In marketers’ ongoing efforts to differentiate their brands, loyalty programs can be powerful tools. Yet many companies – especially those with structured points-and-rewards programs – struggle to find unique, cost-effective and compelling benefits or out-of-the ordinary rewards.
As is often the case in life, sometimes the best stuff is hiding in plain sight.
Almost every company has some feature, service or asset that can be leveraged to build loyalty, often with little or even no incremental cost. Here are a few examples.
Merchandise existing “special services”
When one of the world’s largest shipping and logistics companies wanted to build loyalty among small/medium business customers – without discounting – our team inventoried their suite of services, discovering several existing services that could be merchandised as benefits for loyal customers. These included early access to new shipping room technologies, free access to packaging design experts and a dedicated service line. All of these were already available to qualified customers, but now were rolled out and celebrated as loyalty benefits. The program drove customer satisfaction rates up to 25% higher than for a control group – with measurably greater retention and longevity over time.
What’s in a name?
Over the past few years we’ve seen auto insurance companies label benefits that have long been standard for qualified policyholders – longevity/persistence discounts, safe driving discounts, guaranteed auto replacement, multiple vehicle and multiple policy discounts – labeled as “loyalty programs.” While these benefits are not classic loyalty programs, it is very smart marketing to leverage them to reinforce an emotional bond. While savvy customers may know most of these features were already available, it can’t hurt to position them as thank-you’s for loyalty. A “multiple vehicle discount” doesn’t build an emotional bond; special benefits for a loyal customer creates a very different feeling.
Extend existing sponsorships or partnerships
Most companies have partnerships, community causes or other philanthropies that can be leveraged for loyalty. Do you sponsor the local charity run? Why not invite loyal customers to join you at the finish line? Dedicate a few of your tickets to local sports events to use as rewards for program members. Develop creative opportunities for loyal customers to participate in your company’s causes, or to help select which causes to support.
Create special events
You can also create your own events. One of the world’s largest airlines periodically invited their most loyal fliers to meet a senior executive at a reception. Of course only a relatively small number of guests can actually participate – but those who participate tell all of their friends and colleagues, and the halo effect of promoting such events has its own power to foster emotional loyalty. Brands like Jeep and Harley-Davidson have been using major events for brand fanatics successfully for many years.
Use research as a marketing tool
People are gratified, even flattered, when you ask their opinion. We all conduct various kinds of research on an ongoing basis; and many companies have created “advisory panels” comprised of their loyal customers. The marketer not only gains the benefit of learning from engaged customers; the very act of inviting them to participate builds loyalty.
When you’re looking for ways to enhance and differentiate loyalty efforts, don’t make the mistake of assuming that means giving more stuff away or giving deeper discounts. Be sure to take a good look at hidden assets your company can use to cost-effectively sweeten the pot – while keeping your program true to your unique brand. Above all, be creative. To expand your thinking, consider bringing in people from other parts of the business, or a third party – people who bring a new perspective and are not as close to the day-to-day. You are likely to find a number of previously hidden gems right in front of you.