Brand USA’s ‘One-Badge Wonder’ Agent Incentive

When Brand USA’s plans to encourage travel agent engagement with their online USA Discovery Program training platform came up against a global pandemic, they needed to quickly rethink the traditional model of engagement and incentivisation.

By building the program around multiple small, immediate, and utilitarian prizes—and keeping costs low through the creation and management of closed agent groups on Facebook—Gate 7 helped to establish the One Badge Wonder incentive as one of Brand USA’s most successful training campaigns with just three days of lead time.

Background & Challenge

Brand USA, the nation’s official destination marketing organisation, operates a travel agent training platform, the USA Discovery Program, designed to provide a range of tools to help agents sell the entirety of the U.S. Unfortunately, scheduled plans to push a comprehensive agent engagement campaign designed to encourage completion of Discovery Program “badges” were derailed with the advent of a global pandemic that saw many travel agents furloughed in lockdown.

With the clock ticking before other DMOs capitalised on the downtime, Gate 7 was challenged to create an immediate incentive structure that encouraged agent participation with the USA Discovery Program which provided valuable information and inspired destination knowledge of the U.S.

Strategy & Solution

Australia & New Zealand combined is one of the top 15 international markets for visitation into the USA, likely due to the fact that travellers from these markets tend to stay longer and spend more proportionally than many other markets. Because the average Australian/Kiwi’s holidays last an average of 18-days covering at least two states, the complexity of these itineraries often requires booking through an agent who is well-informed about the USA as a whole. The USA Discovery Program (AU or NZ) offers the necessary information and tools these agents would need, however encouraging them to repeatedly engage with the program to complete new modules remains one of the main challenges faced by Brand USA globally.

Previous pushes targeting AU/NZ agents have often been centred on high-value travel prizes, prioritising rapid badge completion to earn entries into competitions. However, with international travel on the backburner, a new model was needed to incentivise agents for the One-Badge Wonder program.

Given that most travel industry professionals were facing little-to-no income for the foreseeable future, Gate 7 used eight weekly $450 supermarket vouchers, which could be used to purchase necessities and alleviate financial stresses due to lockdown, as an alternative to the “grand prize” model. This not only reduced prizing costs for Brand USA, it represented a significantly more valuable incentive for agents in the short-term. Every completed specialist badge would count as one entry into that week’s draw, allowing agents to choose whether to complete their badges in one fell swoop, increasing their odds in any week, or space them out for multiple chances to win.

To keep costs low, promotion for the competition was largely run through new agent Facebook groups, created by Gate 7 solely for travel trade. (Australian Facebook group / New Zealand Facebook group) These groups (reaching over 900 agents across both countries) promoted the competition and allowed winners to showcase their prizes while continually driving conversations about selling the U.S. In addition to free promotion on travel consortia’s internet platforms, the incentive program was amplified using paid editorial in travel trade publication KARRYON in Australia & Tabs on Travel in New Zealand, leveraging their strong standing within the industry.

Results & Learnings

Despite taking the campaign from ideation to execution in under three days and operating on a budget of less than $15,000 (the majority of which was for prizing), the results proved to be extremely successful.

With nearly 1,000 agents across Australia and New Zealand completing almost 4,200 badges over the course of eight weeks, the One Badge Wonder incentive became the second most successful Brand USA Discovery Program incentive—albeit at a fraction of the cost and time investment of the #1 top-performing initiative.

While the prize structure was intended to encourage repeated engagement from entrants, the levels of engagement far exceeded expectations. Agents from Australia & New Zealand completed an average of 4.3 specialist badges each, and spread their completion across multiple weeks to maximise their chances of winning. This prolonged learning experience with regular reinforcement is crucial for agents looking to successfully sell the kinds of complex U.S. itineraries that are often booked by Australian and New Zealand travellers.

Brand USA’s global headquarters was so impressed with the incentive, it has asked other markets to look at implementing similar strategies for their furloughed agents. Among these are similar agent-focused social media groups which will likely prove to be priceless as a direct communication channel with agents and due to the information and feedback that can be gleaned directly from the trade community.