Great Loyalty Programs Are No Longer Optional

May 10, 2021 | blog | By Josh Whitaker

Over more than two decades now, we’ve had the privilege to work with challenger brands across the country. It’s because of that experience with more than 100 clients from companies large and small in virtually every commercial category that we can say with complete confidence – when challenger brands fail, it’s not because of a lack of resources. It’s because of a lack of will.

That’s not to say budgets and resources aren’t important. They clearly are. But often, it can be easy to look at a daunting need (like building a great loyalty program) and surrender to inertia rather than getting creative and thinking like a challenger. Too often, companies rationalize with a “go big or go home” mentality and ignore the marketing platforms that could be of greatest use to them. Waiting for the day when you can “afford to do it right” rarely gets the job done. Sadly, for many companies, loyalty programs fall into this category. But they shouldn’t.

As we discussed in our previous blog, for a brand, nothing is more coveted, or more precious, than customer loyalty. Choose any metric you like to measure success, and loyalty will be the catalyst for most any positive result. Admittedly, with App technology constantly evolving and favored brands delivering ever more engaging loyalty programs through them, it’s easy to compare those Apps with your budget and just give up. Don’t.

If you have a solid database of first-party data (names and email addresses), you have the ability to connect with your customers and serve up engaging information.

You just have to commit to doing it. Need a little encouragement? Thanks to privacy changes from Apple and Google, the digital world is about to change dramatically in regard to things like privacy, tracking, consumer identification, and cookies. It won’t be a complete level set. The brands that are already ahead in regard to reaching new customers will still be ahead, but not as far as they are now. The opportunity you have now is to do something meaningful with your first-party data.

In our last blog, we offered five elements that are crucial to creating a new loyalty program:

  • Focus first on understanding your customers and segmenting your database
  • Understand your loyalty program is more about the consumer than your brand
  • Make your members feel truly valued
  • Lean into who you are and what you can do extraordinarily well
  • Learn from previous efforts and constantly evolve

Whether you’re building a million-dollar App to deliver your loyalty program or starting with an email campaign, those five elements will serve as a solid foundation. But from here on, let’s assume you’re not building a Rolls-Royce App from scratch and instead, have a more modest, “challenger brand” budget. Let’s assume you don’t have endless resources to concept a big, flashy, interactive App, build and pressure test it with games and rewards and then pay the staff required to support and update that App into perpetuity. Spoiler alert: MOST brands don’t. So now what?

First off, not every great App has to be built from scratch. Companies like Punchh offer brands and developers a robust “off-the-shelf” loyalty platform that can be built out and customized to fit your brand at a fraction of the investment required to build your own. Second, brand Apps don’t have to rival Starbucks, Sephora, or be winners of the Shorty Award for Best Branded Mobile App to be effective. Even a basic App offers consumers a more engaging way to interact with your brand and gives you a communication channel that’s stickier and more immediate.

The key, as in all marketing, is relevance and consistency of message over time. If you can deliver that through a signature brand App, fantastic. But let’s say, for whatever reason, building an App is out. When done well, email campaigns can be extremely effective. The key is understanding the customers in your database, segmenting them well, and delivering offers that are the most relevant and attractive to those cohorts.

To get you started, here are 10 ways to turbocharge your loyalty program with challenger thinking utilizing nothing more than your database and email:

Lean hard on creativity in your language and look.

Emails don’t have to be straight, all type, boring blocks of copy. Come up with an overarching campaign concept for the month, the quarter, or the year. Once you have that great hook, make sure your copy and visuals bring the concept to life in a way that’s smart, engaging and impossible to ignore. You get a hundred emails a day. Which ones are you most likely to open and read?

Don’t sleep on your subject lines.

The best emails with the greatest offers in the world are completely ineffective if they never get opened. Too often email subject lines are an afterthought, knocked out at the last possible moment. Take some time to craft smart, clever, intriguing calls to action readers can’t help but respond to. If you’re not sure whether your lines are good, test them in any number of FREE Subject Line Graders online. Then circle back after the fact and look at your open rates to see which lines worked the best.

Get creative with your offers and rewards.

The customers in your loyalty program want to feel valued and that their participation in the program is worth the time, money, and effort they invest in your brand. While tried and true percentage off and BOGO offers often work, your customers are more likely to notice something they’ve never seen before — especially if it’s relevant, valuable, or both. Don’t be afraid to try creative offers and unexpected rewards. They get attention.

Find inspiration in bigger, better loyalty programs you admire.

In concepting new creative, we often employ a technique called “overlaying” where we study what brands in completely unrelated categories do to stand out and then consider what that kind of thinking would look like through the lens of our brand. It’s not copying what others have done. It’s using your inspiration to look at your brand in a whole new way. Be inspired by the great work and interesting offers and rewards you see and then create something for your loyalty program that will be equally inspiring to someone else.

When your brand has multiple locations, remind your team that consumers see ONE brand, not individual stores.

Brand loyalty programs only work when the brand delivers no matter where consumers engage with it. That may seem obvious, but for brands that have dozens to hundreds of locations like restaurants, gas stations, and retail stores, operators often apply their own set of rules or refuse to acknowledge the governing rules of the loyalty program. When that happens, it’s detrimental to everyone, not the least of whom is your loyal customer. If your brand has multiple points of contact, it’s worth reminding the entire team that their actions affect customers’ brand perception in every other location. If there’s something an operator doesn’t like, find a way to resolve it. Any one person in the system not honoring the expectations you set with your customers is a recipe for disaster.

Look for additional ways to leverage customer loyalty.

You’re pushing your loyalty program hard through email, but still don’t have the resources for the next jump to an App? No problem. Look for other ways to push your customers toward membership in the loyalty program. Leverage your social media presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Make in-store sign up quick and easy. Give people a reward just for signing up and always, always thank them for their business and relationship.

Every new member you enroll is worth hundreds to thousands of dollars down the road. (Politely) keep recruiting.

Get personal.

Always look for ways to make the relationship you’re building with your customers feel more personal. Have your register staff thank people by name. Personalize subject lines or email copy with your customer’s name and even sprinkle their name into the copy. Nothing grabs a person’s attention quicker than hearing or reading their own name. Once you have their attention, make sure the next step delivers something of meaning and/or value.

Keep it simple.

I’ll take my own advice. Don’t overcomplicate ANYTHING.

Over-reward your best customers.

Spend some time analyzing your database and, when you figure out who your best customers are, reward them handsomely. A personal letter from the brand president or marketing department. Extras of whatever you normally reward; be it miles, meals, or medallions. Give them brand swag, or something outside the brand of real value. There’s a misnomer that brands should treat every customer equally. Not true. If a customer’s investment over indexes the norm, let them feel the love in return. When a customer loves you enough to engage in a loyalty program, they might tell a few friends along the way. But when brands overdeliver and over reward their most exemplary customers, those people become brand evangelists. And they tell everyone.

Never stop learning.

This bullet is also included in the Five Foundational Tenets for Loyalty Programs we mentioned earlier, but it bears repeating. Whether you’re sending out consistent email campaigns or posting on social media, take the time to study what worked and what didn’t, and constantly work to improve your communication efforts. This is marketing’s version of the Santayana quote – “those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” You work too hard and invest too much time and money to make unforced errors. Figure out what it is you do best, focus intently on that, and never, ever, stop learning.

JOSH WHITAKER is a managing director and the director of digital media at  LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Josh Whitaker

at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.