Incentive Trends, Merchandise and More

Positive survey results and new merchandise show an industry on the upswing



Companies have been spending more on their incentive travel programs as we close 2016, with strong growth compared to 2015. Incentive's 2016 Travel IQ survey indicated that the largest incentive programs, with budgets of $1 million or more, grew from 8.1 percent last year to 13.7 percent this year. Overall, about four out of ten (38.2 percent) of respondents say they’re increasing incentive budgets. This, while less than 10 percent (9 percent to be exact) are planning to decrease their budget for incentives. And for more than 11 percent, the growth has been sizable: their incentive travel budgets grew by at least 10 percent.


Brands go big

The benefits of including merchandise in non-sales employee recognition, engagement, safety, and wellness programs is significant. Non-sales programs have many more participants and they’re just as motivated by brand-name merchandise as salespeople. 

In fact, U.S. employers spent $3.2 billion on incentive awards for non-sales employees, compared to $3.7 billion for sales staff and $2.8 billion for dealer-channel programs in 2015, according to the “Incentive Marketplace Estimate Research Study,” by the Incentive Federation. If points-based incentive programs, which generally offer merchandise awards, are included, another $8.1 billion was spent on non-sales employee programs, compared to $8.3 billion for sales and $6.3 billion for channel sales.

The study found that 84% of U.S. businesses used non-cash rewards to recognize and reward key audiences in 2015 –up 74% from 2013. Those same businesses spent $90 million on these types of incentives, a significant increase from $77 billion in 2013. And when it comes to brand names, the Incentive Research Foundation found that almost 70 percent of events are now incorporate some sort of brand experience.

Incentivizing employees, customers and partners with brand name merchandise has long been an effective and valuable method to motivate, reward and recognize these stakeholders for their contributions. According to Ron Eliakim, vice president of strategic sales and partnerships at Montreal-based Rideau Recognition Solutions, brands are important because people are already familiar with them and so, a certain level of trust is already established when people see a recognizable household name or logo. “Brands are important because people want quality and in today’s world, I don’t think brands have ever been so prevalent because of the Internet and social media where comparative shopping is right at your fingertips,” he says.

Brand recognition also plays a role in the overall recognition experience and as Eliakim points out, that’s across all demographics. “Everyone will respond well to a well-known, trusted brand because they know that it’s quality and they know they can call customer service.”

However, Eliakim also notes that brand name merchandise need not be top of the line in order to achieve the desired effects. Every industry offers a range of products at different price points so that companies that opt to purchase brand name merchandise as incentive giveaways don’t have to worry about breaking the budget. “Mid-range brands can be very powerful, even though there are also outstanding brands that are much more expensive,” Eliakim says. “But all brand names hold the same quality and trust perceptions and that’s why they deliver more retail and brand equity, which go a long way into delivering a rich emotional experience for the recipient.”


Merchandise over cash

Incorporating merchandise (as opposed to cash) into rewards programs is very much by design. While there’s no denying the value of cash as an incentive tool for employees, dollars do not typically have the long-lasting and beneficial impact of branded merchandise rewards. “Cash incentives all have a very strong role in a company’s compensation structure and very few people are going to trade away the bonus system for merchandise, but cash incentives are part of a company’s compensation structure,” says Moravec. “Non-cash incentives are part of the a company’s recognition structure. What are you going to remember longer? A $25 check or a $25 tangible item?”

The value of cash is certainly concrete, but it doesn’t deliver the emotional return of a branded merchandise reward. That is, cash is typically deposited into a checking account and used to pay bills or buy other necessities, at which point, the reward is as quickly forgotten as it was spent. Moreover, employees tend to view cash awards as income. But with branded merchandise rewards comes more value-add, both for the employee as well as for their company. “The most impactful way to spend money on reward and recognition programs is not on cash incentives, but on branded merchandise,” says Scott Plybon, vice-president of IMRA.


Perceived value

Employees will strive to earn a branded item that they perceive as a luxury good because their hard work cancels any need to rationalize spending on an indulgence that they probably would not otherwise buy for themselves. By putting what’s otherwise viewed as unattainable within reach, branded merchandise has a higher perceived value among employees thereby making these rewards unique and more meaningful than simple cash incentives.

