2021 Motivation Masters Awards Winners Announced

These creative incentive programs delivered perfect rewards for difficult times.

ITA Group designed a safe incentive program at the Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis., in July 2020.
ITA Group designed a safe incentive program at the Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis., in July 2020.

One of the silver linings of today’s challenges is that incentive planners remained determined to reward their top performers. The winners of Incentive’s annual Motivation Masters Awards are a testament to the creativity, flexibility and moxie it took to redesign or retain rewards, launch new programs, keep participants motivated and engaged, and above all, recognize and thank their people for their hard work over the past 18 months.

Like you, we’ve broken with tradition in our criteria for judging this year’s contestants. The winning events, which took place between January 2020 and June of this year, celebrate sales, channel sales and recognition programs that effectively raised people’s spirits and delivered soft-dollar results. 

In addition, we’ve added a new category for virtual incentives, to acknowledge the innovation of a unique digital-gifting program. Also, in the spirit of camaraderie and not competition, we have not named a Grand Motivation Master this year. Here’s to the four Motivation Masters of 2021.

Verizon celebrated top achievers with virtual recognition events.

Best Recognition Program: Bishop-McCann and Verizon Business Group

When the communications giant cancelled its annual incentive trip, Verizon wanted to find a meaningful way to recognize and celebrate the 550 top performers who had earned the reward. Working with incentive firm Bishop-McCann, the company delivered a one-of-a-kind, immersive virtual experience that combined an awards ceremony with some magical entertainment, two A-lister-led master classes, gifting and a CSR component. The digital gala was split into two 2-hour programs, one for domestic and one for international reps, who joined via Verizon Stream TVs that were gifted to the winners in advance. 

Video teasers and a customized website, both tied to the program’s “Race to the Finish” theme, built excitement in the weeks leading up to the events. Winners could choose to take a cooking course with World Central Kitchen founder and chef José Andrés, or an entrepreneurial class with FUBU founder and Shark Tank regular Daymond John. Based on their choices, participants were sent gift boxes filled with a cookbook by Andrés, cooking utensils, a recipe card, a cutting board and an apron; or Tiles (trackers for keys, wallets and phones), Bombas socks, John’s book Power Shift and a branded mug.

The live events brought winners into a virtual Oscar-like theater setting, where hosts guided them through the master classes, entertainment by magician/comedian Justin Willman and a ceremony during which their names were announced. A chat feature encouraged interaction between participants. 

A give-back opportunity rounded out the event, as winners could receive a framed commemorative plaque or donate the cash equivalent to a charity of their choice. 

Participants were delighted with this unique program. “Despite being outside the typical President’s Club celebration… this was a job well done,” noted one winner. Another awardee wrote, “Thank you for putting something creative together given the circumstances.”

Toyota's winners could "stroll" the digital gifting hall.

Best Virtual Program: Augeo and Toyota

When the pandemic made Toyota Motor North America’s incentive trip impossible, the automaker was determined to keep a popular element of the program, albeit in a new version, to reward the hard work of the 102 winners from the New York area. 

The in-person experience, where winners select goods based on points earned for their sales achievements, is a highlight of Toyota’s typical incentive trips. Working with motivation firm Augeo, Toyota created a cutting-edge, 3D digital shopping spree this year. 

From the comfort of their homes, winners entered the virtual gifting hall to visit its eight themed booths: apparel and accessories; home; electronics; wellness; outdoor; tool and kitchen; swag; and culinary collection. 

Attendees could visit the gift booths in any order and as many times as desired. Each winner was allocated points to spend, based on their 2020 sales achievements.

Concierges were on hand to answer questions using a shared-screen feature. A chat function was also built into the platform, so participants could communicate with each other during the spree.

Once gifts were placed in the shopping cart, the system tallied the winners’ remaining points and gave them the option to convert them to a gift card or to make a charitable donation, resulting in a contribution of almost $3,000 to the American Cancer Society. 

In a post-event survey, 90 percent said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the experience, and 95 percent gave high marks to the platform.

abbey resort safety guidelines
The in-person event at the Abbey Resort on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin followed safety guidelines.

Best Sales Program: ITA Group and Farm Bureau Financial Services

In July 2020, when most incentive trips were being cancelled, Farm Bureau Financial Services stayed the course. With a laser focus on safety, the company delivered the reward to qualified agents: four days of well-earned R&R at the Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis. 

This was a major undertaking for both Farm Bureau and ITA Group, which organized the trip. Qualifiers were polled several times to determine their comfort level and concerns. Most participants and their families were still eager to attend (464 people in total), and the company’s top management supported the decision to go ahead with the trip. ITA Group consulted its own Covid task force to make sure all the elements were in full accordance with state and local social-distancing protocols, as well as Farm Bureau's corporate guidelines. 

The destination’s proximity to most of the attendees contributed to the program’s viability. The property offered plenty of outdoor space for activities and dining, and the agenda gave the group loads of free time, so participants and their families were able to swim, fish and go boating on Lake Geneva, all in socially distanced safety.

Group meals required extra care: Attendees were seated at family-only tables set at ample distances from one another. Serving staff stood behind food stations at the buffets, protected by plexiglass shields. 

Just one meal, the final-night dinner, took place indoors due to inclement weather. Air purifiers were brought into the ballroom, and seating replicated the outdoor setup. 

According to post-event surveys, an overwhelming majority of participants felt that proper safety measures had been taken and were pleased the trip wasn't cancelled.

Winners spun the wheel for more rewards points.
Winners spun the wheel for more rewards points.

Best Channel Program: Brightspot Incentives & Events and PTC

When tech company PTC wanted to revamp its online motivation and engagement platform to make it more accessible and fun for its sales reps, they turned to Brightspot Incentives & Events, the firm that had launched their original online program. 

The company also wanted to “move the middle” with the platform, pushing the 80 percent of reps who had the potential and bandwidth to sell more by using better communication tools and a more user-friendly website.

The new-and-improved version of Brightspot’s platform allows users to track the points they earn by selling PTC products and redeem them for gift cards and prestige merchandise from such companies as Swarovski, Le Creuset, Sony, Apple and Bose. 

Brightspot made sure the rewards could be sourced and delivered to reps around the globe. Other enhancements included quarterly promotions to meet the company’s short-term strategic goals, as well as a “Spin & Win” wheel game that awarded more points on the fly. 

Following the launch of the new platform, revenue grew quarter over quarter by an average of 8 percent, and the program saw its highest volume of participants since the launch of the old platform in 2017. Engagement also increased sharply: Open rates for quarterly newsletters promoting the new-and-improved website jumped 30 percent. Earnings jumped, too: U.S. sales had the largest increase (22 percent), while Germany had the biggest uptick in sales by the international reps.