by David Jones | April 05, 2018
More than ever before, people expect to be rewarded for their loyalty, purchases, and workplace accomplishments. And as technology advances, consumers' expectations for digitally enabled rewards are also ramping up. With a projected 62 percent annual increase in mobile payment transaction volume through 2021, according to Statista's Digital Market Outlook, a rising demand for digital and wallet-enabled rewards comes as no surprise. 

As you implement your 2018 incentive programs, take into consideration the ongoing consumer digital transformation and make sure your program hits these marks:

Modern Minimalism
This year, the minimalist movement doesn't just mean cleaning out the closets. With the overwhelming amount of messaging and distractions consumers face daily, many are looking for solutions that reduce stress and interference. Mobile wallets are no exception. Consumers have been able to use mobile wallets to pay using a stored credit, debit, or retailer credit card for some time, but they don't just want to swap a physical credit or debit card with a mobile wallet; they want to minimize by being able to have all of their payments, promotions, rewards, loyalty cards, etc. in one, easy-to-use mobile location. 

The key to capitalizing on this trend lies in offering options, like digital and wallet-enabled rewards and incentive programs. By increasing the mobility of rewards and programs, brands can maintain relevancy with their consumers and simplify programs for their mobile-minded consumers, thus delivering a better overall promotional experience.

Need for Speed
Smartphones have helped create a constant craving for instant gratification. Consumers no longer wait until the nightly news airs -- instead, they go to social media to find out what's going on in the world. Incentive delivery is no different. According to research from Hawk Incentives' "Let's Make a Deal 2017" survey, respondents say the ideal reward is delivered in less than a week. Innovations in technology now offer near-instant rewards, in many cases, allowing consumers, employees, and partners to redeem easily, sometimes with as little as a few thumb swipes on a smartphone. Incentives that are delivered quickly and regularly also help provide reminders of the behavior(s) that led to the reward in the first place and keep communication channels open. 

Demand for Personalized Engagement
With the amount of data-mining available to businesses today, consumers are constantly being wooed with personalized offers. And these days, what is nearer and dearer to a consumer than their smartphone? Research from Points.com found that 41 percent of respondents reported looking for targeted deals in mobile wallets. Thinking about mobile wallets as engagement platforms versus simple payment tools is a critical shift in perspective; wallets offer a plethora of opportunities for engagement and should be leveraged as such in your rewards program. 

For example, making your customer or employee incentives and rewards (i.e., prepaid and gift card rewards, branded rebates, and other incentives) mobile-wallet-compatible will help recipients feel like the rewards are tailored to their personal habits of shopping or payment. 

Combating the Evolving Loyalty Landscape
A recent study by Bond Brand Loyalty found that surveyed consumers belonged to an average of 13.4 loyalty programs, but were active in only 6.7 programs. In other words, it's never been easier to get lost or forgotten in a sea of reward cards and loyalty programs. There has also been a shift in employee loyalty. Employees often used to work for one company for their entire lives, but according to a recent survey from Namely, the median tenure at a job for workers between the ages of 35 and 55 is now just under two years, and even shorter for workers between the ages 25 and 35. 

Effective incentive programs can navigate this evolving loyalty landscape by getting innovative and meeting consumers where they are today: on the go and on their phones. Offering mobile-enabled rewards is one way to do this because it extends engagement. Now, a one-time reward has turned into a presence in a recipient's smartphone, a reminder of a reward that was valuable and convenient. 

As you look to optimize or develop your reward programs, consider options that can provide consumers and employees with the simplicity, personalization, and experience they want. The ease and mobility of digital and wallet-enabled rewards can help your company capitalize on shifting consumer preferences, keeping participants engaged in a world where they are constantly flooded with options. 

David Jones is general manager of digital and incentive divisions for Blackhawk Network, a global financial technology company. Blackhawk's Hawk Incentives division delivers incentive programs that build relationships with easy-to-use platforms, global rewards and comprehensive service and support.