Communication Is the Key to Successful Incentive Programs

When I was recently asked what can make or break an incentive program, I didn't have to consider it for long. The answer is weak communication, and we've seen it happen in the industry many times. To avoid dooming an incentive program, here are four key concepts to keep in mind for effective communication: funding, creativity, parallel mediums and repetition.

The first one, funding, is the biggest problem. Many people, when looking for ways to cut the budget, often opt for slimmed-down communications. The negative effect is that your program becomes your best-kept secret, and you lose a major way to motivate desired behaviors from participants. The ideal amount to spend on communications, in our opinion, is 10 percent of your total program budget.

Most people give lip service to the next point -- creativity -- but their quick efforts often end up looking slap-dash and boring. People are overworked, doing the jobs that three people did before. Creativity is lacking. If you want to break through the clutter, you better have compelling graphic designs and strong messaging about your program.

Up next is parallel mediums, which is about delivering varied messages over varied formats. Do not rely on email for all of your incentive-related communications. The typical recipient can get upwards of 200 emails a day, and most likely, the recipient scans them with one finger on the delete key. You must add parallel mediums of print, video, PowerPoint decks, team calls, auto dialers and, of course, social media. For a comparison, think about how the world gets news these days. When it comes to obtaining information, some people read newspapers, others prefer getting their information from Twitter or RSS feeds.

Lastly, be repetitive. One or two emails likely will not attract or connect with your audience. Your incentive program is top of mind to you, but not to others. So if you want to break through, measured repetition is key to getting and keeping your audience's attention.

In sum, give your incentive program the opportunity to thrive through funded, creative, parallel and repetitive communications.

Mike May is president of Spear One, an Irving, Texas-based firm that organizes meetings, club trips, incentive programs and engagement campaigns for Fortune 2000 clients.