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Big Picture (Fall 2008)

The Corporate Rewards Exchange Industry Expansion Initiative

The industry is about to embark upon a promising cooperative effort to tap a large potential market of new users. The Corporate Rewards Exchange (CRE), which will be going live at CorporateRewardsExchange.com in late January 2009, involves leading brands, incentive fulfillment companies, incentive professionals and media organizations working together to bring the power of engagement strategies to the huge mass of businesses with budgets too small to be served by the traditional incentive industry.

Unlike other well-known marketing tools such as advertising, direct marketing and public relations, the incentive business is barely known to most businesspeople. Even after years of collective industry marketing, your friends and colleagues outside the field are still surprised to learn that such an industry exists – even at a time when organizations need highly targeted, one-to-one engagement strategies with all of their audiences.

One reason for the lack of visibility is that most major firms that provide engagement services target only the largest companies. Because of the traditional economics of providing incentive services, most companies with budgets of $50,000 or less have nowhere to turn to for expert assistance and support. Whereas companies with almost any size budget can afford advertising and direct marketing expertise, the expertise and support provided by incentive specialists is traditionally reserved for the major players. As my partner likes to say, “That which gets sold, gets done.”

The Corporate Rewards Exchange is designed to leverage the power of the name brands in our field to help educate corporate America about this business and the services it provides. While the names of the leading incentive companies in our field are little known in general business circles, corporate end-users still frequently search for rewards from the leading brands. By creating a portal that enables authorized and qualified users to make bulk purchases of corporate rewards directly through the industry – and to find “Engagement” partners who can help them implement effective programs for smaller budgets – CorporateRewardsExchange.com is designed to broaden the market of educated end-users for the benefit of all.

Built with collective input from incentive companies, fulfillment firms, incentive representatives and end-users, the Corporate Rewards Exchange is designed to enhance the current field rather than “disintemediate” any of the traditional players. Other pluses:

  • Corporate end-users benefit by being able to buy corporate gifts in bulk from leading brands and/or their authorized incentive fulfillment companies, as well as find Engagement specialists who can help them implement the most effective programs. While end-users will be able to make bulk purchases through the system for corporate gifts, they’ll have to work through authorized Engagement specialists around the country to provide points-based incentive and engagement programs. They cannot get access to the highest bulk pricing without additional qualification.
  • Brands will have a better means of controlling and tracking the use of their products in the corporate marketplace, including the ability to measure the exposure they receive, as well as approve use of their brands names in consumer marketing programs. Brands that sell only through resellers will be able to restrict access appropriately.
  • The CRE enables brands to effectively maintain the current two-step pricing for resellers and end-users common in the advertising and list management business, compensating resellers for their added value services to end-users.
  • Incentive fulfillment companies benefit by gaining access to new markets without running into channel conflict with their incentive company and other reseller partners. They can establish any business rules they wish related to whether or not they sell direct to end-users.
  • Incentive companies will gain access to a highly efficient way to provide real-time availability of products so that reward recipients can get rapid shipping from incentive fulfillment experts, as well as having a means of profiting from smaller programs they couldn’t justify serving in the past. They will be able to use their own program portal technology – or the Solata Engagement Manager or other software products that link in with the Corporate Rewards Exchange – so they don’t need to change the way they currently do business to profit from the CRE.
  • Incentive representatives will be able to use the CRE to help clients with bulk purchases in a highly automated way and earn their appropriate commissions.
  • Promotional products distributors will be able to use the system like any other reseller, knowing that many of the brands offer two-step pricing.

Like any new and ambitious project such as an online industry marketplace, the CRE is bound to raise questions and issues. Some suppliers have suggested that the system will provide too much price transparency – the answer is that high volume customers will have to be further qualified before seeing the best prices. Some incentive reps have said this could cut them out of business – to the contrary, it makes it easier for them to provide added value to customers while making sure they get proper credit. One incentive company executive asked me if this could commoditize the business? Actually, it drives opportunities to their business; improves the economics of offering any size client effective merchandise- and gift-card-based engagement solutions. Bottom line: The Engagement specialists that best know how to translate these offerings into effective engagement solutions will get the most business.

Organized and founded by Selling Communications Inc., the Corporate Rewards Exchange involves leading brands, incentive fulfillment companies, incentive professionals, associations, etc. that see the opportunity of collective action to expand the marketplace. The CRE is being organized under a model similar to that of the original credit card companies, using the collective power of industry participation to expand a marketplace. There are no hidden agendas. The planning will take place in meetings open to all who wish to participate, and the program specifications will reflect the input from everyone.

We are sure people will have questions or suggestions. Feel free to contact me at: or 914-591-7600, ext. 230.

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Fall 2008

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