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Four Steps to Communicating Incentives

There is an old adage in advertising that says, “people need to see an ad seven times before they are influenced by it.” What does this mean for your incentive programs?

While advertisers may argue about the exact right number (I’ve seen some say that it takes 20 times – really, that seems overkill?), the concept that multiple views of information drives behavior has been shown to be true.  This is called “effective frequency” in the advertising world. 

In our internal communication world, we call it a communication campaign and organizations don’t use campaigns as often as they should. In the world of incentives, a full campaign can be a fantastic tool to add to your toolbelt.  

We know that memory is impacted both by the vividness of a message as well as the frequency and cadence with which it is seen. When organizations use a campaign to communicate their incentive plans, they are ensuring that their plans are seen more, which increases understanding of the plan, and improves the chance of it being acted on in the way the plan design intended. 

First, let’s describe what we mean by a campaign. 

The word may sound ominous, but it really means that you break the information that you want to convey into smaller chunks and communicate it over a set period of time – often through different communication vehicles (but not always). A campaign is simply presenting your incentive plan in various chunks over time. Some of these chunks release new information, some repeat previously communicated information (effective frequency), and most are a combination of the two.

This “chunking” of information has some significant value for you:

1. It reduces cognitive load.

When we humans have too much information presented to us at once, our brains can become cognitively overloaded. When that happens, our comprehension and memory of that information is reduced. So, while it may seem expedient to present all the information about a compensation plan in one fell swoop, it can actually be detrimental to people understanding it.

2. It reinforces learning. 

Studies going back to the 1930s have shown that information that is presented over a period of time reinforces learning and memory.  Repeated exposure creates stronger neural pathways which means deeper processing of information as well as greater recall of that information. 

3. It taps into the mere exposure effect.

The mere exposure effect is a behavioral phenomenon that shows when people are exposed to things more often, they tend to prefer those things to similar things seen less often. For example, the more we see an ad for a car, the more likely we are to like that car.  A communication campaign regarding your IC program with repeated exposures to the plan helps people feel more positive about the plan and have greater satisfaction with it.

Timing a Campaign

While every campaign is unique and the specific timing depends on a number of factors including plan complexity, is it a new plan, corporate culture, etc., there are some standard phases that should be looked at.  At The Lantern Group, we typically use a four-phase approach:

  1. Building Excitement
  2. The Big Picture
  3. Show Me the Details
  4. Remind Me Again

1. The Building Excitement phase

This phase actually begins before the new IC plan is launched.  These are messages that are used to help anchor people into a positive position and feel excitement for the upcoming plan. While we almost always use this for when the plan is changing, these types of messages provide benefits for plans that are very similar to last year’s plans in that they help build the perception of the plan with the employees. That perception is vital to people’s opinions and subsequent actions with the plans. 

In addition, this can serve as a reminder of the behaviors they need to continue to exhibit to stay the course on their current plan.

We often use short promotional videos or fun e-mail teasers in this phase.

2. The Big Picture phase

happens right as the plan is being introduced.  It lays out both the key components of the plan – such as product weights, key measures, target IC, but does not get into the specific mechanics of the plan. It is also important that in the Big Picture phase that you communicate why the plan is designed the way it is. This includes how it levels up to the larger organizational strategy and mission. This is also the phase that outlines the implications for the employee – what they need to do to maximize their earnings. 

The Big Picture phase often uses a combination of communication vehicles – including live sessions, webinars, workshops, PPTs, and infographics. The element of having a leader spearheading this communication sends a powerful message about its importance, so we try to integrate them in either live, on webinars, or through a video.

3. The Show Me the Details phase

Here we start to get into the nitty-gritty details. The key to this is to ensure that this isn’t just an afterthought or information that isn’t designed well.  People still want and deserve that the information is presented in a way that makes sense and is easy to comprehend. This phase also includes any legal or eligibility information. We like to reinforce the implications for employees in this phase as well. 

This phase also presents a great opportunity to motivate the field by showing them the best ways to maximize their earnings.

We tend to use plan guidebooks, PDFs, and spreadsheets to share this information. 

4. The Remind Me Again Phase

Finally, the Remind Me Again phase is an ongoing communication at various points throughout the plan period to reinforce key concepts of the plan and keep it top of mind. These are short, fun communications that provide a key snippet or fact that employees can grasp in under a minute. 

We use short visual e-mail messages, animated videos, fun trivia games, and other engaging methods for these types of communications.

Overall, using a campaign approach provides a lot of value for you and your team. You end up helping people better understand your incentives and what they need to do to maximize their earnings. You get less confusion and drive better performance. Employees have less stress and understand their plan metrics and the implications of those them more. 

Reach out below about implementing an incentive communications campaign in your organization today.


Questions or comments? Use the form below or email them to behavior@lanterngroup.com

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