by Alex Palmer | March 30, 2018
Innovation and business-building collaboration will be on the agenda at this year's Flourish: The Growth of Branded Currency. The conference, taking place April 9-11 in Chicago, brings together merchants, marketers, and experts in the whole ecosystem of branded currency -- not only gift cards, but loyalty points, promotional codes, coupons, and more. After a successful inaugural year, the event's cofounders, Holly Glowaty and Kristen Thiry, are aiming to both expand and deepen the event's offerings for the second year. (Note: those who have yet to register can get a 20 percent discount by entering the exclusive code INCENTIVE20.)

The event will formally kick off with a keynote by Bridget Brennan, author of Why She Buys, and expert on women consumers. Her talk will touch on topics such as a "new definition of shopping" and trends that are "transforming consumer purchasing."

"She's one of the nation's experts on consumer decisions behind purchasing and retail, so it should be an interesting correlation into how it trickles down into what we're doing with branded currency," says Thiry. 

Brennan will be followed by Mark Bonchek, CEO of consultancy Shift Thinking and columnist for Harvard Business Review, who was one of the first to use the term "branded currency." Fittingly, he will be tackling "The Past, Present, and Future of Branded Currency," charting the changes that are happening around engagement and payments and how tools such as points, gift cards, and rewards can serve not just as enticements for consumers but "social currencies."

For the second day's keynote, JP Nicols, managing director of FinTech Forge, which works with financial institutions to create financial and tech partnerships, will be discussing "how to innovate and stay on the forefront of all these changes with the payments landscape," as Thiry puts it. That will be followed by a conversation on How to Right-Size Product Innovation and Loyalty for Your Business" with GPShopper CMO Maya Mikhailov, Collaborate Chicago Founder and CEO Colleen Wilson (who formerly worked with Square), and FinTech Forge Managing Director Jason Henrichs. 

"Colleen is really a product specialist and Maya is really a digital and marketing specialist, so it should be a good chat about innovation and all the factors at play," says Thiry.

There will also be a number of satellite events taking place connected with the show: Gift Card Network will host a one-day Gift Card University event targeted to newcomers to the industry, National Gift Card will be hosting a tour of their fulfillment facility (followed by lunch at Crystal Lake Brewery), and the Incentive Gift Card Council will hold its spring member meeting.

"People should sign up for those outside their registration with us, so they can make the most of their trip here," says Glowaty. "We're trying to make it as accessible as possible." 

Throughout the conference, sessions will touch on a wide range of subjects -- B2B, point-of-sale, loyalty, and promotions. These sessions range from a high-level look at "The Secret Sauce of Good Sales Training to a nuts-and-bolts discussion on "Card Printing and Production Best Practices;" from an exploration of digital versus physical gift cards to security and fraud issues.

"When you talk about the overall branded currency world, the opportunities and challenges around point-of-sale play a huge role in what we do in our space," says Thiry, pointing to this as a subject that was only lightly touched on at last year's show, but will be getting more attention this year. "Most of the people in the room won't be the technical people, they will be responsible for the sales or marketing, and we will look at how you talk to your people about your needs when it comes to your point of sale to best maximize your branded currency program."

She adds that while fraud and security concerns were more central to the conversations this year, this year will look more at technology and innovation, including a session on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Also new this year: a mobile app that will let attendees connect with one another and more easily access info about the show and speakers. Between sessions, attendees can meet for breakouts at the Meeting Lounge, or, for a more casual networking experience, the new Game Lounge, with everything from giant Connect Four to Table Tennis.