How to Start a Successful Online Rewards Program

by | Jun 5, 2017 | Incentive Rewards, Incentive Solutions, Reward Programs

Don’t let this intimidate you, but a great launch is crucial to a successful online rewards program. From setting up the right goals and incentive rewards offering to marketing and communicating the program to your audience, the beginning is exciting but has to be planned carefully. So how do you pull off the best possible online rewards program launch? Consider the following checklist to launch a successful online rewards program.

1. Set your reward program goals.

  • Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals. All program sponsors and participants should know in the beginning exactly what you want to achieve. Send out emails, create post a reminder of the goals on the company lounge fridge or bulletin board, or hire a yodeler to stop by and trill out the lovely sound of your goals at the top of his/her lungs. However you communicate your rewards program goals, they should be exciting and impossible to misunderstand.
  • Establishing key performance indicators (KPIs). For example: compare the quarterly productivity of a control group (i.e. a group of people not participating in your rewards program) to your program participants.
  • Get input from your participating audience! While it may be worth it to occasionally throw curve balls to your participants to see how far out of their performance comfort zone they can get, you need insights from your audience in the beginning. This way, you’ll have a better idea of what they can realistically achieve and whether their goals align with yours. Not to mention, people are naturally more invested in performance boosting strategies when they have a say in them.

Remember that reward programs often need a little time before they turn over profit. An Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) study found that reward programs run for a week or less yield an average 20% performance boost, but those run for a year or more yield a 44% performance boost.

2. Make it about more than just rewards.

There’s more to online rewards programs than just, well, rewards. Today’s online incentive technology can turn your rewards program into a powerful business solution, not just a rewards vending machine. Here are a few of the ways online technology can make your rewards program more successful:

  • Add sales tracking technology to your program. This feature helps you determine the program’s impact, organizing multiple sales promotions and closely monitoring participation. Digital claims submissions allows sales reps to instantly upload invoices, UPCs and other data to help verify claims more quickly and accurately.
  • Utilize open enrollment. Open enrollment capability ensures is beneficial to a sales channel or customer loyalty program because it can help broaden the audience you market to. By allowing anyone to register to your program with a simple enrollment form, you can collect new and better data about your market demographic.
  • Offer training incentives. A training component to your online rewards program can be a powerful motivator for sales reps or distributors to educate themselves on your products and services. With easy online access and instant rewards for filling out surveys or passing quizzes, your participant audience has greater incentive to become better, more knowledgeable agents of your brand. Especially in sales channel environments, this boosted knowledge can give you an edge your competitors lack.
  • Integrate the program with your current tech stack. Integration services make your online rewards program easier to remember and more convenient for your participants to access. When your program is part of your existing corporate website, the link between rewards and your brand is stronger, which results in greater brand awareness and program activity.
  • Deliver instant, on-the-spot rewards. These help reinforce behaviors as they happen. Studies by psychologist B.F. Skinner found that “lab mice responded most voraciously to random rewards,” indicating that serendipitous rewards can have a very powerful effect on the actions and motivations of your program participants.

3. Develop reward program communication and marketing that turns heads.

To ensure your rewards program draws in the attention and positive sentiment it needs to thrive, you should have robust communication and marketing tools in place when the program launches. These communication and marketing abilities will take your program to the next level. Here are three different communication mediums, for example, all with unique, fantastic advantages in marketing to incentive program audiences:


Today’s age-diverse workforces have a broad range of different communication preferences. According to a Beta News study, ”60% of millennials prefer two-way text engagement, because it’s convenient, fast, and easy to use.”


A Marketing Sherpa study reported that 84% of business decision-makers prefer receiving promotional messages through email. And, with email alerts on their ever-present smartphones, people are checking their email more frequently than ever.

Ye Olde Snail Mail

Online channels like mobile alerts and websites may be quick and easy, but snail mail is actually proven to be better at getting people to react. Dashburst reported that “79% of consumers say they act on direct mail immediately, compared to 45% who say the same of emails.”

Some other reward program marketing strategies you can use:

  • Brand the heck out of your rewards program! Your program is your chance to show appreciation for dedicated work and customer loyalty, to validate outstanding performances and build lasting partnerships. Get creative with the program’s name and imagery. You can even brand your digital rewards points so loyalty and awareness are solidified every time participants earn rewards. Harvard Business Review says that, as branded currency becomes more common, successful companies will “create an integrated approach to using Branded Currency as a vehicle for customer engagement. They will aggregate deals, offers, payments, and loyalty; unify online and offline.”
  • Use the program to promote your organizational values. For example, you can partner with charities or local communities and invite participants to donate reward points to these organizations.
  • Clearly express the program’s value proposition. Make your program sound enticing and impossible to resist!
  • Count down to a kickoff! Who doesn’t love a good countdown? It’s a great way to drum up excitement about something and keep an event on people’s minds. Make people positively giddy about the launch of your rewards program by counting down to its grand opening with a raffle or contest, a drawing to give away rewards, a launch party…some companies even hire a celebrity to be a spokesperson for their program. Holding a countdown and event for your program launch shows you’re excited about it, and excitement is contagious!

4. Get out your reward program ROI measuring tape.

The last thing you need for a successful online rewards program launch is a plan in place to measure the program’s ROI as it runs. These strategies will help with determining program ROI:

  • Partner with an rewards program provider who offers advanced, real-time reporting and analytics. Reports ensure you have accurate and reliable data on activity within your program.
  • Report back to both participants and higher-ups. Upper management should know exactly what the program helped the company accomplish. Not only will this validate reward program costs, it will be that much more of a motivating factor.
  • Update your goals and tactics according to your ROI analysis. In order for your rewards program to remain a unique, useful marketing tool, it has to remain agile and relevant to your unique objectives and needs.

An online rewards program launch doesn’t have to be stressful. By following the above steps, you can be confident in the program you unveil to your company and participants. Here’s the unofficial, fifth and final step: have fun! Remember that an online rewards program is a gesture of appreciation and faith in your sales employees, channel partners or customers. A rewards program launch should be the time to get excited over new ideas and opportunities that help your business reach new heights.

<strong>About </strong>Steve Damerow

About Steve Damerow

Steve Damerow is the Founder of Incentive Solutions, an incentive program provider in Atlanta specializing in helping B2B companies increase distribution channel sales, establish customer loyalty and retention, and develop long-lasting channel partnerships.

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