“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” ~ Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of The Caribbean
Like so many millions of other people, my son loves the swagger of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow character in the film Pirates of The Caribbean. I've never watched the whole movie, but the above quote is a just a great piece of wisdom as far as I'm concerned: it's a reminder of our ability to look at challenges in different ways until we find our way around, over or through them.
The other great thing about this quote though, is that it's a reminder to occasionally put to the test our long-held beliefs and practices; just to check in and make sure they are still valid.
I've just returned from a really electrifying few days at the US CMO Conference in Austin, TX. I travelled with our new CRO, Paul O'Donnell and together we enjoyed some really great conversations with marketing and sales ops people from all sorts of different industries. One of the main reasons I love these events is that they are a great check-in to see where people's thinking is at and to check my own vision against how the industry is tracking.
To me, those few days in Austin unearthed plenty of interesting new ideas and new connections but also revealed some gaps I see in the way the incentive industry looks at itself. In the interest of actually fitting my thoughts into my allotted space here, I've narrowed it down to two ideas I'd like to challenge you with:
Echelons Of Engagement
One of the hottest buzzwords around the show (and indeed at any marketing conference) is still “engagement.” The brands at this conference were represented by people who are creating some of the most engaging consumer-facing content in the World. In this use of the word, we are talking mainly about consumers engaging with or sharing some brand's brilliantly executed marketing content, usually distributed via Internet.
Where this conversation can get ugly is in the boardroom – a lot of companies are still looking at their rebates as the last three feet of the engagement with their consumers. The sale is closed: “good game, hit the showers, team – job well done.” Perhaps this is a natural result of the previous limitations inherent with rebate programs? For a large brand, it was never previously feasible to enter consumer data from every rebate claim and so the person claiming the rebate remained relatively anonymous to the brand, but it's important to remember that this was by necessity of limitation.
Consider the value of having indexed purchase data for every rebate claim on even one of your company's programs. To me, this is where the real engagement begins, and this engagement is so much more meaningful! It's one thing to have a viral video but it's quite another to have a list of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people who have already done business with you! Computing power and the right incentives management software have effectively solved one of the problems associated with channel sales: lack of visibility. Now you use your rebate programs to get to know your buyers, to survey them and to continue adding value to their lives until it's time to buy again.
What I'm saying is, stop thinking of the rebate as the last step of the engagement, and start thinking of it as the beginning of a much more meaningful connection with your consumers.
This brings me to my next point:
Incentive Spend As A Cost Of Sale
For many, many years companies have quite correctly viewed the cost of rebate processing or the administration of other promotional programs as a sales expense. This is perfectly understandable because for many years tools like rebates and sales incentives have simply been used as sales levers in the final phases of getting deals done at retail.
Now consider the new capabilities that digital claim processing and payment offer to you as a marketer: the ability to survey and connect to consumers you previously never had access to. The ability to offer them re-marketing opt-in opportunities that benefit you both along with a great chance to ask them for the favor of an online review as part of the rebate workflow. In an economy where 90% of consumers admit that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, you simply must find a way to ask for or enable this critical part of the buyer's journey with your brand.
In the context of the above engagement discussion, I want to challenge you to consider this: is your incentive spend a sales expense that lives in admin and is a necessary evil to meet your goals? Or do incentive programs now belong squarely in strategy and retention, having evolved right alongside how people discover and buy products in the connected economy?
The answer lies in how you design and execute your programs.
(For more on this topic, please download your free copy of our e-book Leveraging The Consumer Rebate.)
A lifelong technology entrepreneur, Jason Atkins is the founder and CEO of 360insights. 360insights is the world's first Channel Success Platform, allowing brands to run spiffs, rebates, co-op/MDF, and sell-through allowances all processed and paid with 100% audit and powerful analytics to predict what to do next. For more information, visit: http://www.360insights.com.