Animate Growth Partners was honored to be recently introduced in the pages of Incentive magazine earlier this month:

Why does the market need a design-only firm? There is a need for more effective strategies to support motivation and engagement programs. The IRF reports that firms with best-in-class reward and recognition practices are over 2x more likely to engage a partner for expertise.1 Furthermore, Design is a path to better long-term results. As Chris Galloway states in the Incentive article: “Long-term results require building strong two-way connections” between brands and sellers. It takes “more than rewards and recognition alone” to create the experiences that lead to a deeper relationship.

The path to stronger relationships between sellers, buyers and brands actually require a seismic shift in what has been the historical model for motivation programs to date. Let’s look at five fundamental changes that incentives need to accomplish to remain relevant:

  1. From “do this, get that” to celebrate personal growth. Motivation programs have to be more than “do this, get that” exercises.  While Pavlov’s dog was conditioned to keep pressing the lever to continue receiving treats, today’s buyers and sellers are motivated by more than just individual transactions and one-time rewards. To realize higher levels of sales effort, it’s important to create emotional connections through membership in a community, to provide meaningful personal growth opportunities, and to celebrate a person’s accomplishments – even when they do not directly impact the bottom line.
  2. From “reward top performers” to “appreciate all top performance.” Performance improvement programs historically have been good at rewarding the top 5-10% of a selling network with a very visible award, but have been less effective at creating new top performers. The result? Many incentives are actually recognition programs, in that they recognize only the top performers (in many cases for what they would have done anyway). This form of recognition is highly valued and an important strategy to cement your very best relationships. However, it is not enough to move the performance needle. In fact, companies must ensure that program rules don’t inadvertently cause middle performers to disengage because they know they can’t achieve a program goal. The IRF study identifies that over 50% of firms with best-in-class reward and recognition practices design programs to emphasize reach (accessible performance tiers that are intended to keep the middle engaged) as well as exclusivity (elite performance recognition).
  3. From “move the middle” to “nurture the next tier.” Everyone seems to get that it’s important to reach the 30-50% of the population who fall below the top performers. But how to reach and motivate that middle? It may not be enough to just add new incentives. It requires equipping this group with access to new tools. Most companies have not fully leveraged the opportunity to identify and socialize the skills of top performers to lift performance across their population. When a brand really listens to this middle group and adjusts their support accordingly, these sellers will dedicate discretionary effort and volume to that brand. In almost every population, this middle group will generate incremental growth if you can get their attention and make them feel connected to the brand. And experience has shown that a 5% lift from the middle 60% can generate 70-80% more growth than a 5% lift from the top 10%.
  4. From “trophy-value rewards” to “meaningful experiences”: Non-cash rewards have a demonstrated ability to provide more lift than cash alone. Non-cash provides longer memories that are associated with the sponsoring brand than cash, which usually gets used for gas and groceries. However, non-cash needs to increasingly provide access to experiences, not just more stuff. In The Experience Economy, Jim Gilmore and Joseph Pine write “in a world saturated with largely undifferentiated goods and services, the greatest opportunity for value creation resides in staging experiences.”2 A landmark IRF study identified that the experience of receiving a reward is sometimes more impactful than the reward itself3. In addition, personalized bucket list experiences, when used as a reward, are changing the rewards landscape and creating higher levels of emotional engagement. As I told my wife recently, given a choice between a new counter-top and a fall colors trip to Vermont, I would hope the trip to Vermont would be more memorable. (I’ll share in a future Perspective if I win this argument ?)
  5. From promotion-centric creative to values-based creative: When a new motivation program is launched, it’s common to create a theme that emphasizes the business mission only. “Sell Big Win Big” feels manipulative and intentionally weighted to the company and its goals. To create a sustainable and long-term relationship with sellers, your creative voice needs increasingly to call out the alignment between the values of seller and brand. When programs are designed with the intention to create mutual and balanced benefits between the company and its sellers, all program communications need to emphasize the broader mission supported by the company’s products. It’s not just about selling more stuff; it’s about serving a higher purpose and generating positive emotions along the way.

These are big shifts. A deeper emotional connection to brands is a leading contributor to discretionary sales effort and results, according to new research published in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice3. Making this shift requires a motivation program design partner who is focused on creating meaningful experiences that lead to a deeper connection with your brand. This shift requires thinking beyond the traditional range of motivation reward and technology solutions.

As a firm specializing in design, Animate Growth Partners helps clients create exceptional programs that maximize long-term results. Designing experiences that drive deeper brand connections require a specific set of skills that go beyond a “do this, get that” approach to engagement and motivation. What if your motivation and engagement programs evolved from transaction-based programs to become a long-term growth strategy that built broader and deeper relationships with sellers and customers?


2 Joseph Pine and Jim Gilmore, The Experience Economy, 2011


4 Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, “The Role of Affective Brand Commitment on Sales Effort,” Fu, Elliott, Mano and Galloway, 2017