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News Analysis: InComm Acquisition Signals Shift Toward Solutions

RRN at RewardsRecognitionNetwork.com believes that this 1nearly 20-year-old plus industry is going through two fundamental changes: a new emphasis on engagement, program design, and ROI, and the focus on using non-cash rewards as a media and an intrinsic motivator leveraging the power of the new Brand Media. This acquisition says a lot about where the IRR business is headed. 
 
By Bruce Bolger 
 
The pace of M&A activity continues to support RRN’s predictions of heightened M&A activity several years ago, but the acquisition of a leading loyalty firm such Meridian by InComm deserves special attention. While it is not unknown for a reward supplier to purchase a full-service incentive company—gift card giant Blackhawk Group purchased Achievers Inc. with a similar “vertical integration strategy” of purchasing a customer--it is not an obvious strategy in this industry because of the risks of channel conflict. Meridian is only one of many loyalty, incentive, and recognition companies that purchase through InComm, which might, under traditional thinking, ask questions of channel conflict in the minds of its other distribution partners.
 
Following several years after Blackhawk’s acquisition, this move suggests either that these traditional notions of channel conflict are dissipating in the new networked economy and or that the importance of providing clients a full-service, solution with a clear return-on-investment is the only way to provide value to clients across the enterprise. After all, the incentive industry is long known for the concept of “co-ompetition,” i.e., cooperating with competitors to provide the required solution. 
 
The wording of InComm’s press release is so significant in terms of addressing the issues RRN consistently has raised about focusing on program design, results and the overall enterprise that we make the unique exception and are publishing it verbatim. 
 
Word-for-Word InComm Acquisition Announcement
 
With this acquisition, InComm will strengthen its incentives business by creating lasting loyalty for corporations through flexible reward offerings and member-centric design and management tools for B2C, B2B and employee programs. The move expands InComm's capabilities from the specialized delivery of stored-value rewards to a comprehensive suite of end-to-end services for brand-focused incentive, loyalty and engagement programs, including travel and merchandise redemptions.
 
"Incentives and rewards have become essential tools for brands to engage their audiences, so we are working towards helping our customers maximize the performance of their programs," said Brooks Smith, CEO of InComm. "The Meridian Loyalty team brings decades of experience and technological expertise in creating effective incentive, loyalty and engagement programs, and we could not be more excited to welcome them to the InComm family."
"Meridian disrupted the incentives industry in the 80s and 90s with the introduction of the MeridiCard, the industry's first reloadable debit card, so our point of view has been rewards-agnostic from day one," said Sam Toumayan, President and Owner of Meridian Loyalty. "We're incredibly excited to be joining the InComm team and finding innovative ways to drive positive client outcomes." (Editors note: the company held a patent on that product that it was able to enforce.)
 
The Incentive Research Foundation reported in its 2019 Trends Study that fewer than 30% of corporate buyers track return on investment (ROI) for incentive travel programs, while 53% of corporate buyers for merchandise and gift card programs do not use reporting or analysis to evaluate the performance of their programs. InComm will ensure brands can overcome these challenges through consultation services grounded in data-driven, predictive analysis and tools. This approach will provide actionable insights that will maximize participation rates and ROI for customer incentive, loyalty and engagement programs.

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