Special Markets Dialogues, a small group of thought leaders in the corporate gift and recognition marketplace, held its 2018 meeting in mid-October in Las Vegas for two days of networking and discussing the state of the corporate gift, recognition, rewards, incentive and motivation marketplace.

The 31 invited attendees represented brand merchandise manufacturers, national marketing companies, performance improvement companies, association professionals, gift card providers, promotional products distributors and suppliers, and manufacturers’ representatives. This year’s lineup of discussion topics, with most generated by the attendees in advance of the gathering, focused on key trends, challenges and issues impacting the incentive, rewards and recognition marketplaces. They included:

  • current government regulations such as the newly imposed tariffs on imported products, California’s Prop 65 requirements and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on internet sales and use taxes
  • revelations about the advancement of technology and the impact of artificial intelligence on the speed to market, creating more powerful client databases and emerging digital platforms
  • the growing number of digital platforms for administering rewards programs by company HR professionals and which allow employees to manage rewards and recognition
  • the concept of “frictionless awards” created by retail point-of-sale terminals, beacon technology, mobile wallets and even instant financing to drive higher-end merchandise
  • the focus on health and wellness as the fastest-growing reward category driven in part by wearable technology
  • the growth of experiential and event rewards which are often preferred by younger employees over cash or other non-cash rewards
  • recent acquisitions and mergers in the broad incentive and promotional market and the interest of private equity companies in acquiring employee engagement firms and other industry players
  • several challenges experienced among incentive and multiline representatives, national marketing companies and brand manufacturers as they work to improve their working relationships
  • updates on the proliferation of association and private entity trade shows and events, hosted buyer and traveling show programs
  • announcements of upcoming association educational programs, research projects and public outreach programs
  • review of the current efforts underway to establish workforce standards for the incentive, rewards and recognition industry and for employee engagement

Attendees shared their candid views about the discussion topics as well as their business challenges in 2018 and their opportunities and prospects for improvement in 2019. Most of the attendees reported they experienced positive results in 2018, despite various challenges, and predicted positive opportunities ahead in 2019.

The Special Markets Dialogues meeting has been conducted annually since the early 1990s, bringing together company owners and executives to network, share ideas, discuss strategies and debate the future of the marketplace.