Incentive's 2019 Roundtable: Top Trends Affecting the Incentive Industry Today

Thought leaders from the reward, motivation and recognition industry reveal what's new and next.

Left to right: Tony Lorenz, Rhonda Brewer, Shelly Colla, Melissa Van Dyke, Steve O'Malley, David Gould and Mike May
Left to right: Tony Lorenz, Rhonda Brewer, Shelly Colla, Melissa Van Dyke, Steve O'Malley, David Gould and Mike May Photo Credit: Javier Mosquera

Each year, Incentive gathers industry thought leaders from the incentive, motivation and recognition business to discuss the state of the industry. For the first time, we brought these experts together in a live forum during Incentive Live, Northstar Meetings Group's annual educational program for incentive professionals, which took place last month at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park.

The lively conversation between these seven luminaries touched on a wide range of topics, including big data, artificial intelligence and the economy's effects on rewards and recognition. The gathered group discussed the concerns of the C-suite, trends in program design, and particular issues facing the travel, merchandise and gift-card sectors. It concluded with a lively Q&A where Incentive Live attendees were able to ask panelists to tackle the particular issues they face in their programs.

Though the live event was limited to the industry buyers and suppliers in attendance at Incentive Live, we're now sharing the roundtable with listeners of Incentive: What Motivates, in three parts. In this first section, the panelists offer up the one trend or factor that is having the greatest influence on the incentive industry today. The answers might surprise you.

A few of the trends affecting the incentive industry, according to this year's industry roundtable participants:

Real-Time Data Will Shape Program Decisions

BCD Meetings & Events' Rhonda Brewer spotlighted data-gathering as a priority for incentive planners.
BCD Meetings & Events' Rhonda Brewer spotlighted data-gathering as a priority for incentive planners. Photo Credit: Ketara Gadahn/Studio Alani

BCD Meetings & Events' Rhonda Brewer sees gathering real-time data as a valuable tool for incentive programs that's only likely to grow. "We all have to make changes on the fly, but once you start getting that data on really how engaged everyone is, you're going to be able to make changes during the program in order to really enhance the engagement experience for the attendees."

A Split View on the Economy

Looking at the Incentive Research Foundation's Net Optimism Score around the economy, Melissa Van Dyke cited an interesting discrepancy between different parts of the incentive industry: "On the travel side, for the national economy it was neutral [about the same number of people thought the economy was having a negative impact as a positive one]. For the world economy, the impact was seen as negative. But on the gift-card and merchandise side, it was one of the most positive numbers we've seen…I think that's going to play out as a little more trepidation on the travel side in the future."

More Efficiency from the Industry

Tony Lorenz noted that the consolidations happening across the industry have required "a need for greater and greater consistency and efficiency…that's not going to stop anytime soon. When that's done well, it means the industry offers a lot more to the audience it serves."

Julia Reich of Stone Soup Creative created a graphic recording of the roundtable discussion as it happened. Photo Credit: Ketara Gadahn/Studio Alani

Greater Scrutiny of ROI

Coming from a merchandise standpoint, Sony's Shelly Colla noted that, "We're seeing more requests — but a lot more analytics. They want to see return on investment by program and a lot of customization. It's a lot of asks, but it's a growing, positive segment."

Disconnect Between Buyers and Sellers

Mike May: "Hotels are busy and are ready for a fast decision, but for the corporate America side to commit 12-18 months out is very difficult. They tend to focus on quarter-to-quarter decision cycles." It's what May calls "dating disconnect": "If they were in a relationship, the client would be the bachelor who feels like he has lots of options and doesn't need to commit yet…By the time they make a decision, the hotel may have been sold out from under them."

Transformation of Auto Industry — and Its Incentives

Maritz Travel's Steve O'Malley sees the auto industry as a key area to watch. Photo Credit: Ketara Gadahn/Studio Alani

Steve O'Malley: "The electrification of vehicles will transform that industry completely: You go from 2,000 parts to 200 parts in a car. It makes the sale very different, the service and parts department very different. Over the next 10-15 years, the nature of an automotive dealership — a focus for incentives for 60-plus years — is going to change, and we as an industry are going to have to get more creative."

Economic Challenges in Europe

David Gould of CR Worldwide has seen the effects of the European economy's challenges and its impact on incentives firsthand. "We've seen clients either delay or defer incentive travel trips. They've extended their incentive periods, and they're looking to see if they can stretch beyond the Brexit malaise in order to get more confidence and certainty moving forwards."

Hear more details about these insights and much more by listening to the first part of the Incentive Industry Roundtable here.