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Continuity Programs: The Power Of Persistence

By Karen Akers

Whether you’re striving for safety or sales goals, employee or brand loyalty, continuity programs designed by your promotions professional can help you put the pieces together.

It doesn’t take a marketing expert to know that the more times someone is exposed to a marketing message, the more likely they are to notice it. Take, for example, Absolut Vodka ads that incorporate the familiar-shaped bottle into different settings, or milk ads that picture different famous people sporting a milk moustache. Thanks to the consistency in the companies’ marketing efforts over a number of years, most people will instantly recognize the ads and the brands they represent.

You don’t have to be a major player to make the same concepts work for your company. Businesses of all sizes and persuasions can benefit from the power of continuity. Whether you’re striving for safety or sales goals, employee or brand loyalty, continuity programs designed by your promotions professional can help your company achieve its goals.

Stunning Simplicity

One of the most common types of continuity programs is one that shows client or employee appreciation by sending out related gifts at certain intervals of time. The continual reminders of your company’s name and goodwill creates a positive impression with recipients.

For example, a company trying to get the attention of corporate decision-makers might send a series of desktop gifts, like pens/pencils and holders, business card holders, letter openers, etc. Others might send a holiday ornament or other gift for the winter holiday season. “The number one task in a continuity program is client retention and brand reinforcement, whether you’re marketing pens and pencils or insurance,” says promotional consultant Dan Rappoport. “That’s what’s delivered by effective continuity programs.”

But, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Developing an effective theme and selecting products that complement that theme are very important to making your program a success. And that’s where your promotional consultant comes in.

“The most effective programs are those that don’t replicate items or products in a row,” Rappoport explains. “One month [the product] might be a gardening kit; the next month it might be aromatherapy; the third month it might be origami. What you want, in your mind’s eye, is a desktop or a shelf of plaques on a wall that are related but not identical.”

Step Up For Safety

Carefully planned continuity programs can be used to influence all sorts of behaviors. Applying the concept to the workplace, companies can encourage employees to work at a high level and make their businesses more successful.

A successful program that focuses on safety can be invaluable to a company. “Lost-time injuries are extremely important, not only from the standpoint of the cost factor, but certainly from the standpoint of the government regulatory agencies that oversee safety issues. It can become a major, major problem for companies,” says promotional consultant Shannon Westerman. “Workman’s comp is becoming such a big issue across the country, in all industries. If you get a guy who hurts his back, he could be on workman’s comp for the rest of his life.”

For high-risk jobs, employers need to consider just how much employees’ safety means to them. Is everything possible being done to ensure that employees know and follow established guidelines? By reminding employees with safety-related gifts, or setting up a comprehensive program that rewards employees for following safe practices, a company can significantly increase its safety records.

One way that companies can encourage safety is through thematic programs. Westerman says he will often create a cartoon character to convey the message of a safe workplace to workers. “[The character] will be the safety shadow and the spokesman for the company. We have a lot of fun with it. We’ll name the character and he becomes part of workers’ everyday habits and is seen throughout the company,” Westerman explains. “For example, we had one named Archie, and he would always pop up somewhere. We’d give [workers] a pen with Archie on it; maybe we’d give them a lapel pin with Archie. He just sort of becomes part of their daily lives.”

Taking things a step further, companies can extend a theme to a full-scale points-and-rewards program. For example, when steel manufacturer Bon L Canada Inc. wanted to strengthen its workplace safety, it instituted a multitiered program to get employees on board. “We found that they had a very high accident rate and the plant morale was extremely low,” explains promotional consultant John Covey. “So, what we aimed to do was reverse that.”

The resulting program consisted of three main elements: overall safety awareness, individual employee incentives and team employee incentives. Products such as keytags, screwdrivers, pocketknives, pens, magnets, first-aid kits and more were used as gifts and prizes to reward employees and reinforce the company’s safety goals.

Within a year Bon L saw concrete results: Its accident rate dropped 86%, creating significant savings in employees’ lost-time pay. And, thanks to the program and the low accident rate, employee morale grew as well. Overall, it was so successful that Bon L re-instituted it for another year and recommended it to other branches of the company.

