Renew Your Brand's Experiential Rewards in 2022
While rewarding profitable customers with experiential rewards isn’t a new concept, customers’ mindsets and commerce habits have changed immensely since the COVID pandemic hit. This new paradigm has motivated many companies to change not only day-to-day commerce but customer reward experiences.
Offering transactional rewards—discounts, points, miles, and other currencies—certainly attracts a broad range of customers. But these days it’s imperative to create emotional connections that bond customers to brands. And more often than not, that means offering experiential rewards. To build strong relationships with your customers via experiential rewards, consider these four strategic guidelines.
1. Reinforce relevant company values
Customers not only desire quality products and value for their dollars, but they want to do business with brands that align with their values. Consumers expect brands to evolve, and they want proof of their ethical practices.¹
REI, for example, values protecting and sharing life outdoors. Beyond selling sporting goods, this consumers’ co-operative facilitates activity classes, guided trips, and virtual content, plus adventurous member experiences. For the past five years, it’s partnered with the National Forest Foundation, raising $3.575 million so far, to help restore national forests and grasslands. REI’s Climate Commitment pledges to cut its carbon footprint by 55 percent by 2030; and it began offsetting its emissions in 2020. Finally, this Washington-state-based corporation engages with members to support and act on its initiatives. Obviously, REI authentically walks its company value talk.
When it comes to your brand, be sure that your customer experiences align with your values. Then communicate those experiences and share content that reinforces your brand values to increase customers’ emotional attachment to your brand.
2. Expand experiences with strategic partners
Customers often first encounter a brand via a partnership with another brand. Consider recent partnerships: Target and Ulta, Lego and IKEA, Lyft and Tinder. If you’ve yet to team up with other brands, it’s critical to find strategic partners whose values align and enhance your brand, adding value and improving your customers’ overall experiences. Here are three tips to think about before moving forward.
Consider internal business partners. This may include brand divisions or other product or service areas that can bring new value and experiences to life for your customers. Mercedes’ “Circle of Excellence,” for example, offers ultra-exclusive, yet customer-paid-for experiences to top-tier vehicle owners. Having access to the AMG Driving Academy, for instance, provides one-of-a-kind memories.
Leverage corporate relationships. Sponsorships, for example, offer access to special events and insider content. One example? Amex gives select cardmembers exclusive access to online and in-person tickets to top-notch live music, sports and theater events.
Examine potential partners that might solve customer pain points—or delight members. Given the challenging environment for travel of late, some travel brands are all over this strategy. Delta, for example, integrated Lyft rideshare into its app, enabling members to get around more easily and to earn more SkyMiles. And Marriott Bonvoy teamed up with Uber to help members earn more value and enhance their travel experiences. Meanwhile, luxury retailers have added on complimentary services—valet parking, local delivery, monogramming, shoe and bag upkeep, invite-only events, and more—to enhance shopping experiences.
3. Align experiential rewards with customer passions
Consumers are looking for enjoyment in life—now more than ever. It’s a key motivator for decision-making across activities and routines.¹ Understanding your customers’ interests and passions and providing valuable and compelling experiences help engage customers and improve their perception of your brand.
Marriott Bonvoy Moments are extraordinary experiences matched to members’ interests in the arts, cuisine, entertainment, and sports. Members can redeem points for experiences around the globe. And Marriott leverages a host of strategic global partners to provide these exceptional experiences.
Lincoln, the luxury vehicle manufacturer, provides Lincoln Access Rewards members’ unique physical and virtual experiences around customer lifestyle passions including travel, cuisine, music, and health and wellness. Top-tier members can redeem for “pursue your passions” hyper-personalized experiences in 30 U.S. cities via personal concierges. The customer gets to choose the reward experience.
REI offers no-cost virtual classes involving specific recreational equipment; members then better understand how to care for their outdoor gear.
While not all members are able or interested in partaking of reward experiences, such aspirational offerings create positive impressions that can create a halo effect for the brand. Indeed, doing so is a way to show customers you know and care about them.
4. Deliver flawlessly—in digital and physical spaces
It goes without saying that providing experiences without error is a must. This may require tech support like website development or app integration, or it may demand a highly personalized human touch in store, by email, or by phone. Key considerations include:
Thinking physical and digital. The pandemic opened us up to deliver exclusive content and virtual experiences from just about anywhere in the world. Be prepared to execute in multiple spaces.
Knowing your limits. Understand how many members you can reasonably deliver to in a flawless manner and whom to target.
Providing training. Front-line, operations, and customer-service employees need to fully understand what’s required.
Considering costs. Does your brand pay for the experience? Do you share the cost with a partner brand or even the customer? Or is the cost supplemented by a marketing program subsidy?
As we continue to deal with changing realities, brands must get creative and infuse their unique emotional connections into everyday brand experiences and reward offerings.
Barb Olson is vice president of Strategic Services for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based, data-driven, loyalty, experience and customer engagement agency that has been delivering personalization for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.
1. Source: Mintel 2022 Global Consumer Trends, December 2021