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Who Will Play the New Role of Brand Media Specialist?

A new recognition of the importance of communications, emotion and experiences in rewards and gifting programs creates the need for experts who understand how to carefully select branded products for incentive, recognition, loyalty, gifting and imprinted merchandise programs. The Enterprise Engagement Alliance at TheEEA.org will conduct the first research on the use of brands as a medium in rewards, recognition and gift programs
HarcoFeatured Advertiser: 
By Bruce Bolger and Allan Schweyer

Twenty years of research have uncovered a significant new opportunity for planners of incentive, recognition, loyalty, promotional products and gift programs: the selective use of brands and retail gift cards, customization, personalization and experiences to help clients better tell their stories on a one-to-one basis with the customers, distribution partners, employees and other audiences critical to success. This in turn creates the need for a new category of expertise: the Brand Media Specialist. Just like advertisers need experts to help select the right media for their advertising campaigns, planners in the IRR (Incentive, Recognition and Rewards), gifting and promotional products businesses need to understand how to use brands as a medium. 
Starting in the late 1980s, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) was created to fund research on the return-on-investment of incentive programs. This effort gave birth to the Incentive Research Foundation at TheIRF.org, which in turn helped accelerate a surge in research in all aspects of rewards, recognition and engagement. A fundamental finding of dozens of research projects is the benefit of using non-cash rewards to recognize, thank and surprise and delight. Multiple research findings support the logical conclusion that non-cash rewards can foster memories, emotional connections and message absorption. Cash, while ideal as compensation, does a poor job of communicating values and promoting positive behaviors. 
Recently, research has come from academic sources outside the industry, such as Harvard University’s Ashley Whillans, independently affirming the experiential, emotional and communications impact of rewards and gifts. Her research, and the findings of many studies that can be found at TheIRF.org, clearly supports the role of non-cash rewards but emphasizes that the rewards experience itself—i.e., the way the rewards are selected, presented and communicated—has as much impact (if not more) than the reward itself. See RRN: The Reward Experience and the New Brand Media
A key implication of this research is that reward and gift programs have the most impact when they help tell an organization’s story, and that beyond the item received, the selective use of brands can help enhance that story in the same way that brands can enhance the impact and perceived value of a contest, sweepstakes, or other affinity marketing program. 
Experts in the contest, sweepstakes, affinity marketing and incentive travel fields have long known the importance of destination and brand selection. What’s new is the understanding that the same reasoning applies to the selection of merchandise, gift codes and online rewards because, in essence, every brand tells a story. 
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This concept is illustrated in the fast growing event-gifting business, in which companies feature pop-up boutiques of leading brands in sunglasses, timepieces and even suits and sportswear. If the company features the wrong offerings, the pop-up boutique stands peopleless and empty for all to see. Incentive and loyalty companies can note the same brand preferences when tracking redemptions in their catalogs. Every ebay seller will tell you that popular brands fetch more money than others, and not just because of perceived higher quality. 
It turns out that it’s not only the product selected for IRR, gift and promotional product programs, but also the brands featured that can have an impact in terms of perceived value, message/story retention and emotional connection. What does this mean for planners of reward, gift and imprinted product programs? It means that a new expertise is required related to using brands as a medium, not too different from selecting the right media for an ad campaign, as noted earlier. 
In other words, it’s no longer just about the reward or gift itself, but the opportunity to find creative ways to enhance and personalize the recipient experience itself. A Brand Media Specialist understands how a reward, gift, or imprinted product program can potentially be enhanced by using either a nationally or locally known brand name product to create a higher perceived value and reinforce the organization’s own brand personality through creative presentation. 
Serving in the role of a Brand Media Specialist presents a significant opportunity for planners of incentive, recognition, loyalty, or promotional product and gift programs to enhance their value to their organizations and customers. The key to the effective use of brands is to know the brands active in the corporate market, their personalities, buyer personas and demographics, as well as where to get access to authorized sources, customization, personalization and other experiential enhancements to perceived value and impact. 
To help the industry profit from this new trend, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance at TheEEA.org has created a new Brand Experience Coalition (BEC) to help corporate end-users and resellers gain access to authorized wholesale sources of brands for IRR, promotional products and bulk gift programs, as well as to Brand Media experts who can help them select the right brand for their program, culture and audience. 
The Brand Experience Coalition has begun to build an Engaging Brands media guide on RRN at RewardsRecognitionNetwork.com
In addition, the EEA is undertaking the first-ever research on the new Brand Media to better identify how brands can best be used to help organizations tell their own stories. 
For More Information on the Brand Experience Coalition: 
Bruce Bolger
Enterprise Engagement Alliance
914-591-7600, ext. 230
For More Information on the Featured Advertiser:
Ed Hearne
Harco Incentives
(201) 894-8941, ext. 150 

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For more information, contact Bruce Bolger at Bolger@TheEEA.org, 914-591-7600, ext. 230.
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