Association Spotlight

Incentive Marketing Association

By Association Adviser staff • November 5, 2012

By Association Adviser staff

For more than 12 years, the Naperville, Ill.-based Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) has been serving incentive professionals and the corporate community as the premier educator and information source in the incentive marketplace. Barely a dozen years old, IMA may be young by association standards, but it evolved from a number of smaller organizations that had been in existence for more than 50 years serving manufacturers, gift card suppliers, recognition companies and incentive-based travel organizations.

Why have incentive programs?

What is an incentive program? Experts say it is a planned activity designed to motivate and reward people to achieve predetermined organizational objectives.

As an arbiter of best practices pertaining to “getting people to do what you want them to do,” IMA provides top managers of sales, marketing, finance and HR departments with the latest information, research and education about using employee incentive programs to motivate corporate workforces and their customers. IMA works to raise the corporate community’s awareness of the power of incentive programs. IMA’s official end-user publication, Return on Performance™ (ROP), provides the latest best-practice strategies and research to engage, align and motivate employees, business partners and customers to yield measurable corporate results. The magazine was introduced nearly three years ago, and after early challenges to attract advertising support, enlisted Naylor’s assistance 18 months ago and now has a non-dues revenue stream commensurate with its highly regarded editorial content.

In addition to serving 700 member companies, such as Sony, TJ Maxx and Vera Bradley, ROP is distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada to 10,000 C-suite executives including CEOs, CFOs, and COOs. When digital distribution is added, the readership exceeds 20,000. It’s not just a member benefit, but the definitive voice of the $46 billion dollar industry it serves.

“ROP is all about people-centric leadership,” said IMA Executive Director Karen Renk. “It’s all about employee incentive programs that can be measured and analyzed. That’s the underlying philosophy of IMA. ROP is not just about the numbers. It’s rich with storytelling about successes companies are having with programs to motivate and retain their employees in these challenging times. Readers will find great benchmarking and learning resources for anyone who is responsible for driving the performance of humans in every issue.”

By association standards, ROP is an unusual publication. The majority of readers are not necessarily members of the parent organization, IMA, and the magazine’s branding and design is clearly separate from the IMA’s.

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Biggest challenges

The IMA draws a large portion of its members from the banking, finance, retail, construction, manufacturing and telecommunications sectors. The recession has certainly taken its toll on IMA members, Renk said, as incentive marketing has faced a lot of contraction in its members’ budgets during the downturn. “We’re proud of the fact that we’ve retained 80 percent of our members during this difficult period,” she said. How did they do it? “Good old fashioned networking and the fact that businesses know they can come to our website to find suppliers,” Renk said.

Another big challenge, Renk said, is keeping up with members technologically even though they’re not a particularly tech-savvy audience. “For example, most of our members

even younger members

still insist on having a member directory in print form. It has tangible value and is easy to thumb through, even when out of date. But they also want the convenience of an online directory.”


What’s hot now in incentive marketing?

When putting together a strategy for an incentive awards program, Renk said a great deal of psychology is required. It’s not necessarily the price of the award that motivates employees. Often it’s the perceived value. Awards that work well are things that are considered cutting-edge products (i.e., iPads) with high perceived value as well as things that employees might not normally splurge on (i.e., Coach purses for women).

It’s not just the awards, but the award choices, Renk added. “You have to know your audience demographics first and foremost,” she said. For example, female nurses at a healthcare organization are not going to be motivated by the same type of awards as male factory workers. You also have to be cognizant of their lifestyles and work environments. Do they have access to computers all day at their desks? Do they own mobile devices, and do they have those with them all the time?

Incentive marketing as a retention tool

 Whether you work in the for-profit or not-for-profit world, Renk said keeping employees motivated and engaged in your organization’s mission is extremely challenging during these difficult economic times. As the economy starts to emerge from the depths of the downturn, Renk said signs of “employee mobility” are resurfacing. Employees have to feel appreciated and incentive programs are a very effective defense against the “huge talent drain” that will impact companies that stopped treating their employees well when times were toughest. Incentive awards programs are a “key component” for American companies wanting to keep top talent.

Misconceptions about incentive marketing

One myth is that incentive programs can’t be measured. In reality, incentive programs are very effective tools for measuring employees’ ability to deliver on a brand promise. Research shows that an employee who’s engaged, motivated and who understands the company’s mission will do a better job of relating to customers than employees who are not. And that directly finds its way to the bottom line.

How can an association start an incentive program?


Renk recommends incentivizing team members for membership increases, conference booth sales and wellness programs, among others. Many associations, she said, already have incentive programs in place they just don’t call it incentive marketing. Associations are very good at recognizing members and volunteers. They have a number of programs designed to motivate members and volunteers to help recruit students, new members and volunteers, as well as champion their advocacy efforts.

Renk observed that having a clear sense of purpose, apart from a traditional mission or vision statement, can foster a collective culture of employee involvement at your organization. “Purpose is the ultimate incentive because it gives people shared goals and ideals,” she said. “It taps into the passion behind production and uncovers the reason organizations do what they do, and it causes employees to become emotionally invested in their jobs.”

So, next time you’re frustrated by an inattentive server at a restaurant, a nonchalant sales clerk or an impertinent tech support person on the phone, think how your members feel when they call your organization for help. They can tell right away is a member of your staff is “mailing it in” or is truly on board with your organization’s goals and objectives. If you’re having doubts, a strategically designed incentive plan could be a step in the right direction.

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