“Part of the underlying principle of incenting behavior with branded merchandise is that it be aspiration merchandise,” Moravec points out. “Well-known merchandise and brands are perceived as high-value and they drive added motivation for employees to achieve the desired result in order to earn that type of merchandise. The value of branded merchandise incentives is that employees either view it as a luxury item or simply as something they would like to have, but shouldn’t really spend money on.”

Yet, the merits of branded merchandise incentives don’t stop there. Unlike cash rewards, branded merchandise also has trophy value or bragging rights. So while employees are not likely to show or even boast about a cash reward to friends and family, they will exhibit new, brand name goods and proudly relay the story of how they earned the item, which also creates a lasting memory and continuously positive link to the company. “The degree to which a reward is seen as valuable makes the desire to continue performance-enhancing behaviors all the more likely,” Plybon adds.



Look to these IMRA member brands for incentive excellence

When you need merchandise to reward, recognize or show appreciation for customers or employees, you have a responsibility to ensure the experience is a positive one and that all merchandise is delivered as promised, on time for the award celebration, employee anniversary or other event.


Contact these IMRA members for quality brand name merchandise that will make your program excel. They feature their latest new products to dazzle your incentive winners.


Make Bulova’s new CURV the centerpiece of your unique Gift-in-Time program.

It's the world’s first curved chronograph movement with five-hand chronograph function and high performance quartz technology with 262 kHz vibrational frequency for precise accuracy.

A 12-piece collection can satisfy every guest’s personal tastes and make the event memorable!


Find out more...


For every person that deserves a reward or incentive,
Canon has a product to fit their lifestyle.  

Canon Special Account Sales emphasizes customer service and focuses on your company's specific needs, at various price points.

Let us help you select the "picture perfect" solution to Capture and Share your memories.  


Find out more...


Deliver an Experience

Omaha Steaks® has a wide variety of gourmet selections for your holiday business gifts!  Our famous steaks, seafood, poultry, sides and desserts are sure to leave lasting memories.   Shop our corporate gift guide online for your business gifts or ask us for additional ideas.  Bulk gifts and custom certificates also available.


Find out more...



The Proximity is Citizen’s latest breakthrough—a watch that utilizes Bluetooth® technology with your smartphone. Once paired to your iOS or android device, it automatically syncs time and date, and gives visual and vibrating notifications for calls, emails, texts, social media and more.  Best of all, Proximity requires zero wires and zero plugs for charging.  Using Eco-Drive technology, it’s powered by light and never needs a battery change.

Find out more...


Fujifilm Instax SP-2 Share Printer

Wirelessly transfer photographic images from any OIS or Android Smartphone for instant prints in seconds.  This amazing little printer produces 2" x 3" instant prints on the spot.  Special features include multiple prints of the sames photo, Black and White photo option and special messaging options on each print.  Includes 20 exposure pack of film, lithium batteries and photo album.

Find out more...


If TVs are measured on picture quality,
then the Sony Z-series stands alone.

Near perfect black levels combine with the ability to reproduce the brightness and color of the real world, while your favorites get upscaled and enhanced to look like 4K HDR.

It’s a viewing experience that can’t be replicated.


Find out more...



Give a gift that will last a lifetime – the
compact and easy-to-use D3400 Two Lens Kit.
It’s perfect for capturing breathtaking, quality
images for every unforgettable moment.
Best of all, it’s always connected with
Nikon’s SnapBridge App for easy sharing to
compatible devices. Click below to find more
information about this gift and even more reward
options for every customer or employee!


Find out more...


The SEIKO Corporate Gift and Incentive program
is designed to help organizations recognize and
reward important events and milestones with a gift
that is truly classic and enduring.
We are able to customize our gift watches to allow
for a highly personalized memento.

Give the gift of time. Give SEIKO.


Find out more...

The Right Stuff — New Products to Put on Your Radar

While many studies show that brand name merchandise awards are extremely effective motivators, that’s true only if you choose the right award. Knowing your participants helps, but age, class, gender and a host of other demographics play a big part in selecting the brands and items that will get them to put in that extra effort. IMRA members have the experience, resources and know-how to help you choose a truly motivating award or catalog of awards that your participants will find exciting and memorable.

Following are some IMRA member products that will make your incentive programs stand out.


A Drive to Succeed

If you’re looking for contemporary styling and clean, modern detailing that appeals to a younger generation, consider DRIVE from Citizen. It’s made for those who are passionate about life, and love watches. It’s time to make room for a fresh staple in your incentive watch collection. The Ladies LTR model is featured here in a gold-tone stainless steel case and Milanese mesh bracelet, silver-tone dial and gold accents.

