SUPPLEMENT: INCENTIVE ’96; Vouching for a thriving sector

As the use of vouchers as rewards increases dramatically in certain industry areas. Sue Bryant looks at some of the imaginative ways they are being used by companies

As the use of vouchers as rewards increases dramatically in certain

industry areas. Sue Bryant looks at some of the imaginative ways they

are being used by companies

Once considered the poor relation in the incentives market, vouchers are

being used more intelligently and strategically than ever before as

rewards. The range of suppliers continues to expand and the industry now

has a formal body, the Voucher Forum, a group of top suppliers committed

to enhancing the standing of the voucher industry.

The use of vouchers as an incentive reflects general business trends.

Figures just released by the Grass Roots Group, which owns Bonusbond,

one of the leaders in multi-option vouchers, show a dramatic increase in

certain industry sectors from 1990 to 1996.

Banks and building societies make up 10% of Bonusbond’s client base, up

from less than 1% in 1990. The computer industry has risen from 1.82% to

3.7% and mobile telephony from 1% to 4%. Insurance, not surprisingly, is

down, with companies still smarting from the rash of bad advice


A clear trend in voucher-based incentives is that companies are being

more creative. Rewards for quality, distance-learning achievement and

long service are all becoming more popular. To support this, voucher

suppliers are trying to present a more professional product.

At Incentive ’96, Boots will be emphasising its in-house account

management service, which offers print and design for incentive schemes.

Take-up has been enthusiastic, says client services manager Alan

Kellock. ‘We’ve helped agencies and clients who do the whole thing

themselves,’ he says. ‘There are so many voucher issuers, it has always

been the case of the quality of the retailer and the number of stores.

We believe the way forward is to offer extra help.’

Similarly, Marks & Spencer will be emphasising its new Business Direct

at Incentive ’96, a service which pulls together all the company’s

functions in the incentive and business gifts market. As well as

vouchers, the service offers hampers, gifts, wine and flowers.

Kingfisher has just relaunched its voucher with a smarter design, a

hologram and a bar code - a reminder to clients that the company

provides electronic tracking of the vouchers and full management

reporting of redemption patterns.

Electronic tracking has some unusual uses. Kingfisher’s system was used

to assist the police recently in identifying the origin of a batch of

vouchers that had fallen into the hands of the Met.

Bonusbond, too, will shortly produce a redesigned product, also

featuring bar coding.

One of the biggest arguments in voucher incentives is choice. ‘Choice is

a bigger and bigger issue,’ says Grass Roots Group marketing director

Nigel Cover. ‘Who has the right to say to someone ‘what you want is

clothing vouchers’? You pay a small price for the service but the

individual can choose and, if they can’t find what they want, we will

source it. We’ve arranged flying lessons, bought skis, fixed a roof and

bought a conservatory so far.’ Bonusbond will be celebrating its 25th

birthday at Incentive ’96 and is giving away pounds 250-worth of

Bonusbonds to the winner of a promotional survey in which competitors

have to say what they personally would like as incentives.

Some companies, however, are moving almost in the opposite direction: a

voucher valid only for one product in one store. The Alliance &

Leicester building society is offering product-specific vouchers as part

of a telephone banking promotion. The customer opens an account and is

mailed an Argos voucher exchangeable for a Binatone telephone and

answering machine, worth pounds 34.99. The voucher can then be redeemed

in any Argos store and the benefit to the client is that mailing costs

are minimal.

But in recognition of the fact that people are motivated by choice, an

alternative of pounds 30-worth of Premier Points cards is offered.

Weetabix is also running an on-pack voucher scheme redeemable against a

limited range of products.

The Sussex-based Voucher Shop deals with the choice issue slightly

differently, in that the winner receives a special cheque, which can be

branded with the company logo. On the back, they tick the options they

want - essentially a choice of any company that has a voucher scheme, as

well as various tailor made events - and send it to the Voucher Shop.

Vouchers are then dispatched to the winner.

The bonus to the client is ease of administration, although a system

like this does not offer discounts for bulk buying. Sales director Julie

Rosehill believes companies have lost sight of the whole point of

incentives - to offer a prize which appeals to the participants.

‘Companies are going to have to look more at the aspirational side of

vouchers rather than looking at what discount they can get from one

supplier,’ she says. ‘Our system has enormous flexibility, and we don’t

mind how many different vouchers they want for pounds 250. And there’s

no hassle for the client, either.’

Outside the voucher market, some novel incentive ideas are being

launched at Incentive ’96. Wilkinson Sword, which manufactures swords

for the military market as well as razor blades, has come up with a

novel idea for an incentive prize: the Sword of Excellence. The sword is

worth pounds 2000 and is of fighting quality, forged from Sheffield

steel. Like a trophy, it has no practical use but appeals because of its

kudos and beauty (Nelson Mandela has one and the Olympic Committee will

be presented with one in Atlanta this summer).

The sword has been made available to the incentive market because so

many people have asked at Wilkinson’s Sword Centre Museum for swords as

presentation gifts. Lombard Personal Finance is one of the first

companies to take up the idea and has presented a sword to its top sales

team for 1995.

Stuart Crystal, which was acquired by Waterford Wedgwood last summer, is

launching a new range of products for the corporate gift and incentive

market, including crystal clocks, dressing table sets, contemporary

salad sets and the new Heritage Collection - reproductions of glassware

from the 20s and 30s. A raffle for a lead crystal decanter will be held

on the stand.

Majestic Wine Warehouses, meanwhile, will be promoting personalised gift

packaging of wine and champagne and will be holding ‘blind’ tastings on

its stand.

Cottrills Presentations will be launching Aspirations, a new points

scheme featuring a catalogue of upmarket brands, including Gucci,

Ellesse and Ray-Ban, all discounted from the retail price thanks to

volume buying. United Biscuits is already using the catalogue to source

long-service rewards, and BUPA is currently using it to launch a

telesales incentive.

Cottrills will also be launching a new agency at Incentive ’96 - Through

The Line, the official distributor of Sharp Electronics, Canon, Ellesse,

Swatch and Philips in the UK incentive market.

Advice will be on hand at Incentive 96 to anyone wishing to learn more

about the incentive market. The Incentive Travel and Meetings

Association (ITMA) will be running an Advice Clinic dealing with

motivation and travel incentives, while the Corporate Hospitality

Association (CHA) on its stand will be handing out advice on successful

corporate entertaining, from team-building events to organising a

successful client day out at big spectator events.

Rover’s distance-learning scheme

Rover needed to encourage more of its service staff in the UK to

subscribe to Autocourse, its distance-learning programme.

‘Participation among dealers, which is not compulsory, could change

considerably from year to year,’ says Max Holland, the company’s

technical training manager.

‘Most years there are not major activities (like a new car launch) on

which to draw the attention to the training programme and we found that

when we introduced incentives, in the form of bronze, silver and gold

awards, to top-performing participants, it helped to reflect the

importance we give to training and provided a tangible focus of

attention that each participant could relate to.’

Merchandise was used first but abandoned as the choice was too limited.

In 1995, the company introduced Boots vouchers, plugging the prizes in

the glossy Autocourse brochure with the assistance of the Boots in-house

design team.

‘The response has been excellent and our people really appreciate the

quality that this represents,’ says Holland.