There was a time when collecting incentive or reward programme "currency" consisted of stickers, stamps or punched cards that could be exchanged for a free trinket from an overstock pile or some dusty, forsaken inventory from the darkest corner of the warehouse. But not any more, according to Steve Damerow, CEO for Incentive Solutions.
Today's communication technology has resulted in globalised markets, instantaneous contact and multitudinous consumer choices, all of which act as a warp drive for reward programmes. Technology has made the incentive reward or "company currency" experience faster and easier for administrator and participant alike, which is the key to securing long-term employee, channel partner, or customer loyalty using reward marketing.
With the arrival of the digital age, the concept of online or "cyber" currency was born. Cyber currency can take the place of those outdated stamps and, when paired with on-the-go mobile access, can make reward programmes less tedious, less time-consuming and more relevant than ever before. Here's how:
Cash, at first, seems like the most sensible sales incentive or employee reward. It's straightforward and universal-the best way to make everyone happy, right? Not necessarily. The psychology behind earning rewards is a little more complex than that.
Think back, for instance, about the fun of earning tickets at carnivals and arcades. When you made high scores in skee ball, a machine spat out a row of brightly-coloured tickets you exchanged for shiny new toys at the prize booth. There's a reason you had more fun winning and redeeming tickets than if you had simply handed over $5 for your squirt-gun prize. According to MIT behavior economists Dan Ariely and James Heyman, operating in a non-monetary or "social" market can be more fun and motivating than operating in a monetary market. In a study they conducted on the reaction of participants to cash vs. non-cash prizes, people were less driven to earn low cash rewards than non-cash rewards of the same value.
In other words, the monetary market is boring. It's more fun and motivating to receive cyber "tickets" or points instead of plain old cash. That's partially due to the fact that recipients often come to see cash bonuses as expected "extra salary" rather than actual rewards. For companies, it's more cost effective to invest in cyber currency reward systems than to simply dole out cash incentives, since cyber currency is more likely to motivate participants to work toward the prize, whether your goals are to increase sales, secure customer loyalty, gain market share or raise employee engagement. And, to make your reward programme an even more fun and social market, you can use the gamification strategy-winning a reward is more fun than just passively receiving one.
One of the best things about cyber currency is its ability to tie directly to your company or brand. You can give your cyber currency a fun name like Acme Bucks or Inc Points. Catchy, branded names keep your company top of mind with those who use your cyber currency by associating your organisation with a rewarding experience. No matter what you're using your cyber currency for-as part of a loyalty rewards marketing strategy, employee motivation initiative or channel sales incentive programme-unique names can be used to promote anything under the sun.
Let's not forget that your currency being digital doesn't mean it can't be "minted" with your logo or slogan. "Coin" icons can be created, for instance, bearing whatever imagery you want. Make them look like decadent doubloons or-to harken back to the gaming metaphor-gold trophies. Those who earn your cyber currency will treasure that currency and, when it carries your corporate messaging or logo, they will come to value your brand, too.
Mobile access is the key to truly upgrading cyber currency to our high-speed, on-the-go digital age. According to recent research, Mobile Internet use increased from 31% in 2009 to 63% in 2013. Thirty-four percent of those who access the Internet with mobile phones, either mostly or exclusively use their mobile phones to go online. The number of Internet-users who only or mostly use their phones to go online is higher within certain demographics-43% of Black Americans, 45% of low-income Americans, 50% of teens and young adults and 60% of Hispanics. That's not just because they're addicted to playing Plants vs. Zombies. Smartphones are not only social hubs, but useful business tools. Mobile accessibility is often the best way to stay top of mind. When your services or technology are available through an app, those with on-the-go lifestyles such as installers, contractors and sales reps have an instant, effortless connection to features, such as online reward programmes, that use cyber currency.
Mobile app technology allows users to check their cyber currency balance, play games or participate in quizzes and surveys to earn more cyber currency, shop or create wishlists on online catalogs where they spend their cyber currency, even redeem cyber currency in participating vendor stores-all directly from their smartphones. By making cyber currency programmes or websites available through a mobile app, marketing platforms such as reward programmes become part of participants' regular, daily interaction with their mobile phones.
Although logic and even people themselves both dictate that cash is the easiest and most diverse incentive reward, the benefits of a cyber currency system make it far more effective. Not only is cyber currency the fun-to-win "arcade ticket" of the digital age, but cyber currency can be branded for greater mindshare and delivered through a mobile app, making rewards more relevant to a society increasingly drawn toward the convenience and 24-7 accessibility of smartphones. These powerful emotional and psychological factors give cyber currency based instant mobile rewards the advantage of excitement and ease.