Creating incentives that are mutually beneficial

On Sunday I drove up to Grand Rapids to slide down the giant waterslide created by Rob Bliss.  Along with a sunburn (whoops!), I came home with a renewed appreciation for the power of creativity that goes into creating incentives that are mutually beneficial to clients and an organization.

I arrived on Grand Rapids Community College’s campus to find a very long line to go down the 500 foot long waterslide.  I eagerly jumped into the snaking line that surrounded the slide, but not really realizing the impact that the line would have on the wait time.  After 1 ½ hours of waiting in line, I hadn’t moved nearly as far as I thought I would and it finally dawned on me that the line was probably about 4 hours long. Not too long after that realization struck me, a volunteer on the other side of the barrier was going up and down the line talking with people. He came near me and I leaned in to listen.

According to the volunteer, the original plan was for people to go down the waterslide just laying flat on their back, but they quickly realized that, in order for the slide to work, everyone had to go down it on inner tubes. That presented a problem because they then had to devise a way to get the tubes back up the hill.  Their solution was to go up and down the line and ask for volunteers to create a human chain and throw the tubes back up the hill.  The payment for one hour of volunteering to do this was you got to move to the front of the line.

I may not be the best at math, but it didn’t take me long to realize that this was a good deal and meant  waiting in line a grand total of 2 hours vs. 4 hours. Besides, I hate sitting still watching other people work, so I volunteered.  The work was easy, fun, and the hour flew by. Before I knew it, I was at the front of the line and had a fun ride down the slide.

People throwing water tubes up the hill next to the slide
The throwing of the tubes

The experience made me think about how we typically go about incentivizing our customers. If you are like the majority of marketers, your first thought is some sort of financial compensation such as money or a gift card.  Although this is a good incentive and will usually do the trick, the example above reminds us all that, if we think creatively, we can find an incentive that is mutually beneficial to both us and our customers.   

Keys to developing a mutually beneficial incentive

The first key to developing a mutually beneficial incentive is to truly understand what will motivate your target audience.  In the example above, my key motivation was to spend less time waiting in line. For a volunteer for a political campaign, maybe the person would care more about a photo op with an important political figure than a gift card.

The second key is to think creatively about what would most benefit your organization.  In the majority of cases, it’s probably not going to involve giving away money.  For example, if a college has a student that is motivated to publicly speak, this could be a huge mutual benefit. By having the student go out and speak for the college, the college gains positive publicity and the student gets to do what he  or she loves.  It’s a win-win!

So what will motivate your customers and how can you utilize that to create mutually beneficial incentives?

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