by Jonathan Price | January 02, 2017
This year, my company, Virtual Incentives, has taken a deep dive into consumer preferences when it comes to rewards and incentives via a couple of primary studies, asking what type of rewards they prefer, what kinds of behaviors these rewards inspire, and how to best personalize the incentives. One broader question we sought an answer to: How are innovations and trends influencing our industry? The discoveries that we made gave us some insights for 2017. 

1. Digital is king. Our holiday shopping research, along with secondary studies we've explored, showed digital gifting experiencing a very high adoption rate this past year. We are sure to see this trend carry through to influence the rewards and incentives space even further in the year to come. One of the reasons digital gifting is growing so rapidly is that recipients expect instantaneous, mobile compatible communications on all fronts. In 2017, even more companies will move away from the mailbox and to virtual delivery -- until delivering instantly and electronically to the consumer's constantly available mobile device becomes the norm, not the exception.

2. Data analysis will grow. In the incentives industry, there will be a further surge in the collection and analysis of the massive amounts of data that are now available to us. This coming year will see brands taking advantage of the ability to learn even more about their consumers after rewards are delivered by delving into the available redemption data. This data will help drive personalization -- another big trend blossoming in 2017.

3. Personalization. As our recent research has shown, personalization is key to recipient satisfaction, and highly preferred by recipients because it is personalization that makes a reward relevant and special to them. This year will see a surge in brands taking advantage of this ability to micro-target personalized messaging to their audience members.

4. Surprise and delight takes off. With technology, consumers have more and more control every aspect of their lives. That's why surprising them with gifts "for no reason" has become a stand-out marketing tactic in a cluttered marketplace. They have so much access to information, it is hard to surprise them. The brand-building and loyalty benefits of surprising and delighting the target audience with rewards will become stronger this year, while social media and digital campaigns help amplify the success. 

5. Oh, those Millennials (and their gift cards). Before we left 2016 behind, we wanted to do a study into the holiday shopping behavior of Millennials. There's no doubt that they are driving point No. 1 (digital is king), and we felt that finding out exactly what this demographic is doing during the influential holiday season would help advise 2017. No surprise Millennials will do the majority of their shopping online (many of these on mobile) and many of them prefer to both receive and give gift cards or Virtual Visa cards. The behavior of Millennials is forward-thinking and savvy, and we will continue looking to them in 2017 to track trends in the marketplace, for gift card preferences, mobile usage and more. 

Jonathan Price is a pioneer in the incentive and reward industry, and has led Virtual Incentives to develop an industry-leading incentive platform that enables businesses to reward in a way that is simple, cost-effective, secure, reliable, green and, most importantly, instant. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn