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News & Press: IMA News & Press Releases

New Incentive Marketing Association study examines award preferences, dispels widespread myths

Thursday, September 24, 2015   (0 Comments)

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Donna Chrobak
Sue Voyles

Cash isn’t king: New Incentive Marketing Association study examines award preferences, dispels widespread myths

‘Largest ever’ study results present challenges, opportunities for businesses   

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Sept. 24, 2015 – Companies looking to reward and motivate their employees with incentive awards need to focus on the total reward experience, and it frequently doesn’t include cash, according to a new study commissioned by the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA).

“The Participant Study,” which was conducted by the Incentive Research Federation (IRF) through Intellective Group for IMA, is the largest, most statistically-complex study of participant award preferences done by an outside entity for the incentive industry to date. More than 450 individuals were queried in-depth on more than 80 non-cash award types to determine their preferred kinds of travel, merchandise, gift card incentives and perks. The data collected produced each participant’s most and least desired total reward experience.

Here is a sampling of the first installment of the study’s major findings:

  • The research offers some of the best proof yet of the motivational importance of non-cash awards as part of the total award experience, and dispels the myth that if you give participants a choice, they will always choose cash.
  • It’s the total reward experience that carries more positive impact than the reward itself. The study found that between 40 and 70 percent of a participant’s preferred award experience was determined by non-award presentation factors such as who gives the award, how it’s communicated, and what professional impact it carries.
  • Out of 452 study participants, 448 – nearly all of them - each had unique award profiles in terms of preferred award, presentation / ceremonial aspects, potential for professional development and advancement, among many other preferences. In all, the study participants personally valued and weighed more than 110 different aspects of the total award experience. This presents a challenge for businesses to work harder than ever to personalize incentive programs, as there is no “one size fits all” approach.
  • For large rewards, such as annual sales program recognition, the study found that when participants were rewarded by the right level of management, with the right communication and professional development, 80 percent would prefer incentive travel and experiences in that award scenario, not cash.
  • For smaller awards, such as short term and spot recognition programs, the study found that when participants were rewarded by the right level of management, and with the right communication and professional development potential, about 66 percent of participants preferred a personally-meaningful non-cash reward instead of cash.

“A key lesson for businesses from this study is that every type of reward -- merchandise, gift cards and travel -- all outperform cash, and that assuring a positive and personal total reward experience has a major impact on participant motivation and behavior, which ultimately affects employee performance and talent retention,” said IMA Executive Director Donna Chrobak. She noted that further findings from The Participant Study are being compiled, and will appear in future reports.

The Incentive Marketing Association’s “Participant Study was sponsored by Canon, Hamilton Beach, Rymax Marketing Services, Incentive, PromoPros/IncentPros, Citizen Watch and Connexions Loyalty.

Visit the IMA website to view the full presentation of “The Participant Study” first-installment findings.

About the Incentive Marketing Association
Business improves when employees and customers are recognized, rewarded, and engaged through effectively structured programs with defined goals and proven returns. The Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) is comprised of the companies who are leaders in the incentive industry.  IMA provides education, resources and research to promote the use of incentive programs to the business community and is the umbrella organization for the Global Incentive Council (GIC), the Incentive Gift Card Council (IGCC), the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance (IMRA), the Incentive Travel Council, the Performance Improvement Council, the Recognition Council (RC), IMA-Canada, and IMA-Europe.

More information about IMA and the incentive marketplace is available at

About the IRF: 
The Incentive Research Foundation ( funds and promotes research to advance the science and enhance the awareness and appropriate application of motivation and incentives in business and industry globally. The goal is to increase the understanding, effective use, and resultant benefits of incentives to businesses that currently use incentives and others interested in improved performance.

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Incentive Marketing Association
9700 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Suite 210
Rosemont, IL 60018

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