Many records were broken in June when the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) brought its 23nd Annual Education & Incentive Invitational to the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, about 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.
There were nearly 500 attendees, including 226 sponsors and 204 hosted buyers from about 150 different organizations, and representing more than 6,000 incentive trips, meetings, and events with a total budget in excess of $1 billion -- all records.
But more important for the incentive industry are the record number of research projects the IRF currently has in its pipeline -- 16 -- carried out by professional researchers and academics. That's on top of the 60 research papers it has produced in the past six years.
"This is top-quality research," said Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF. "We will be using advanced research techniques such as neuroscience in the next year." Continuing the organization's push to turn that raw research into easily usable, actionable whitepapers and reports will continue to be a key, added Janet Traphagen, president of Creative Group and chair of the IRF board of trustees.
Allan Schweyer, executive director of TMLU, Inc., talked about how neuroscience and behavioral economics can be put to use in incentive programs, introducing the concept of behavior-influencing "nudges" that can easily and inexpensively add to incentive programs' ability to move people. This uses four principles in the acronym EAST -- Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely -- Schweyer said, giving several examples: making "organ donor" the default choice on drivers' licenses took the rate from 25 percent actively opting in to 90 percent not actively opting out; in another example, changing a corporate expense account form so that the honesty declaration signature box is above the area where expenses are entered -- it is usually at the bottom -- resulted in a 25 percent increase in honesty.
The IRF is seeing growth in the incentive arena, said Rodger Stotz (pictured), the IRF's chief research officer, noting that spending on incentives totaled $90 billion in 2015, up from $77 billion in 2013. In that time, the number of businesses using non-cash awards for at least some of their incentives grew from 74 percent to 84 percent.
Other educational sessions dealt with Millennials, airlines, and other topics, and the day ended with an inspirational speech from Carey Lohrenz, the U.S. Navy's first female F14 Tomcat fighter pilot.
Another record-breaking part of the Invitational were the live and silent auctions of incentive-quality trips, which went so well Van Dyke described it as "three extra research reports" over budget.