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The Eyes Don’t Lie; Rewards and Biometrics

Biometrics have become a major area of study in marketing, and now you can use it to determine what types of rewards your employees might prefer.

The debate is as old as the concept of rewards itself- which is more effective: cash, or material things and experiences? There are solid arguments on both sides but now definitive scientific evidence, in the form of biometrics, puts the argument to rest.

A 2016 study commissioned by the Incentive Research Foundation (for a deep dive into the study, you can find it here) asked which type of reward (cash or material things/experiences) people unconsciously reacted to most strongly. You read that correctly.  It measured their unconscious reactions.

Even though people may outwardly say they prefer one thing over another, the body has a way of letting anyone who is paying attention know what’s really happening. Not to compare humans to dogs… but your dog has a major biometric “tell” that can’t be missed. That tail wag you fall for every time is involuntary, a response that indicates your dog is happy.

People have similar involuntary responses. In short, our bodies react to things before our brain even registers what’s happening.  It’s why some people are terrible poker players.

You know how your heart starts beating faster as you get stressed?  That’s a biometric response.  Others include skin responses like sweating or facial micro-expressions, eye movement and dilation, and brain activity.

Biometrics have become a major area of study in marketing, and now you can use it to determine what types of rewards your employees might prefer.

The study breaks human thought processes and decision-making down into two types. System One is unconscious, fast and uncontrolled by the decision-maker.  System two is deliberate, thought-out and almost rehearsed. Most behavioral analysts believe System One greatly influences the System Two process.

In this study, the reactions of 42 people were assessed by pupil dilation, skin response and eye fixation (when shown photos, the eyes will involuntarily linger over the attractive elements). These elements are frequently used when evaluating biometric responses to large-budget marketing campaigns.

The subjects were also evaluated for economic status and personality.  They were shown a range of rewards of equal value – from experiences like sporting events, spas and concerts to big screen TVs, gift cards and travel. They were also shown cash rewards and were asked to rate their preferences as well.

The results? What the individuals said they wanted didn’t exactly match their involuntary, biometric response. At the unconscious level, cash is not king.

rewards and biometrics

More often than not, cash rewards end up paying for necessities – like new roofing – rather than what the recipient might really want. So your “reward” ends up in this guy’s pocket.

Xceleration adviser Darryl Speach agrees with these results and believes that monetary rewards and cash bonuses don’t serve their intended purpose.

“Cash bonuses end up paying for a new roof or other things around the house,” Speach says. “They get put in the bank and forgotten.”  Tangible rewards and experiences, Speach goes on to explain, have a much more long-term benefit for the recipient and the company.

The results of this study indicate that while consciously the idea of a cash bonus is enticing, subconsciously the recipient is thinking about all the things that money can fix and what they feel like they “should” choose, rather than the “reward” aspect of it.

What does all this mean for you?  Giving your employees the myriad of options available in a robust engagement program can appease nearly everyone involved – and know that even though their brains say “no” to experiences and things, their eyes say “yes.”



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