Firstly, just wanna put the thought out there on what is probably my biggest bug bear with the whole notion of loyalty programs: how can loyalty expire? If I’ve been loyal, I’ve made a conscious, positive choice to stick with one brand (and God knows there are plenty to choose from out there) and I’ve bought a number of their products and/or services over a period of time. My eyes may have been turned by a number of other, attractive specimens – I’m only human, after all – but I’ve remained strong, focused and committed, with my eye on the prize. But what is that prize? – A plastic card that glimmers in a slightly more metallic way than the one I had last time. – A transitory sense of reward that’s veiled in a threat of these miles/points/bonuses expiring in a year’s time, or even less. – A promotion that inevitably seems to have ended, by the time I’ve finally had the chance to claim it. – An ever mounting pile of points that I hoard with glee, but I’m never quite sure what exactly I can spend them on.
Collecting points is somewhat addictive – consider how you feel when you’re in a particular retail store and realise your loyalty card is in your other wallet/bag/car (you’re a bit posh!). You’re briefly reassured by the fact that you can ring customer services and reclaim those points at a later date, but do you ever get round to it?? I don’t. It’s on my ever–increasing ‘personal admin’ to-do list but, sadly, that doesn’t mean it gets done. If you look at the origins of the word ‘loyal’, it was borne way back, out of such significant developments as the legal system, with the definition of law abiding citizens, and ye olde feudal system. And I think right here is where we get to the heart of the problem. Loyalty was about being loyal to your sovereign/government/master – I’d love to say mistress as well, but we all know no one is loyal to a mistress. And if you were repeatedly subservient to your master then you were considered loyal, trustworthy and presumably therefore tipped for the top. Well, not the top, but some form of reward, or privilege, versus those wastrels who were not quite as loyal.
So, in our case, does that make the brands we’re loyal to our masters?! Erm, I think not. We’re the ones with the cash; the ones that keep them in business; the people who help deliver them profits (along with their slaves, sorry, employees); and we’re the ones who can make or break their destiny. Hmmm. So, remind me then why they can dash our dreams in an instant by informing us in a bog standard email template that we’ve slipped from the heady heights of Silver to Scum, and make us feel really quite unworthy of their attention, as we dared to not need their services this year, quite as much as we did last year. I can’t possibly fit all my loyalty cards in one wallet, not even an electronic wallet, as the brands in question don’t necessarily all subscribe to the digital age just yet.
I’ve got cards for: supermarkets; department stores; chemists/toiletry providers; hotels; airlines; cafés; homeware/design stores (swoon) and no doubt more besides. But I can count on one hand the tangible, impressive rewards I’ve received for my loyalty. These rewards have all come smack bang out of nowhere and that’s when I think brands get it absolutely right – when they make us feel really special and knock us for six (in a good way, obv). In essence, when they actually deliver on that well versed marketing concept of ‘surprise and delight’.
So, here we go… I’m going to call out the top three brands that have made me feel very special indeed, in order of impressiveness:
1. Emirates Emirates is an absolutely legendary brand. In less than 2 years, I’ve gone from intrigued trialist, to hard core loyalist, and I’m already a Silver member, to boot. (Having family and friends in a wonderful homeland on the other side of the world might just have given me an advantage there.) I was flying back to Sydney from London, via Dubai, with my sister, my ‘sister in law’ (the ‘bling fund’ hasn’t stretched to a proposal just yet) and her boyfriend. And Emirates gave my entire crew a free upgrade to Business, based on my Silver status eligibility for a spontaneous upgrade. The remaining three peeps in my party were all flying Emirates for the very first time, albeit on my recommendation, and only one of them checked in at the same time as me, benefitting from the same surname, and the same Traylor eyelashes to flutter on cue. Half an hour later, we were all reclined, with a champers in hand and absolutely stoked! (In fact, my sister nearly got trapped in the flat bed position, prior to take off, because she was playing with the settings so much. How the usual Business class flyers loved us…) I’ve just booked another long haul flight with Emirates for this year’s holiday and got the man of the house into the club too. And my sister is travelling with them next month for her visit back to our homeland, having switched from her usual Qantas flight partner. So, while the flight was probably empty enough on that London to Dubai leg in question, and it didn’t cost them all that much to reward us, it has paid more than a few dividends for them already. And I haven’t looked back. I’d already been impressed with the quality of the service and product I received, but now I’m totally committed and won’t look elsewhere. A faithful and loyal subject, if you will.
2. Westin It was a pretty awesome milestone for the MamaTray business when I officially hired my new Brand Strategist, Heather, at the start of 2015. And on 15th Feb, we made our first big business trip, to a big client meeting, in the big city of Melbourne, as a dream team duo. I’d booked us into the Westin, a brand I’ve grown rather fond of in recent years, for both work and play. And, as we checked in, we were informed that we’d each had an upgrade to a ‘Deluxe’ room. They had me at the word ‘Deluxe’! And deluxe, they certainly were. Really lovely rooms with sensational views across the city. I’m a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program (SPG) but there’s no specific level I have to achieve to keep me on my toes and presumably, my recent tendency to prefer the Westin in my hotel repertoire had paid dividends. Do I remember the other big brand hotels I like to stay at? Yep. The Shangri–La is in there, for a touch of decadence on a holiday/stopover, but the rest of the selection has paled somewhat in my recognition, for now.