Continuity programs can also be used to encourage other positive workplace practices. Much in the same way they are used to remind workers of safety issues, they can also be used to inspire more sales, improve customer service or even encourage better teamwork.

Encourage Excellence

Today’s shaky economy and unstable job market can leave many employees feeling anxious about their jobs. Budget cutbacks and fewer bonuses could cause top employees to start looking elsewhere. While companies have no control over some of these factors, they can make employees feel more secure by showing their appreciation. “The whole idea of an employee recognition program is to touch on the intangible, the non-monetary, the non-verbal area of what keeps employees happy and focusing on retention,” says promotional consultant Mitch Gale. “You’ve got to not only attract good people to your company, [you have to] get them trained and retain them. If you retain your good people, your overhead goes down.”

Programs can be as simple as naming an employee of the month, explains promotional consultant Bill Wright. “It can [recognize] sales numbers, obviously, but it can also acknowledge new accounts, it can be leads or all types of different accomplishments,” Wright explains. And, he adds, they can be instituted for very little cost: “I always try to think in a per-person cost, because you can amortize that number down into a pretty small number most of the time. … It could only cost $5 per employee over a year’s time.”

Companies can also create long-term high-reward programs by building them around a point system. Employees who consistently perform well can earn points toward high-end gifts like radios, watches, trips, etc.

And, thanks to advances in technology, employees can track their progress online, seeing how many points they have and how many more they need to reach their goals. “An effective way to implement [a program] is through the Internet,” Gale says. “Whether you’re setting up a point system or even recognition system for accomplishments, the Internet [makes it] very fluid and adds neat functionality to the program.”

The Means To Motivate

You may be more familiar with comprehensive continuity programs than you realize. Chances are, you’re participating in one already. Have you ever belonged to a CD or movie club? Used frequent-flyer miles? Collected UPC codes or box tops to earn a reward? Then you’ve experienced continuity first-hand, and know from experience how effective they can be. “Paying your mortgage every month is a continuity program – it’s not a very fun one for most people, but it’s an example of a regularly scheduled transaction,” Rappoport says. “Continuity programs are, almost by definition, becoming a member of a club. It’s a marketing effort to reward, maintain and up-sell members of your club or organization.”

For example, Rappoport worked with ratings firm ACNielson to increase participation in its HomeScan grocery-tracking program. What they came up with was a multilevel system for rewarding panelists. Participants would earn points for every item they reported, and then cash in the points for prizes. These included promotional products, computer games, CDs, books and more.

“Once they accrued enough points and they used it on an item, they could then accrue more points and ‘buy’ something else. So, they could continually go to the well and be motivated in a continuity program fashion to maintain their [scanning] diligence,” Rappoport says.

Pepsi used the point system for a recent promotion it did in conjunction with college basketball. It had used the concept successfully in the past with consumers collecting specially marked soda caps to earn merchandise from a catalog; last year they decided to do something similar for March Madness, the highlight of the year for many college basketball fans.

Mountain Dew or Sierra Mist drinkers could win instantly when they found a winning cap – college jerseys, coupons and other Pepsi products were awarded – but those who didn’t win could win prizes as well. By collecting 32 non-winners, consumers could earn a Mountain Dew T-shirt with the phrase “game on” on the front. “It was either win or you keep collecting until you do,” explains Dave Dececco, Pepsi spokesperson. But Pepsi came out the real winner: Nearly 200,000 jerseys and T-shirts were claimed, more than an 8% response rate.

First Things First

The first step to installing a successful continuity program is considering exactly what your business needs to accomplish. Better safety records? Increased sales? Brand recognition? All of these and more can be accomplished with a carefully planned continuity program.

Ask yourself:

* Has my company ever used a continuity program before? What did I like or dislike about it?
* What does my company hope to accomplish with the program? Generate awareness? Increase safety? Accomplish some client- or employee- related goal?
* What kind of actions should the program encourage/reward? Does my company want more hits on its Web site? More visits to its showroom? Higher rates of customer-service satisfaction?
* Who am I trying to influence with the program? Are the recipients mainly male or female? Young or old? Computer programmers or construction workers?
* Should the program be ongoing or will it only last a specified amount of time?

Considering these questions with your promotional consultant, is the first step to creating a successful continuity program.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2005

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