Put an ACE up your sleeve when designing incentive programs…

There are a million things to consider when designing an effective incentive program. But at a very high level you want to do three things…

Get your audience to accept and commit to the program. Find a way to have your audience become owners of the program. You don’t want them to think the program is just management’s way of “getting more for less” – you want your audience to be active participants. And finally, you want to create an emotional connection to the program and the rewards involved. If you craft your program with these things in mind you can create a program that will work and that your audience gets value from.

I call it the “ACE” Incentive Design Model© (copyright, trademarked, marky-marked).


ACE stands for:

  • Activate
  • Co-Create
  • Emotionalize

Let me dig in a bit deeper to give you a better feel for this.


Too often incentive programs are “announced” to the target audience via an email or even a snail-mail event. And that is about it. No real effort. Just a note that says “Hey – you’re in a program, you can earn awards, it runs from x to x and good luck.” I kid you not. Good incentive providers will tell a client that communications is critical and that without it you’re throwing away their award dollars. But many clients disagree and short change the communication. But creating awareness is only one part of the program announcement phase. Yes – spend the money on communication – but also spend the money to not only create awareness – but actually ACTIVATE your audience. Find a way to get them to DO something. An incentive program isn’t a passive event for the sponsor or for the participant. You need to get your audience to interact – read the program overview – understand the rules – know what they can earn – start planning their effort in the program. Without an “activation” strategy you simply have people who “know” about the program but aren’t ACTIVE in the program. Find a way for your audience to interact with you and prove they know what’s going on.


You’ve heard that we’re in a “prosumer” world now where consumers are also producers. Producers of content around a product. Producers of influence in the purchasing decisions – becoming advocates of the brand or product. Smart brands are allowing their consumers to help them co-create the products and services that they value. Lego is a big believer that their users are their best designers using fan votes to determine new lego sets. The concept of co-creation extends to your incentive program too. To truly create program engagement and activity you need to enlist your participants in the ongoing program content if possible. You need to get your audience to think about the program and share their thinking. Ask them questions via quick surveys. Ask them what award they want to choose (we used to call this “creating a wish list) if they perform in the program. Share that with others in the program (with their permission of course.) The key here is to continuously look for ways your audience can connect with and interact with the program. Sending a reminder on a regular


I realize I’m horribly torturing the English language with that word but I couldn’t really find a good word to make the “ACE” thing work. The key here is to find a way to connect your program to an emotional angle for the participant. In other words – when I only look at an incentive through a rational lens it becomes a calculation – a cold, hard, fact-based decision. In those instances your audience begins to question whether there is a good “exchange rate” between the program goals and the awards. In that case there will always be a contingent that thinks they should get more or do less. But when you find a way to connect to an emotion, or an experience, you change the part of the brain where the motivation lives. Asking participants to imagine how they would use their new TV or smoker brings up images of parties, family, friends… way more powerful motivators than a dollar sign (yes – research proves this… google it.) Engaging your audience with the program and prompting them to create those experiential and emotional connections to their success in the program will drive greater performance, greater satisfaction with the program and greater connection to your brand.

And isn’t that what you really want? Connections and performance.

Remember – ACE your program and everyone will be happy!

  • Activate
  • Co-Create
  • Emotionalize


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.