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
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
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
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
‘The response has been excellent and our people really appreciate the
quality that this represents,’ says Holland.