Let’s face it, the brand of the rewards and recognition industry has rarely received the respect it deserves. First of all, what is the name of this business? Is it the incentive business, the recognition business, the loyalty business? Chances are, the typical executive barely knows such a field exists. When the recession hit, many of the major brands outsourced special markets to third-party incentive fulfillment companies – again, what are they called? – and one has to credit the incredible industriousness of the incentive companies and incentive representatives who have helped keep this industry alive during the toughest of times. All too often, the corporate decision-maker has no training in rewards and recognition, program design, or the dozens of significant research reports available on the subject, and makes decisions based on hunches or the need for a quick fix.

Call me an optimistic, but there are significant signs that if this industry seriously utilizes the research created by the Incentive Research Foundation, the Incentive Federation and others reported on the Rewards+Recognition Network (RRN), properly trains its sales and program design teams, and most of all has the courage to push back against uninformed corporate practitioners with practical research, there’s a reasonable chance that corporations will gain a new respect for the power of recognizing people correctly – i.e., in a manner tailored specifically to each person that addresses both intrinsic and extrinsic needs and, when appropriate, also involves the family or significant others.

Companies invest millions in media buying services to deliver their ads and other messages to the right audience, usually knowing that even the best ad campaign amounts to “carpet-bomb marketing,” while rarely applying any science to the rewards going to the people most important to their organization – loyal or engaged customers, distribution partners, sales and non-sales employees, etc. The moments when people receive an award and their interaction with it sometimes for years and years afterwards deserve much more focus than the typical corporation or planner believes is warranted.

As David Roberts, President of Power Sales Inc., a leading whole distributor, noted recently, there’s growth in the customization of branded awards and personalization, “but the growth in personalization hasn’t happened as quickly as I would have expected so far, because it’s such a logical thing to personalize an award.”

Why is the engagement movement so important to the rewards and recognition business? Because when companies do wake up to the science, they will make the appropriate investment in ensuring these programs are done right, and that in turn will help “de-commoditize” the industry with a new respect for the expertise required to select precisely the right award and award experience for each person, whether it be merchandise, a gift card, travel, cash, or whatever.

Written by Bruce Bolger