Journalists might live by the phrase “nothing inspires quite like a deadline,” but loyalty marketers live by a different phrase: “Nothing inspires like negative news.” What do I mean by that? Problems that crop up can foster creativity and force new thinking. And when it comes to customer engagement, the loyalty industry could do with some new approaches and thinking – especially in the retail and fast casual dining segments.
It may be optimistic, but none of the latest supposedly disheartening loyalty news which shows declining levels of customer engagement (despite overall rising membership) across multiple verticals has me worried. It would be a different matter if a solution wasn’t readily apparent. But it is.
Loyalty aggregation, which is the combining of loyalty programs in one place, can make it easier for consumers to interact with multiple programs while sharing, earning and burning their loyalty rewards in a seamless and efficient manner. It could reduce their loyalty program clutter and decrease program dropout. It’s also a natural extension of channel convergence. Smartphones already allow consumers to make phone calls, update their social media status, IM, make VOIP calls and receive SMS or push notifications while searching the Internet. So why shouldn’t consumers enjoy the same level of one-stop-shopping when it comes to their customer rewards and loyalty program memberships?
Underscoring the point is Belly, the much-talked-about Chicago-based loyalty aggregator startup. Since we last wrote about the company, Belly has reached agreements with major chains including McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, 7-Eleven and Domino’s Pizza. It also announced its free samples program, Belly Bites, was moving out of beta and is now available to Belly’s nationwide merchants. Belly Bites is a way for brands to incentivize repeat business by sending free reward offers to loyalty members’ smartphones.
While Kobie cautions against relying too heavily on discounts and points, Belly’s approach is more engaging and experience-driven due to the simple fact that such rewards are available for interchangeable use at up to thousands of retailers and restaurant chains. The rules of use are transparent and there are no hoops to jump through. Both are major pluses. The company is also augmenting free samples with increased reliance on social media, using analytics to track loyal customers’ behavior and encouraging Yelp reviews. All of these efforts help consumers continue a positive online conversation, connecting them to the “Belly experience” rather than the “Belly freebie.”
Of course, one company doing loyalty right won’t reverse declining loyalty engagement rates, which currently hover around 44%, down 4.3% from 2010. But in the face of somewhat disappointing loyalty news, it’s important to remember the loyalty industry remains an exciting, engaging and dynamic landscape.
Is loyalty aggregation worth sinking your teeth into? I do believe it’s vital for brands to embrace this movement as part of their overall strategy because that’s where consumer sentiment continues to shift. What are your views on loyalty aggregation, positive or negative? Share your comments in the section below.