Why Innovation Will Be Key for Gift Cards in 2018

A Q&A with Flourish’s Holly Glowaty and Kristen Thiry

Flourish Glowaty Thiry

As we move into a new year, new things are happening in the incentive gift card segment. To help get a sense of some of the biggest issues affecting the industry, Incentive is reaching out to several figures in the gift card sector, to get their takes on what to expect in the year ahead. This week, we spoke with Holly Glowaty and Kristen Thiry, co-founders of Flourish: The Growth of Branded Currency show (which takes place April 9-11 in Chicago) as well as payment technology consultancy K+H Connection. Both were members of Incentive's 2017 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. Here are some of their thoughts need for innovation and creative collaboration.

What would you say are the biggest trends happening around gift cards/branded currency in the corporate incentive space today?

We have been seeing increased demand for a more personal experience with incentives. For example, the request for hyper-local gift cards or passes to classes for a day have been going up. At K+H, we hear about it because gift cards for small brands are hard to come by. Most don't have them, or they are operating with promo codes. 

This creates a great opportunity for large retailers to establish interesting partnerships and re-introduce their brands to a new audience. We have seen very successful examples of dinner-and-a-movie packages between restaurants and movie theaters -- so why can't a department store put the value of a pair of yoga pants and a mat on a gift card and co-brand a promotion with a yoga studio or gym? You can use your branded currency as a "ticket" to an experience. Thus, creating a co-branded currency experience for the recipient that is surprising and memorable; while also being mutually beneficial for the larger brand and the local yoga studio.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the sector overall? 

Legacy systems and siloed work environments. These two behemoth issues have plagued our industry for a while now; we are looking into ways to help tear down the silos, and help brands and incentive companies migrate to new systems without interruption. We are also hearing concern over consolidation, which has in turn raised the question of how to expand globally.

What are you most excited about for the coming year both for Flourish specifically and the industry more broadly?

Last year, Flourish focused on collaboration. This year we invite our attendees to think about innovation within and outside of the branded currency industry. We have challenged our speakers and sponsors to bring us their most creative ideas. We want you to leave Flourish with next steps, new partnerships, and real sense of how you will grow your program in 2018 without breaking your budget. The industry is seeing a lot of change, and while it may be scary, it presents all sorts of opportunities to shift the way in which we use and talk about our traditional products like gift cards, promotional/reward points, credits, etc. It also opens the door for new technology that can help with the issues of legacy systems and give deeper insights into our consumers.

Our preliminary agenda is out on our website. We will be covering various topics like those mentioned above and everything from marketing and merchandising to benchmarking and trends. We've had a lot of interest in global expansion, so we have experts from Canada and the UK to help brands navigate the laws and better understand the opportunities. We are also expanding the reach of topics to include point of sale (POS) and FinTech solutions that can help the branded currency industry grow. We are continuing to bring new speakers with different perspectives into the conversation. The most important element of the Flourish content is that attendees walk away with actionable next steps they can take back to their office to think about their program in a new way to help it grow.