Each timepiece is powered by light using Citizen Eco-Drive technology. Eco-Drive harnesses the power of any light — from any natural or artificial light source — and converts it into energy which is then stored in a permanently rechargeable lithium-ion cell.  The watch charges continuously in any kind of light to run forever, so there’s never a need to change a watch battery again.


A True Rebel

The camera with the quality that winning photos deserve, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 can be ideal for smartphone or digital point-and-shoot camera users looking to step up their imaging game. It’s equipped with an 18.0 Megapixel CMOS image sensor and the DIGIC 4+ Image Processor for highly detailed, vibrant photos and videos even in low light.

Whether out on an adventure hike or snapping candids of friends during a late night out, the EOS Rebel T6 can help your audience take photos they’ll want to show off. Built-in Wi-Fi® and NFC connectivity make it easy for them to get their favorite pictures up on select social media sites for friends, family and the world to see. If they’re new to DSLRs, Scene Intelligent Auto mode can conveniently and automatically adjust the camera’s settings to suit their subject.

Easy to use and simple to share with, the EOS Rebel T6 delivers high image quality that’s sure to catch the audience’s eye.


Electronic Excellence

Show your appreciation for your amazing employees with Sony’s award-winning line-up: extraordinary 4K Ultra HD televisions, advanced digital cameras, high-performance portable audio and more. They’re the rewards that bring out the best in your employees.

If TVs are measured on picture quality, then the Sony Z-series stands alone. Near perfect black levels combine with the ability to reproduce the brightness and color of the real world, while your favorites get upscaled and enhanced to look like 4K HDR. It’s a viewing experience that can’t be replicated.


Entering a New Realm

Fujifilm takes the instant camera category into a whole new realm with the retro designed Mini 90 Neo Camera. This top of the line model not only produces images on the spot but has various shooting modes depending on the conditions and can even double expose a print for extra creative photography. It includes 20 exposure pack of film and a lithium battery.

The Fujifilm Instax Share Printer will wirelessly transfer photographic images from any OIS or Android smartphone. This amazing little printer produces 2” x 3” instant prints on the spot. Its features include multiple prints of the same photo, black and white photo option and special messaging options on each print. It includes a 20-exposure pack of film, lithium batteries and a photo album.

The XP90 Rugged Camera takes a beating and keeps on ticking. Waterproof to 50 feet, shock proof to 6 feet and freeze proof to 14 degrees, there’s no place this camera can’t go. It features a 16MP CMOS sensor with 5X optical zoom and 3” LCD. Your winners can wirelessly shoot images and video from any smartphone. The bundle includes 8 GB SD card, lithium battery and case.

The X-A3 Ultra Compact Digital Camera is half the size and weight of most DSLR cameras but packs the same punch. The new 24 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and Fujinon wide angle 16mm - 50mm Super EBC aspherical lens assures superior image resolution. The 3” tilting-180 degree touch panel LCD ensures greater ease of use. It includes camera bag, high performance 16 GB card and lithium battery with charger.


Innovation and Boldness

The Seiko Coutura Radio Sync Solar Chronograph, a bold men’s watch, is designed with a two-tone stainless steel case and bracelet and a cabochon crown.  The bold black dial features lumibrite hands and markers, a date calendar and three sub dials with gold highlights. The grey bezel includes a world time function featuring 25 time zones. The radio-controlled, radio sync solar chronograph automatically receives radio signals to precisely adjust the time and calendar signal reception and result indicator.

The chronograph measures up to 60 minutes in 1/5 second increments with a split time measurement function and a date calendar. Powered by any light energy, its solar cell is energy-efficient with a 6-month power reserve once fully charged. No battery change is required and it’s 100M water resistant.


Capturing Quality

Give a gift that will last a lifetime – the compact and easy-to-use Nikon D3400 Two Lens Kit. It’s perfect for capturing breathtaking, quality images of every moment someone wants to make unforgettable, like an exotic vacation, a sports event or a family gathering. 

It’s the gift that keeps on giving because the D3400 is always connected with Nikon’s SnapBridge App for easy sharing. Just take a picture and it’s automatically transferred to a compatible smartphone or tablet. 

The D3400 is perfect for beginner DSLR users who may be stepping up from a smartphone or compact camera. With Nikon’s Guide Mode, camera users learn how to take gorgeous images with ease. 

