Know Thy Participants: Why Group Demographics Are a Real Difference-Maker

by | February 6, 2018 | Blog

Let’s play a game. Take a look at the following three personality profiles:

Part 1: Participant Profiles

1) Tony is a 45-year-old independent contractor from Pittsburgh.

He has a wife and two kids. He earns between $50,000-$60,000 a year, and he loves the Steelers and Penguins.

Tony owns a small boat, and during the summer, he and his family rent out the same lake house and spend two wonderful weeks swimming, water skiing, and enjoying the great outdoors.

2) Carla is a technology-savvy channel sales representative based out of Dallas.

In just her second year at her job, she’s already become a top salesperson in her organization earning close to $90,000.

She’s single and just turned 30. One thing she likes about her job is that it requires her to travel fairly frequently, mostly to cities in the Southwest.

She enjoys the Dallas nightlife, has her scuba-diving certification, and runs an annual 5k race in her hometown for charity.

3) Neil manages a pair of home goods stores in South Carolina.

He’s in his early-60s, has been divorced and remarried, and has three kids, all of whom are college-aged or older.

He has a pool, enjoys playing cards and occasionally chess, relishes his weekly visit to the one Indian restaurant in the town where he lives, and prefers to spend his weekend nights at home with his wife watching Shark Tank or Dancing with Stars.

With the minor stocks and mutual funds he invests in, he earns around $75,000 a year.

Part 2: Reward Options

Now, based on these three profiles, which person do you think would be most excited to go on the following trips?

A) Caribbean Cruise — A 4-day, 3-night Royal Caribbean cruise that boasts a swim-up bar, onboard casino, 5 unique restaurants, and stops in Jamaica and Grand Cayman.

B) Costa Rican Adventure — A 5-day, 4-night trip to a pair of 4-star eco-resorts in Costa Rica, with optional day-trips to a volcano and hot springs, and a zip line through the Costa Rican rainforest.

C) Cabo All-Inclusive — A 4-day, 3-night stay at an all-inclusive 5-star resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The trip features classic welcome and farewell receptions, picturesque views of the Caribbean, and a company-sponsored day excursion of deep-sea fishing for marlin. 

And the Winner Is…

If you matched Tony with the Cabo All-Inclusive, Carla with the Costa Rican Adventure, and Neil with the Caribbean Cruise, you’re correct!

In the case of Tony, his love of nature and tendency toward the familiar correspond nicely with an all-inclusive on the Pacific Ocean, but the possibility of a deep-sea fishing trip is definitely the kicker for this outdoorsman.

For Carla, the thrill of visiting a new, exotic country in Central America, combined with the allure of exciting and adventurous day excursions and a stay at an eco-friendly resort is all the motivation she needs to make those few additional sales and achieve the trip.

The fact that she earns a comfortable income means that the “optional” tag on these excursions won’t be a deal-breaker..

And finally, Neil, who’s a bit older, has enough experience to realize he’s more comfortable in a casual, no-frills setting, while also enjoying life by the pool, a low-stakes Poker game, and the opportunity to sample different types of cuisine.

He might enjoy doing a short-day excursion at one of the cruise stops, but doesn’t want to have to commit to this beforehand.

A Personal Touch

What’s important to take away from this thought experiment is that having a clear understanding of the demographics of your program participants and what reward options might work for them can be the difference between an incentive program that works and an incentive program that falls flat.

Personalizing your program—and the awards they’re centered around—is an idea that’s been supported by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), whose 2017 Trends Study found that “a key determinant of [incentive] success moving forward will be how well programs incorporate personal tastes and desires into the delivered product.”

This is true whether you’re organizing an incentive trip, a merchandise-based points program, or a short-term promotion featuring experience awards.

Now, you might say it’s not possible to know your participants as well as we’ve outlined above. However, even if your audience is big and you can’t know each individual personally, a brief, online questionnaire sent out at the start of the program can easily provide most of the information we’ve given.

As the program progresses, follow-up surveys that inquire into participants’ personal preferences can also be seamlessly arranged.

You might also wonder if the three fake people described above would be perfectly content earning any of the three potential group travel awards listed, making the distinction moot.

If your program is targeting something like incremental sales, however, where a boost of a few percentage points across the board will help you achieve your objective, then matching your participants as closely as possible with the most desirable awards can be a real difference-maker.

For example, as someone who loves sports, I would love to have the opportunity to attend a championship-level game in almost any sport.

But if I live near, say, Knoxville, Tennessee—home of the Tennessee Volunteers—then it’s possible I might work a little bit harder to go see a Final Four game versus an NBA Finals matchup between teams I’m not really that interested in.

It might seem like a small distinction—after all, both awards involve an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch top-level basketball—but the difference between a good choice and the right choice is the emotional impact it has on me.

One of these awards I’d like to achieve—the award interests me; the other, I have to achieve—because of who I am, I feel emotionally compelled to work towards obtaining it.

Finally, this issue becomes even more important when dealing with an international audience and the cultural differences that accompany it, something we highlighted in a previous article.

Doing your homework to better understand what types of awards motivate these participants will go a long way towards optimizing the effectiveness of your program.

Further factors like globalization, a growing immigrant workforce, and an aging population will additionally all play important roles in our evolving program demographics. 

Organizations will need to continue to address these trends in future incentive strategies if they want to see the returns they expect.


How well do you know your program audience? Contact us at or 888.220.4780 to learn how you can better understand what makes your participants tick.



Photo by Rob Curran on Unsplash

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