Keeping Channel Incentives Relevant and Enticing

If you are trying to build loyalty with resellers, dealers, partners or vendors, you need to make sure that your channel incentives are flexible enough to keep up with the fast pace of change in technology and consumer attitudes. Incentives need to keep incentivising, irrespective of how habits change.

Smart-phone? It’ll never catch on

Technology has changed everything: What we watch, how we exercise, where we buy…. and it doesn’t look like the pace of change is going to let up any time soon.

In ten years’ time, clothes shopping could involve interactive adverts at bus stops showing us how we will look in this season’s must-have item, 3D printers making sure that it’s tailored to our exact specifications, cloud based servers settling the bill directly with our phones and drones delivering the finished garment in under 24 hours from unmanned depots… at least that’s one possible outcome.

The reality is likely to be completely different. Someone’s going to come up with something that we’ve never really thought of and it’s going to disrupt things in ways that we haven’t imagined. That’s the nature of progress. Looking back at archive footage of futurology  programmes and you’ll see how wrong we generally were in the past about the future, and don’t kid yourselves that we are any better today!
The majority of us don’t live on the leading edge of technology. But pretty much all of us want something that makes our lives easier, helps us achieve something more quickly and with less hassle.
So how can channel marketers and business development professionals drive behaviours among third parties whose attitudes to reward are heavily influenced by big budget consumer promotions ‘at the cutting edge’?

1. Channel incentives need to offer flexibility

Three years ago, there was a lot of discussion about how interactive glasses were going to revolutionise society. A lot of that hype has since evaporated (although it should be pointed out that optical head-mounted displays have plenty of practical professional uses), but there was a chance that interactive glasses could have grabbed the zeitgeist.
What if a company had decided in 2014 that a pair of interactive glasses would make a great incentive to encourage third parties to sell one product over another? That company would have been stuck with a poorly performing incentive scheme and a warehouse full of increasingly obsolete technology.
The other problem with a channel incentive based around a specific product is that you could be making a simplistic assumption about your target audience. If you assume that everyone who knits is over sixty and tailor your communications and rewards accordingly, you could miss out on an entire swathe of affluent hipsters that are beavering away producing post-ironic knitwear in the bohemian quarters of Belfast, Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow and London. They could have been singing the praises of your products on blogs and in cereal cafes across the land.

2. Communication needs to be broad

In the same way that the incentive needs to be flexible, so should the way that you communicate it. Apps and social media are currently pretty much universal for the urbanites under 40, but it’s always worth challenging assumptions about your product’s reach and the buzz that can be created by taking a slightly different approach.
Again, relying on a single approach to get the message out can be a dangerous game. Betting against iPhones five years ago would have seemed brave, but devoting attention exclusively to those platforms alone, without also catering to Android users, would have proved foolhardy with hindsight.
Far better to have a communications strategy that has the flexibility to work on multiple platforms and encourage a wide variety of people to participate in your scheme.

3. Build brand advocates: Social media ice-breakers

There are so many strategies for building engagement and developing loyalty and they are changing all the time. One constant however is the need for brand advocates, actual people that like what you do and are willing to talk openly about what they like about it.
It’s certainly an approach that’s grown rapidly among the internet savvy, but it’s also likely to develop traction over the next few years with less tech-savvy audiences as people’s habits slowly evolve.
You need to give partners the tools to become enthusiastic about what you are selling. There’s a lot of noise out there and having genuine enthusiasts advocating your product is a great way to build loyalty but it also does another very important thing: It spreads your message without you having to embrace every possible channel.
Because brand advocates have their own ways of ways of working, they are often quick to spot new opportunities to build an audience. This means that they are taking your message to new places before you’ve even had a chance to research its potential or invested your time to get to grips with that new channel.

Broad and far reaching

Ultimately, the trick is to develop a channel incentive that has both broad appeal and the flexibility to keep delivering traction irrespective of short term changes, distracting assumptions and the siren call of this year’s must-have gizmo.
Brands must make sure that an incentive scheme is simple enough to make it attractive to a broad target audience and offers a suite of flexible rewards to keep interest high irrespective of changes in spending habits, whatever they end up being.