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Part III: How to - The No. 1 Rewards Mistake Made 85% of the Time: It's Nothing Personal

This is the third in a three-part series on best practices in the use of rewards and recognition leading up to the Rewards & Recognition Expo and University, April 27-28 at Engagement World in Orlando, April 25-28. This series summarizes key findings and implications of the newly published eBook, ‘The Art and Science of Engaging Rewards,’ created for RRN by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and sponsored by Hinda Incentives.
By Bruce Bolger
Co-editor, Enterprise Engagement: The Roadmap
Despite all of the research making it clear that the presentation of an award is as important as the award itself, it appears that the vast majority of organizations employ little to no personalization in their loyalty, sales, dealer and employee rewards presentations. While these awards frequently are going to the offices or homes of highly valued employees, customers and distribution partners, an informal survey of the leading rewards and recognition wholesalers in the business found that no more than 15% of the packages they fulfill leave the warehouse with any kind of personalization.

Bulova Corporate Sales

If one reviews the summary of findings about rewards and recognition in The Art and Science of Engagement Rewards, there are numerous references to research that note the manner in which rewards and recognition are presented is almost as important as the reward itself. No one would think of sending a business or personal gift without a note, and yet we are told by the fulfillment companies who know that the vast majority of branded rewards shipped out in all types of incentive, loyalty and recognition programs have no type of personalization; nothing on the exterior box, rarely any kind of personalized letter, not even a customized packing slip. In other words, most companies do little to distinguish their awards from the multiple packages coming into the average home each day.
Both common sense and research are clear: The sincerity, care and personalization with which one receives the award is what gets talked about at the dinner table, shared with friends and remembered for years. This impression can affect people perhaps more than an advertising campaign or other ongoing messages pouring in to their inbox, because these moments are personal, heart-felt and are so surprising these days that just a little creativity and sincerity go a long way toward propelling a message along the social media rails far beyond the cost of the reward.
The first article in this series addressed the importance of addressing all of the levers of engagement, and the second addressed the importance of program design, because in the end there has to be a solid business base for heartfelt sincerity and appreciation. Now that both research and analytics are revealing the value of this connection, some very simple steps go a long way toward ensuring the maximum ROI, which in the end can only come from both effective program design and the enduring satisfaction of your best customers, distribution partners, employees, vendors, etc., who perform as desired and get rewarded for doing so.
1. Think strategically. If your organization has decided to offer people rewards and recognition, then it’s worth the extra time and some money to maximize the experience appropriate to your goals and the nature of the relationship. How can the reward experience be enhanced to not only inspire recipients but also colleagues and friends?
2. What is the best way to inform people? An engagement plan needs to address the most appropriate way to let people know what they’ve earned or won. Is this done in person, phone, email? What will have the most meaning to the recipient and resonate with colleagues or communities? Will the rewards and recognition be communicated to the entire community, and how?
3. What is the best way to present rewards? Onstage? One on one? By mail and overnight services? The answer determines the specific media required to customize the experience. Because presumably the people receiving these rewards have great importance to your organization, this step warrants extra thought; not unlike the thought that goes into an advertising campaign’s media selection, or into a corporate event or gift program. 
The more the experience of receiving the reward stands out from the day-to-day humdrum of life, the more it reinforces the values and relationship an organization is trying to foster. It goes without saying that the greater the sincerity, the greater the return on investment, because sincerity translates into bottom-line benefits by consistently fostering valuable win-win relationships with the people who count.
If the leading reward fulfillment companies have it right about the lack of personalization, then 85% of programs have it wrong. Once analytics help organizations finally get their arms around what drives relationships, more companies will see the benefits of investing the extra time and expense to maximize the reward experience. 
The topic of Engaging Rewards will be the focus of the Rewards and Recognition Expo and University, April 27-28 at Engagement World in Orlando, April 25-28.
Click here to access the full edition of The Art and Science of Engaging Rewards. 
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