What’s The Best Brand Of Incentive?

By Malcolm Fleschner

Lee Jeans used to advertise its products as “the brand that fits.” Is there a brand that fits with the type of sales-incentive program you’d like to run? It’s an interesting question that confronts sales managers who try to balance quality rewards with limited incentive budgets.

According to Promo Magazine, in 2000 companies spent almost $27 billion on premium incentives, a third of that on sales-incentive programs. Of that figure, experts estimate that 60 percent of the merchandise purchases go to brand-name providers, despite costs up to 30 percent higher.

So why do brands do so well as incentives? First of all, says John Grace, executive director of the Interbrand consulting firm, since September 11 brands have become viewed as offering stability and value.

“We’ve seen a sociologic shift,” he says. “As incentives, brands will become more important in these times. But if the program is not based on true and meaningful corporate values, it will not resonate. It gets back to corporations using a magnifying glass to look carefully at their belief systems and values. Great brands have a level of trust, quality and consistency that’s made them great brands.”Another plus to running a brand-based incentive program is the positive association you garner by affiliating yourself with a top company.

“Brand association can be very helpful to consumers in their processing of information about a brand,” says Duane E. Knapp, author of The Brand Mindset (McGraw-Hill, 1999). “Starbucks is associated with Marriott, Nike with Michael Jordan, McDonald’s with Disney and Intel uses a distinctive audible tone to help consumers relate to their brands’ products and services. The old saying ‘You can tell a person by the company she keeps’ applies here.”

What Knapp’s comments also imply is that if you offer low-end or more generic merchandise to your salespeople, you may be perceived as something of a cheapskate. And when you’re asking your salespeople to put forth the highest quality effort, do they deserve to be rewarded with the best quality merchandise? Well, that’s a brand-new question, isn’t it?