by Joe Henry and Leo Jakobson | September 22, 2017

Using brand-name merchandise in incentive programs has proven to be a consistently successful strategy over the decades. There is a very good and very simple reason for this: We all have some product we covet but cannot justify buying when there are mortgages to be paid, college savings accounts to fill, and other necessities.

That may be a new curved-screen 4K television, a driver that will get us another 10 yards off the tee, a stylish watch or piece of jewelry, or a hammer drill that will put a bolt through concrete. Or it may be some other item from the nearly infinite universe of stuff that we feel will bring the kind of joy that we generally see only on the faces of two-year-olds who have found a really great stick on the ground. And all but the most unmotivated and unengaged among us will work harder to get it.


Electronics are always a top award, because the category covers so many different types products, and because many of them are so universal, such as 4K ultra high-definition smart televisions. Other unsurprisingly popular items are Apple iPads, which have been doing well since they were launched, and the Bose QuietComfort line of noise canceling headphones and earphones, which remain a top choice when redeeming award points, according to Incentive Concepts. The new Beats Solo3 wireless headset is a popular item for Harco Incentives, as it has better battery life and recharges quicker than previous models. Sony also finds headphones a strong category, with its wired and wireless MDR-XB line of Extra Bass headphones and noise-canceling models doing well. And the selection ranges well up the luxury spectrum with models like Bowers & Wilkins' high-end P5 and P7 wired and wireless headphones, which combine very high sound quality with touches like sheepskin earcups and sturdy yet light aluminum construction.

Como Audio

Sony and Bose also do well with portable Bluetooth wireless speakers like the very popular Bose SoundLink Speaker II, which is water-resistant and has added a microphone so it can be used as a speakerphone or allow users to interact with smartphone assistants like Apple's Siri or Google Now. On the wired side, Como Audio's compact Solo and Duetto music systems offer incredible sound and Internet radio connectivity in a very small package, wrapped in fine-wood veneers or piano-grade black or white lacquer. They will soon be joined by the mono Amico and stereo Musica systems. The former will add portability with an eight-hour battery and the latter a CD player, among other improvements.

Smart home products like the Amazon Echo and Google Nest thermostat are surging in popularity, as more products they interact with are brought to market. The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot bring Alexa voice-controlled smart assistant features, while the Google Nest thermostats learn your routine to track and regulate temperature as well as other smart home products like lights and smoke detectors.

Activity trackers have been a hot item for several years for Capitol Sales, most recently the Fitbit Charge 2, which has a heart-rate tracker, sleep monitor, personalized exercise modes, and shows notifications from a Bluetooth-connected smartphone.

Fossil has embraced smart watches, which combine fitness-tracker elements with wireless smartphone connectivity and more traditional watch features with its Q line, offering both digital watches and hybrids with traditional hands and faces. Styles range from crystal-encrusted rose gold to very traditional steel-case, steel-band models.

Among the most interesting of the new watch lines gaining traction in the incentive market are Bulova's Rubaiyat collection and the groundbreaking CURV line of curved chronographs. Two of Citizen's watches that are turning heads in incentive channels are the lightweight Promaster Altichron (ideal for adventurous recipients) and the new Drive from Citizen collection, a great fit for everyday wear.

Seiko has also been innovating. Take the Astron, said to be the world's first analog, solar-powered watch that receives GPS satellite signals and adjusts to the precise local time anywhere on Earth.

When it comes to the increasingly popular action-cam category, GoPro remains a favorite, as well as more feature-rich offerings like Sony's AZ1VR Action Cam Mini with Wi-Fi, and Nikon's KeyMission 360, which takes 360-degree 4K video and still images.

Canon also continues to be a top camera choice, with products like its Powershot SX540 HS, offering full HD video, built-in Wi-Fi, and 50x optical zoom. For vacationers who want something a little simpler, check out the Canon PowerShot ELPH cameras. These digital cameras have a super slim profile, but a lot of power.

Fuji continues to be a major motivator, with its range of X-Series and FinePix digital cameras and bundles. Especially hot is the FinePix XP90 Bundle, which includes the colorful, waterproof, freezeproof, and shockproof camera along with AC powe adapter, hand strap, USB cable, 8GB SD memory card, and more.


On the luggage front are carry-ons and backpacks from brands such as Tumi, which has defined the category with its virtually indestructible, black Alpha 2, made of ballistic nylon. Even those bags have gotten a little color, while other lines made of materials including aluminum and polycarbonate have embraced it. Meanwhile, brands like the tech-friendly Bluesmart hardside, which has a built-in battery charger, luggage scale, and trackers, are gaining interest in the category. It's not the only one doing this, as Samsonite's GeoTrakR line features a built-in battery with an LED charge indicator and LugLoc tracking technology.  

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This article appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Incentive.