Evolving the relationship between retail brands and incentive agencies

by Vera Barovska
Director – Sales and Client Services, Ovation Incentives
Table of contents


This article delves into the evolving nature of the relationships between retail brands and incentive agencies, the benefits of collaboration, and the role of knowledge exchange in maximising their potential. A new era of collaboration promises to reshape the landscape of brand-incentive agency relationships, driving both parties towards sustained success and growth.

In June 2022, the city of Amsterdam hosted an insightful IMA Europe industry panel session titled "Creating mutually beneficial relationships", which brought together key players in the retail and agency sectors. This session ignited a crucial industry conversation, leaving vital questions unanswered.

This was followed by the IMA Summit in London in September 2022. There, the theme of "Creating mutually beneficial relationships – retailers & agencies" took centre stage, building upon the inquiries and discussions that had developed in Amsterdam.

A year later, the same Summit hosted another industry panel session on "How do I get my products into your programme". This session aimed to bring product suppliers and agencies together to discuss the optimal strategies for maximising opportunities to showcase products, including gift cards and merchandise, to potential clients. 

These events serve as critical platforms for industry leaders to collaborate, exchange ideas, and enhance their understanding of building successful relationships and effective product promotion. The article looks back on the insights and key points that emerged from these discussions and offers a blueprint for further constructive dialogue.


In today's dynamic and rapidly evolving business landscape, the partnership between brands and incentive agencies has taken on unprecedented significance. These collaborations serve as the cornerstone for driving sales, enhancing brand image, and nurturing customer loyalty. Historically, this relationship has often been characterised by transactional interactions, primarily focused on the execution of promotional activities, such as volume-based discounts. However, a small transformative shift towards a more collaborative and synergistic approach is starting to emerge, presenting a multitude of advantages. This essay delves into the multifaceted benefits of nurturing collaborative relationships between brands and incentive agencies, spotlighting how these alliances can pave the way for mutual success and establish a win-win scenario. Furthermore, this article will explore how an exchange of knowledge between brands and agencies, where both parties seek to understand each other's businesses, plays a crucial role in maximising the potential of these partnerships.

Enhanced creativity and innovation

In the realm of marketing and promotional campaigns, creativity and innovation reign supreme. The conventional transactional model, often rooted in volume-based discounts, may limit incentive agencies to executing predetermined campaigns, emphasizing quantity over quality. This limitation can stifle creativity and innovation, restricting the agency's capacity to craft campaigns tailored to the unique nature of a brand. In stark contrast, a collaborative approach invites a shared brainstorming process, encouraging the co-creation of innovative strategies that go beyond mere discounts.

Understanding each other's business

A key component of collaborative relationships is the exchange of knowledge between brands and incentive agencies. Both parties must endeavour to comprehend the intricacies of each other's businesses. Brands, for instance, might not be aware of the psychological impact of gifting a £5 gift card, where recipients are likely to spend beyond the gifted amount when redeeming their gift card. This knowledge empowers brands to devise more effective campaigns that harness the psychology of consumer behaviour.

Brands must also understand the potential inherent in incentive agency platforms. Often, these platforms are available to specific targeted audiences only where limited selection of brands are displaying. This is where brands have a fantastic opportunity to amplify their exposure through a variety of methods. These methods can include advertising on the agency's platforms, providing discounts, alerting end recipients to upcoming sales, or launching program-specific promotions. Each of these strategies is perceived as added value by the end customer, thereby strengthening the connection between brands and their potential new loyal customer base.

Better understanding of brand values

Collaborative relationships are built on a foundation of mutual understanding. In this exchange of knowledge, brands and incentive agencies have the opportunity to delve deeper into each other's values and long-term objectives. The transactional model, often fixated on securing volume-based discounts, may sideline the core values of a brand in pursuit of immediate gains. In a collaborative relationship, brands and agencies work together to create campaigns that genuinely resonate with the brand's identity. The brand, with its newfound knowledge, can also guide the agency in crafting campaigns that consider the broader brand narrative.

Improved targeting and personalisation

Transactional relationships that prioritise volume may result in one-size-fits-all campaigns, overlooking the finer nuances of personalised messaging. Collaborative partnerships empower incentive agencies to work closely with brands, gathering vital insights and data regarding the target audience. This data-driven approach facilitates precise targeting and personalised messaging, distinct from the broad strokes of volume-driven initiatives. Agencies can tailor incentives and content to suit the unique preferences and behaviours of different customer segments. This approach, coupled with the exchange of knowledge, optimises the impact of campaigns and fosters customer loyalty.

Greater accountability and performance measurement

Collaborative relationships foster shared accountability for campaign outcomes. Brands and incentive agencies collaboratively establish clear, measurable objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This departs from the transactional model's emphasis on volume-based discounts, where success is often measured solely in terms of quantity. An exchange of knowledge allows both parties to comprehend the importance of tracking meaningful performance metrics, which offer insights into campaign effectiveness.

Long-term relationship building

Transactional relationships, primarily focused on securing volume-based discounts, are often transient, centred on immediate goals and objectives. Conversely, collaborative relationships tend to nurture long-term partnerships. Brands and incentive agencies that work in tandem over an extended period cultivate trust, shared knowledge, and a mutual investment in each other's success. This exchange of knowledge allows both parties to harness the power of insights and data over time, strengthening the foundation of their partnership.

Cost-efficiency and resource optimisation

Collaboration encourages the pooling of resources and expertise between brands and incentive agencies. This collaborative synergy can lead to more cost-effective campaigns, as both parties share the financial burden and leverage their respective strengths. This stands in stark contrast to the transactional model, which often prioritises securing volume-based discounts, potentially resulting in resource wastage.

Enhanced adaptability

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern business, adaptability is paramount to achieving success. Collaborative relationships, underpinned by the exchange of knowledge, equip brands and incentive agencies with the tools necessary to pivot and adjust their strategies quickly in response to changing market conditions. This adaptability is a fundamental attribute for maintaining competitiveness and relevance in a constantly changing marketplace.


The transition from the transactional, volume-driven model to collaborative relationships between brands and incentive agencies would signify a paradigm shift that would bring in significant advantages for both stakeholders. By nurturing an environment characterised by creativity, innovation, mutual understanding, and shared accountability, collaborative partnerships would pave the way for more effective campaigns, precise audience targeting, and improved performance measurement. These relationships would also foster the development of long-term partnerships and the optimal use of resources, enhancing the adaptability and competitiveness of both brands and incentive agencies in today's business landscape. If brands and incentive agencies fully embrace the advantages of collaboration and the exchange of knowledge, they would be better positioned to collectively achieve sustained success and foster growth in a mutually beneficial manner. This shift would signify not only a contemporary approach but also an indispensable step towards thriving in the business world of tomorrow. Collaborative relationships emphasise quality, authenticity, and meaningful results over sheer volume and immediate discounts, thus enriching the brand-customer relationship.

Panel contributors to the IMA Europe events were:

  • Soren Hoj Thomsen – Zalando
  • Alex Schade – SPTC
  • Bart Mathieu – bol.com
  • Liz Crow – Burgopak
  • Jessica Hankers – Virgin Incentives
  • Julie Barbier-Leblan – Merit Incentives
  • Mark Gregg – Bonago
  • Stoytcho Vlaykov – Cashwave
  • Miranda Graesser – Sainsbury’s & Argos
  • Cosmin Lacatusu – Create Direct
  • Amanda Et-Tibary – Travel by Inspire
  • Debbie Ghillino – The Incentive Company
  • Nathan Kitchner – Global Reward Solutions
  • Vera Barovska – Ovation Incentives