by Leo Jakobson | January 13, 2012
According to the results of Incentive’s 2012 Reader Forecast survey, companies are approaching 2012 in much the same way they entered 2011: being generally bullish on incentives, but with about one in five reducing spending. 

Based on survey feedback about awards, merchandise seemed strongest, with 78.2 percent of respondents increasing or maintaining program budgets, compared to just 21.8 percent who are reducing or eliminating them. In the gift card/stored-value card category, the respective ratio was 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. Travel program budgets didn’t fare as well, with 69.4 percent saying they are going up or remaining even and 30.6 percent noting they are dropping or completely gone. 

It is notable that the aggregate number of programs eliminated altogether was roughly twice the number last year. 

One thing that did not fall was the feeling that next year will be better. Looking ahead to 2013, 58.1 percent of respondents expect their incentive program budgets will increase, 31.6 percent expect to maintain their budgets, and just 10.2 percent expect budget cuts. 

One area where the executives who responded to the survey felt they made big strides is engagement, and particularly with channel sales partners. Nearly 24 percent said channel sales partners are more engaged than last year, compared to just 14.4 percent who felt that way heading into 2011. And 49.6 percent said they are as engaged in 2012 as last year, compared to just 40.6 percent in the 2011 survey who felt that way. 

Of course, that may be simply the result of them paying more attention: Only 17.8 percent said they didn’t know their channel partners’ engagement levels this year, compared to 37.5 percent who said that in 2011. 

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