Companies invest millions of dollars in influencer marketing, so why not design their rewards programs to act as their own influencers? These six guidelines can help a company build a reward program profile that gains attention among the prospect members it strives to attract – and keep.
By Jenn McMillen
A Rewards Program Influences Sales, But What About Members?
Companies are expected to invest billions of dollars in influencer marketing in 2022, yet it appears few of their influencer efforts have been integrated into one of the most potentially effective of all marketing tools – the rewards program.
This is a takeaway when comparing reward program “profiles” to those of social media influencers. Rather than presented as a trusted, relatable and helpful extension of a brand, many reward programs are positioned as mere transactional opportunities: “Points for purchases, baby. Come and get ‘em.”
When virtually every business you transact with makes this offer, it stops sounding like something special, let alone like a deal.
There’s a reason that influencers can produce a five-fold return on a marketing investment, or more – research shows influencer marketing generates 11 times the return as banner ads. These world travelers, beauty experts, foodies, fitness junkies, celebrities and (yes) ordinary people possess authenticity. They talk like their followers, they self-deprecate to make their followers feel at ease, and they aren’t pushy.
A reward program can possess the same human qualities, starting with its profile.
It’s Time to Review Look Your Rewards Program “Look”
If a business looked at its rewards program as if it were Jamie Oliver or Kylie Jenner, how would it compare in terms of emotion, relevance and promise (and, importantly, the relevance of the promise)? Building reward program engagement requires a profile that causes members to want to learn more.
Here are six steps to getting that influencer-status profile.
- Choose the best channels for what the program offers. Many social media influencers throw all of their assets into one or two platforms that are just the right fit for their niche. For many reward programs – particularly those operated by quick-serve restaurants – an app is one of those platforms (Starbucks is an easy example.) However, a rewards program with a wide member demographic, such as that of a hotel or movie theater, may require a well-maintained point-of-sale presence. For the AMC Stubs program, that point of sale can occur in the theater (concessions) or online (where members can make free reservations). But it also has an app.
- Describe it in 120 characters (or less). A good program should be able to persuade prospect members to enroll in one sentence. Think of it as a headliner. I follow someone on LinkedIn whose headline is “Turning data into dollars.” A rewards program can similarly go with “Turning your choices into your choice of rewards.” I’m especially fond of American Express’s reward-program promise: “Membership has its privileges.” This is a spot-on example of bundling exclusivity (thus, aspiration), integrity and promise in a handful of words. Not only does it describe what Amex offers, it describes what it’s seeking in its members.
- Choose the right look for your “followers.” Social media influencers use professionally shot photos that consistently communicate their authority, expertise and appeal. An influential rewards program should do the same: maintain uniformity and a sense of order across all touchpoints. Members who log onto the REI Co-oppage, for example, are prominently welcomed, center screen, by name, which instills an immediate sense of connection (read: order). The messaging on every member-linked page is consistently worded, with images of everyday people (like the member) doing outdoor activities at which REI wants them to excel.
- Don’t hide behind filters. What members see is what they should get, and what they see should be clear and honest. All program terms, especially how to redeem rewards, should be spelled out in plain language. If the program’s guidelines can’t explain in one sentence how a member can redeem points or miles, then it is too complicated, or hiding behind a filter. The British beauty brand Spectrum is a clear example. It describes its “beauty points reward system” in such simple terms a 13-year-old ordering their first makeup brush could figure it out.
- Solve problems through inspiration. Influencers are guiders, and their fans follow them to learn things – how to dress more stylishly, cook more creatively, age more gracefully. Each of these aspirations is a problem in the inverse – followers of Gigi Hadid may not feel fashion-challenged, they just look to her for inspiration. A rewards program would similarly project its strengths to help members be The Hanover Insurance Group hits this mark with its “SafeTeen Program,” designed to improve the skills of inexperienced drivers. Members earn Amazon rewards for safe behaviors and, upon completing the program, get discounts on their policies.
- Stay current – avoid staid currency. Influencers are always on top of trend, and for reward programs, that trend is rewards currency. It’s not carved in stone anywhere that rewards must come in the form of points or miles; it’s just what consumers have become conditioned to. The reward programs getting notice are those that continuously break away from standard models and offer rewards that are unexpected yet scratch a real itch. Take Tesla’s Referral Program, of which every Tesla owner is a member. It rewards members $500 for each solar roof referral they make through their unique “referral links.”
But Remember, There Are Millions of Influencers Out There
Perhaps the most important practice of successful influencers is they keep it fresh, which is essential to remaining relevant. Reward operators could assess what the other influential programs are doing and find a practical way to stand apart. That way doesn’t have to involve more expensive rewards or lower redemption thresholds; it can simply be offering a service that is helpful, relatable and inspires trust. It can simply answer a need in a different, welcome way.
This is what will raise a reward program’s profile. Influence members, and you influence sales.
Jenn McMillen, nationally renowned as the architect of GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards, is Founder and Chief Accelerant of Incendio, a firm that builds and fixes marketing, consumer engagement, loyalty and CRM programs. Incendio provides a nimble, flexible and technology-agnostic approach without the big-agency cost structure and is a trusted partner of some of the biggest brands in the U.S.
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