service to redeem for custom rewards – using their points to buy a new truck, renovate their home or pay for their child’s college tuition will personalize the reward experience and boost the program’s value proposition in a way the competition will struggle to match.

  Additionally, incentive travel promotions can be added onto any program type, giving craft beer producers an opportunity to connect with their supply chain trading partners on a deeply personal level. Given recent restrictions, the demand for incentive travel is projected to be particularly high once it is deemed safer.

  If minimizing rewards cost is a concern, try setting higher qualification thresholds for these more exclusive reward opportunities. Doing so can also help tap into supply chain trading partners’ competitive drive, keeping them more engaged as they compete for a limited number of higher tier rewards.

Personalizing Brand Interactions

to Build Loyalty

  In their early stages, incentive programs are typically geared toward growth. However, if well designed, the program will be able to convert that initial interest and motivation into brand loyalty over time. Loyalty is about more than rewards; rewards appeal to self-interest while loyalty is rooted in creating mutual interest. Craft beer producers can create this loyalty by using their incentive program to provide a highly personalized experience and to help their channel partners become more effective salespeople.

  This personalization should extend through every phase of the incentive program, from designing program communication to be relevant to each segment of their channel partners to basing reward selection on participant lifestyle and interests. Craft beer producer can use engagement metrics from their incentive program to identify which of their supply chain trading partners have a high level of buy-in and which of their partners might need a little more help. They can provide enablement to their partners by providing online courses and certifications and using their incentive program as a platform to educate partners on their brand and product lines, equipping them to more effectively sell their products.

  By using personalization and focusing on partner experience, craft beer producers can build loyalty with their supply chain trading partners in ways that make extrinsic rewards less important. This makes trading partners drastically less likely to lose interest in the program.

Re-Launching the Program with Updated Features and Branding

  Finally, when the growth of an incentive program begins to stagnate, it might be a sign that it’s time to re-launch the program. A program re-launch gives craft beer producers the opportunity to step back and figure out what their prior program did effectively, as well as what they can do better. During this time, craft beer producers should also explore other pain points they would like their new program to target.

  A pause between programs can help build anticipation, as supply chain trading partners realize the value proposition of the previous program that they had begun to take for granted. Once the new program launches, with updated branding and new features, supply chain trading partners will enthusiastically re-enroll and craft beer producers will experience a renewed period of growth. Better yet, by using the knowledge gained from the previous program, craft beer producers can make their re-launched program even more effective than the first.

Planning Ahead for Program Management

  Additionally, craft beer producers can enlist the help of incentive companies to design and manage their programs. Just like crafting an excellent brew requires years of experience, so too does managing an effective incentive program. Working alongside an incentive company with a proven track record can help craft beer producers avoid potential pitfalls and take advantage of decades of experience in managing successful programs.

  Whether a craft beer producer is looking to launch their first program or improve a program that is currently underperforming, the initial investment of partnering with an incentive company can pay dividends down the road.

  Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing and Creative Services at Incentive Solutions (www.incentivesolutions.com), an Atlanta-based incentive company that specializes in helping B2B companies improve their channel sales, build customer loyalty, and motivate their employees. Nichole Gunn can be reached at ngunn@incentivesolutions.com.

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