This D3400 Two Lens Kit includes the D3400 DSLR camera and two extraordinary lenses – the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens and the AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED lens – both of which will extend the reach of everyone’s photo imagination. Look no further for the perfect incentive gift. 


Incentives You Can Taste

Omaha Steaks® is a family-owned company that markets and distributes a wide variety of the finest quality grain-fed beef and other gourmet foods.  

Omaha Steaks B2B specializes in helping companies run successful business gifts, promotions and reward programs. Their business programs can be designed to fit every budget.  All products are also backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Their Custom Certificate program is a unique way to give a gift recipient the opportunity to pick their own gift from a variety Omaha Steaks gourmet selections. These certificates allow for branded gift messages and logos to be front and center in a high-quality gift presentation. Add additional spice with one of their signature rub kits.

Custom Certificates come in 10 price levels and are also fully customizable for large orders. Redemption of certificates is easy; by phone, mail or online. A customized program can even include a video message to the gift recipients.

Whether for an employee holiday gift, client appreciation, safety incentive or even just the perfect thank-you, look no further than Omaha Steaks.  For gift incentive details, contact their B2B division today.


Bending the Rules 

Bulova bends the rules with the groundbreaking debut of the world’s first curved chronograph movement. Called the Bulova CURV, the collection is a marvel of technical engineering with a sleek ergonomic design and a slim case never before possible in a chronograph movement.

The new 12-piece CURV collection offers a striking series of dress and sport styles.

Built from the inside out, CURV is engineered to perfection with first-ever curved chronograph movement and a high-performance quartz movement that vibrates at 262kHz frequency for precise accuracy. On the outside, Bulova’s applied design technology makes an aerodynamic statement with a refined, contoured simplicity that exactly follows the wrist. 

Features include five-hand chronograph in titanium and stainless steel case, dark grey exhibition dial with rose gold-tone accents, exhibition screw-back case, curved sapphire glass with black metallization on the outer crystal, black rubber strap with 3-piece buckle closure, and water resistance to 30 meters.


Navigating the Industry

Now that we’ve seen some exciting new merchandise, how do you effectively incorporate it into an incentive program? The goal of any incentive award is to inspire program recipients so they raise their game to new heights. 

For most people, the inspiration differs. That’s why getting expert advice is crucial for attaining the “wow” factor, no matter what the recipient’s outlook. 

Start by contacting IMRA’s direct factory representatives who offer complimentary consulting services. As the frontline for brand names with well-established reputations, IMRA’s manufacturers’ representatives ensure a high standard of professionalism and consistency that inspires trust and confidence. Their unique relationship with manufacturers allows reps to offer value-added services such as the latest product photography, custom packaging and in certain cases, imprinting and other forms of personalization. 

As members of IMRA, these manufacturers’ reps further benefit from additional training and ongoing professional education that includes access to the latest industry research and resources. This enables them to provide you with the most up-to-date information and to assist in planning successful programs that will truly resonate with your incentive recipients.


Take the Next Step

A strategic industry group, IMRA has more than four decades of experience in fostering relationships between manufacturers’ representatives and buyers of brand name incentive products. To learn more and work with an IMRA manufacturers’ representative, visit these valuable sources:

Now Trending...

A study by the Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) “2016 Trends in Incentive Travel, Rewards, and Recognition” uncovered several distinct directions in the industry. It indicated more spending on incentives and a greater focus on creating exceptional, experiential rewards.

Drawing on its own internal research and other sources, the IRF isolated 10 general trends that have shaped the industry in 2016 and beyond. The trends are:

* Budgets are up…and so is oversight

* Cash is not necessarily king

* A shift in incentive travel destinations will affect planning

* Merchandise and gift card programs lean toward luxury

* Recipients want authentic experiences

*  A changing talent pool

* Integrating technology

* CSR is a given, not a goal

* It’s all about presentation

* Success is in the details

* Accommodating rising F&B and rooms costs was the biggest change to program budgets in 2016.

* Very few planners are reducing the number of rooms and length of their program; continuing the trend.

* Since 2013 the trend has been for more planners to move from domestic to international locales than vice versa.

* Covering air costs with 46% of planners now covering all air-related costs.

* Lead time to book an incentive travel program now averages well over a year.

* Organizations predominately use 12 months or more to qualify participants to earn an incentive travel program.