BravoGifts Sees Incentive in Switching Gears

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Corporate gift site BravoGifts.com is aiming for a bigger chunk of the $22.8 billion incentive industry by helping companies create online incentive programs in addition to providing high-end gift fulfillment.


To reflect this new strategy, the company is changing its name today to Bravanta.com, although BravoGifts.com will stay live as a gift destination.


A number of incentive industry veterans are skeptical of this new kid on the block, however. They said that motivating employees isn't just about offering a snazzy gift or two.


Bravanta's first application is Rewarding Work. This turnkey technology takes care of all administrative problems associated with creating a tiered awards program, which is typically used for nonsales incentive practices such as employee anniversaries. For example, employees celebrating a five-year anniversary can choose from merchandise valued at $500 or less, and those at the 10-year mark can choose from items valued at $1,000 or less.


The site's technology allows employees to choose from Bravanta's 2,000-item online catalog, sparing the administrator the tasks of reporting and billing. The system also can notify the administrator when an employee's anniversary is approaching and can automatically send the employee a congratulatory e-mail.


Offshoots of this application will be Rewarding Years, Rewarding Sales and Rewarding on the Spot.


The problem with creating a turnkey solution is that companies have different needs, said Michael Ryan, vice president of sales and business development at Xceed Performance Group, New York. Xceed created what many consider to be the first online incentive program for MCI in 1996.


Incentive programs are supposed to tie in with the bottom line as a "vehicle to promote individualized training, best practices … [and] everything from sales to the strategic alignment of brand initiatives," Ryan said. "It's about improving performance, not just delivering rewards."


Bravanta isn't the first company to think it would get rich quick by jumping into the incentive industry, said Michael Kust, vice president of marketing and sales development at Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis. CMG is one of the top three full-service incentive houses, along with Maritz Inc. and BI Performance Solutions.


"You would have to be blind not to notice that there are an awful lot of folks eyeing various parts of the industry," said Kust. "It's a whole lot more difficult to execute an effective strategy than it is to see the opportunity and feel as if you're going to take over the business."


What's more, quick hit incentive programs, compared with integrated campaigns, may do more damage than good, said Kust.


"If a client is looking for a short-term tactical answer to a problem," he said, "there are a lot of places that can provide that. It may solve one problem, but may cause another one to pop up."


Companies such as CMG have a reputation for creating full-scale, integrated incentive programs, but "a lot of companies don't need that kind of hand holding, and that's where we come in," said Allyson Campa, CEO of Bravanta.com, San Francisco. "We're basically using technology to take the [incentive house fees] out of the equation so they can pass it on to the program's participants. This way, they can put much more into awards and rewards. Ultimately, that's what motivates people."


Not to mention that some of the larger incentive houses charge as much as $300,000 to $400,000 for a custom program, Campa said. Bravanta is free for the first 90 days and $10,000 for a 12-month run.


This new entrant to the field is like many others in unrelated fields that "are consistently finding out that you need to have a value proposition. You can't just put up a site and expect it to strike the fancy of the marketplace," Kust said.


However, according to Campa, this move has been in the company's business plan all along. "As a start-up, you have to start somewhere and move to the next place," Campa said. The site plans to add more complex features later in the year, such as point-based tracking.


Bravanta makes its money through deals with suppliers such as Movado, Taylor Made and Hyatt. Its clients include Charles Schwab, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway.
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