3. Mini I bought my first Mini back in 2009. It was ‘pre loved’. (What a great example of how verbal identity can transform a somewhat ordinary concept into something you really want.) It was a convertible and I bought it in late October, back in England, and I distinctly remember driving home, top down, just because I could, with my friend Rachel freezing to death in the front passenger seat. I jumped into the car with my new set of keys and started reversing out of the parking space on the forecourt, when I noticed a huge bouquet of flowers on the back seat, just casually chilling out, with a lovely, handwritten ‘thank you’ card from the team involved. Now that’s what we like. FYI, my Mini dream was robbed from me somewhat early, when I got the offer to move to Sydney with Interbrand, so I went on to buy another pre loved model out here in Aus, at twice the price of the nearest equivalent in Europe. And there are those out there who say that branding doesn’t work… Those who nearly made it into the top three, but not quite, include: – The Ritz, London. For those of you who don’t know, The Ritz is an infamous, timeless, London establishment where you simply must go for afternoon tea, sweetie. They treated my Mum like the friggin’ Queen at her birthday tea and she was thrilled skinny (her phrase). Think: special ‘Happy Birthday’ solo by the resident harpist; personalised birthday cake (as if we needed any more food); and (tin foil) origami doggie bag in the shape of a swan (the neck doubled up as a carry handle). – Ocado (online shopping operated by Waitrose in the UK) and Coles (Australian supermarket) – both of whom slipped a bottle of crisp, chilled, white wine into one of my first online shopping deliveries, just because they knew I’d appreciate it. I most certainly did. – British Airways. Who upgraded me into a (much needed) Business flat bed on the red eye to London, one Monday morning, after a Hen Week Extravaganza in NYC. The guy called me up to the desk in the lounge, asked for my ticket, and ripped it up in my face – this was in the days before free Wifi and I thought he’d seem me ‘borrowing’ the phone line for my laptop, as I had an award paper to get out – but it was all just for dramatic effect, before he gave me my new Business class ticket. (They’ve now lost my favour though, after I slipped from Gold, right down to Blue, and they humiliated me for this fall from glory, ever since.)
Reading these branded examples back, it sounds like I have a pretty ritzy lifestyle. Only, on occasion, I assure you. 😉 So, onto my tips for improvement, as standard issue:
1. Dramatic and spontaneous – Don’t assume because you’re a more everyday retailer/brand like a supermarket, or toiletry store, that it isn’t as important for you to reward your customers as dramatically as it is for bigger ticket, more luxurious brands like airlines and hotels. We all have way too many better offers out there and we’re your bread and butter. – Employees need to be empowered to make spontaneous rewards on behalf of the brand they work for, to make the previous examples more common place for all of us. – A concept I talk to my clients about is ‘planned spontaneity’ – build in those pivotal surprise and delight moments into the customer journey, so that they become talked about hallmarks of your brand experience and spread oodles of free word of mouth endorsement.
2. Elephants never forget – I’ve told everyone I know about the Emirates story above. But I’ve also bored people with the way that British Airways let me slip down into oblivion and feel pretty shit about it. I won’t travel with them again, or recommend them to my family and friends. Do you know how galling it is for someone who’s British, not to want to support our national airline?! Apparently, an unhappy customer will tell approx. 15 people about their bad experience. I’d say that’s an understatement these days. – Keep your database up to date and use it to keep tabs on how long your customers have been in your life, not just how much they spend and what they spend their cash on. So often, brands prioritise acquisition of shiny new customers, with ever more wonderful offers, and completely forget to recognise and reward their mid and old timers. – Notice when a customer defects, or simply slips off the radar, and ‘reach out’ to them, with anything from a phone call/survey that dishes the dirt, to a ‘we’ve missed you, please come back’ tail between your legs offer, that’s worth their while to consider.
3. Smooth and seamless – We now have the technology to recognise all of our customers, all of the time, regardless of which store/country/facet of our business they interact with. Put your hands in your pocket and implement this technology, to make our lives easier, so we spend more on you and feel good about doing so (without having to carry our loyalty card). Simples! – There’s no excuse for being passed around a call centre, or website, anymore, and having to re-identify yourself on each and every leg of that painful journey. Just. Sort. Your. Shit. Out. – Make rewards seamless versus putting the onus on the customer to opt in and/or activate their reward. We know you make more profit if we can’t all get around to claiming our prize by the timings you set, but, yup, that’s only going to make us think even less of you. Give us the voucher already and don’t set a stupid expiry date on it. Our loyalty can last forever if you play your cards right. Come to think of it, there are a few brands out there that I’ve given an awful lot of investment and loyalty to, during pretty significant milestones in my life, none of whom have given me a cent of recognition, or reward, by way of return. They don’t seem to know who they are, so here’s the naming and shaming: HSBC (House Purchase Number 1); CommBank (House Purchase Number 2); Apple (Business Number 1). You have been warned… 🙂 Until next time.