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Inspiring 'Brand Loyalty' for Your Incentive Program

By Jeffrey Brenner, Sr. Director of Corporate Solution Sales at Rymax Marketing Services

‘Repeat business or behavior can be bribed. Loyalty has to be earned’ - Janet Robinson

While Ms. Robinson may have been referring to brand loyalty or product loyalty as opposed to customer loyalty programs in the above quote, her words illustrate a very important concept. Incentive programs don’t start with built-in loyalty and customer buy-in. Without question, incentive programs need to generate loyalty – not only from senior management, but also from the customers they’re trying to entice. An effective program will excel for both management and customers when it is built with a foundation that provides a clear vision for success. In fact, many established programs have been assembled using five critical building blocks that inspire brand loyalty among customers. These building blocks are: 1) emotional drivers; 2) audience motivators; 3) relevant differentiation; 4) inspiration; and 5) delivering on promises. Smart and successful companies know that all five components must be at the core of every loyalty program. Let’s look at each one in-depth.

Establish Emotional Connections

Spending decisions are greatly influenced by emotional drivers, namely the connection one feels to a brand and how a product fits with one’s individual lifestyle. In today’s customer loyalty programs, some companies take shortcuts on reward selections and don’t consider the connection between the emotional factor and their loyalty program offerings. Research on redemption patterns indicates that program rewards must mirror current retail trends in order to fully engage customers. Recently, the popularity of celebrity chefs has exploded across the country. Many customers not only watch Paula Deen’s cooking shows, they also buy her cookbooks and use her branded cookware. Through her brand, they recreate that warm and comfortable feeling of cooking for one’s family and friends. Offer Paula Deen merchandise in your program for a natural emotional connection to customers that will drive their behavior and in-turn increase redemptions, much like retail sales of this product. By conveying your understanding of customers’ relationships to brands through a unique product offering, your program can separate itself from the competition. Program participants will feel inspired to acquire and redeem points when they see high quality products that fit their daily lifestyle being awarded for their longtime loyalty.

Motivate Your Audience

The next step to effectively motivate your audience occurs after you’ve targeted the emotional factors that lead to redemptions. To design a successful program and motivate participants, partner with a third-party provider who has proven experience in supporting successful incentive solutions through extensive research in demographic, psychographic and geographic data. For example, if your customer base is largely comprised of Millennials (also known as Generation Y), then your merchandise rewards should reflect the interests of this demographic, such as brand name handbags from Michael Kors or trendy technology from Ion Audio. Psychographic data such as customer values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles and geographic location are also important elements to consider in order to present the most attractive mix of rewards for your program participants.

Customers who engage in loyalty programs ask themselves which program best fulfills their lifestyle needs. Connect to Baby Boomers and recent grandparents by offering rewards from Alex Toys, a children’s line filled with educational and learning products. Appeal to members of Generation X by rewarding them with a sophisticated Longines watch. Remember, in order for your program to have broad appeal it must have something for everyone.

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Relevant Differentiation

Set your program apart with a competitive edge by demonstrating relevant differentiation. According to The Wise Marketer, “Over three-fourths of the customer population holds some form of loyalty rewards card, while 25% of the shopping population belongs to two or three programs.” With so many companies competing for customers’ loyalty, the market has become oversaturated. Make your program the one they choose by diversifying rewards and maintaining a comprehensive mix of rewards. Key factors to differentiate your loyalty program include offering trendy rewards like Heartbeats™ by Lady Gaga headphones and staying up-to-date with seasonal items such as a Picnic At Ascot™ 20-Piece Stainless Steel Grill set during BBQ season. You can also set your program apart from the competition by creating customized bundles, such as a digital camera, camcorder, all-in-one printer and memory card. When your merchandise is highly relevant to your target audience and very distinct from the competition, your program will likely be more successful.

Inspire Your Customers

As you continue to assemble these building blocks, identify what is inspiring about your program and share that inspiration with program participants. Interacting with customers on all levels is paramount to keeping them engaged and striving for attainable and aspirational rewards. One of the most powerful ways to achieve customer recognition includes the development of an effective communication strategy that contains a viral campaign to spread the message across social media networks. Optimal routes for generating buzz and creating excitement are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and program blogs because of the instant reception of messages, keeping your program top-of-mind. Reaching customers with program promotional opportunities through social media can give your program the hook it needs to stand out and inspire your customers to stay engaged and redeem for rewards.

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Keep Your Promises

No single structure can stand alone unless the building blocks are supported by a solid, focused foundation. You’ve spent tireless hours developing, fine tuning and communicating your loyalty program to customers. Now be ready to deliver on your promises. You can have an outstanding program, but if participants haven’t bought in or aren’t aware of the program benefits, then it’s irrelevant. Follow the examples set by successful loyalty programs and create a synergistic relationship with customers through every touchpoint of the rewards and redemption process.

Any promises you make to participants must be kept. It’s critical that your employees, who are the front line to customers, understand how their day-to-day operations impact the expectations held by customers. Numerous research studies have recognized the strong link between employees and the customers they serve, and in order for your loyalty program to be successful you need the support of your staff. Taking it a step further, your loyalty program should exceed the expectations of your customers, starting with the ease of submitting an order all the way through to receiving their reward in-hand. This includes full customer service capabilities such as order status emails, product warranties, timely delivery and a customer service team in place to assist and expedite any customer inquires. Remember that all components of your program must be executed successfully so customers have a positive experience from beginning to end.

Ascend the Building Blocks of Loyalty

Being successful with one block isn’t enough to create a program that truly engages customers. Take time to be cognizant of the emotional drivers that motivate and differentiate your program. Keep in mind how each component plays an influential role on the delivery of your promises. Emotional drivers, audience motivators, relevant differentiation, inspiration and delivering on promises are the building blocks that provided the foundation for many of today’s leading loyalty programs. Construct all five building blocks to inspire brand loyalty among your customers and ascend to the top of the customer loyalty program pack.

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