by Leo Jakobson | September 08, 2015
First announced at the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) Executive Summit in Nashville this summer, the joint IMA - Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) Participant Study is groundbreaking research that will prove crucial to effectively demonstrating the value of non-cash incentive awards.

The largest and most complex study to date of how incentive programs participants really prefer to be rewarded, the IRF Participant Study offers what may be the best proof yet of the motivational power of non-cash incentives while refuting what IRF President Melissa Van Dyke called "the myth that if you give participants a choice, they will always choose cash."

Carried out by the IntelletiveGroup for the IMA and IRF, it found that as many as four-fifths of program participants would prefer non-cash awards as part of the "total award experience." 

First, it asked 452 participants more than 80 in-depth questions about the exact type of travel, merchandise, and gift card awards, as well as perks, that they desire the most. After that, a very complex research process was used to determine how each individual's answers created their ideal "total award experience" -- factoring in more than 110 different aspects of each participant's preferences, such as the level of manager making the award, how it was communicated to others, and the professional development opportunities that accompanied it.

This was done for both large awards like annual incentive travel programs, and small ones such as a spot award of points for a merchandise- or gift card-based recognition program. Then, the study participants were asked to compare the travel, merchandise or gift card award in their ideal scenario to an equal amount of cash.

In the case of large rewards of the type that are typical for an annual sales program, about 80 percent said they would prefer a travel award to cash. For smaller awards typical of short term and spot recognition programs, about two-thirds preferred the non-cash award.