September 25, 2018

Gift cards remain a staple of incentive and employee reward programs, largely because they are a reliable way to motivate a wide range of workers, sellers and consumers. Whoever you are trying to inspire and whatever their interests, there is a gift card brand or offering that is likely to meet their interests and to motivate their best performance. But while that has long been the case, particular recipient demands continue to evolve, particularly with the major developments happening around digital and mobile, and enhancements around personalization -- not to mention ever-expanding choice as new brands enter the market or grow their offerings.

Helping drive these changes is Theresa McEndree, vice president of marketing for prepaid and gift card solutions provider Blackhawk Network. Following last week's discussion with RGCA Board Chair Marina Hodges, Incentive spoke with McEndree to get her take on the same topics around gift cards and how they are evolving.

How would you say preferences among gift card recipients have shifted in recent years (are they looking for different values, different brands, different ways they can be presented)?

All of the above. Gift cards have become ubiquitous rewards, given by a variety of entities: employers, retailers, service providers, market research companies and more. Gift card recipients are now accustomed to the flexibility that gift cards offer. And as new choices become available, recipients' tastes and preferences will continue to evolve. 

Here are some of the most notable shifts in preference -- backed by Blackhawk Network and Hawk Incentives research: 

People want choice. Above all else, people value choice more than any specific reward (according to Blackhawk's "Reward Preference" online survey). They want the option to customize how they receive their gift cards, how they can redeem, when they receive them, how often, which brands of cards they can choose from and more.  

Recipients want omni-delivery -- digital, physical and wallet-enabled. One size doesn't fit all, and people expect different delivery options to suit their varying preferences and lifestyles. For instance, 65 percent of Millennials prefer digital gift card rewards, but only 45 percent of baby boomers do, according to Hawk Incentive findings. 

Brands matter more than ever. People love and are loyal to their favorite brands. Blackhawk Network research found that 91 percent of consumers trust their favorite brand somewhat or very much. Trust in brands is also higher than other entities that consumers interact with, such as banks, social networks, the government and the media. This matters to incentive programs. A gift card from a recipient's favorite brand can impart a halo effect of perceived greater value than another reward of the same value.

There's a need for speed. As people have become accustomed to fast, digital lifestyles, they expect to receive their rewards and incentives soon after earning them (whether digital or physical). When delivery takes too long, they can lose interest and forget about the behavior that earned the reward in the first place.

People prefer gift card incentives. Most consumers (82 percent) would prefer receiving a gift or prepaid card over other incentive options like discounts, checks or merchandise. Employee gift card incentives are also extremely popular; 69 percent of employees would like to receive a gift card as a reward from an employer, according to Blackhawk research.

What are some effective ways for incentive program managers to ensure recipients have a high level of choice in the cards they receive and that they get the types of cards and they are presented in such a way that is most motivating to them?

Offer a wide variety of options. The more options for recipients to choose from, the better the odds you'll be offering something they want. Give them choice among different brands, delivery methods, type of card (digital versus physical) and so forth. 

Get the timing right. The ideal reward is delivered in less than a week (according to our online survey "Let's Make a Deal 2017"), but instant delivery can better satiate peoples need for instant gratification by effectively engaging them immediately after they perform a desired action. This also creates positive, memorable interactions that shape and drive future desired behaviors. Waiting days, weeks or longer to receive a physical or digital card lets the opportunity to create and maintain a meaningful connection slip away. 

Leave room for personalization. Presentation is everything, and handing someone a blank gift card isn't going to create a memorable experience. More than 60 percent of consumers feel a personal message in a greeting card or a gift card personalized with their own message makes a gift feel more thoughtful. 

Seek out a partner that can help. Managing an incentive program is complex, particularly for large corporations. From research and strategy development to customer support and reporting, the list of moving parts is long. Incentive reward vendors can map out a program strategy and identify the best reward solutions. Working with a full-service reward card vendor with deep knowledge, end-to-end program management capabilities and vast product offerings will ensure you are offering the right choices and creating a better incentive experience.