There seems to be a lot of confusion about loyalty marketing and how loyalty programs work. To an outside consumer, I guess the confusion is understandable. Most loyalty programs are branded as a value to the customer, a reward for their dedication. Most loyalty programs’ primary goals are not to add more value to consumers (though when they’re done well they do that too); their goal is to create more value for the company. I’ll break down how to think about loyalty if you are a business that is wondering if a loyalty program makes sense for you.
The first thing to understand is that every business has a loyalty problem; it just might not be the loyalty problem they’re expecting. To make this clearer, I’ll split consumers into four areas. Depending on where most of your company’s consumers fit is where you’ll spend your effort in thinking of a loyalty programs. The first thing to do is split all of your consumers into loyal and non-loyal and frequent and non-frequent. Loyal is defined by doesn’t use a close competitor as well as you for what your product/service does. Frequency is a bit more nuanced. Your product/service should have a target frequency you’re setting. For Pinterest, that might be daily. For GrubHub, that might be once or twice a week. You then can build a 2×2 matrix like the one below.
Each of these four buckets requires a loyalty program targeting different actions by consumers. Just to be absolutely clear, let’s go through that exercise for each segment.
Action: Keep consumers doing what they’re currently doing
Action: Get consumers to migrate usage of competitors to you
Action: Get consumers to use product/service more
Action: Determine if product issue can increase frequency. If not, ignore.
Now, we should talk about these strategies in a bit more detail. I’ll skip infrequent, non-loyal since it’s a combination of two other strategies, and probably implies a product or market problem.
Infrequent, Loyal Strategy: Incentivize Use Cases
In this segment, consumers use your product loyally, but not enough to your liking. This implies that there are not enough use cases for your product in the eyes of the consumer. That could be because these use cases do not exist, or because the consumer doesn’t perceive them to be relevant. If the use cases do not exist in your product/service, you need to build them into your product. Take, for example, Homejoy expanding into all sorts of home services after starting with house cleaning. If the use cases do exist in your product/service, but consumers aren’t using them, you need to invest in awareness or incentivizing a trial of them. For Pinterest, this might be upselling someone who uses the service for recipes to try planning a vacation with the service, or a web Pinner to try the mobile app. For GrubHub, this might be giving a discount for a pizza orderer to order sushi, or a web orderer to try their first mobile order, or a delivery user to try their first pickup order.
These opportunities might not exist or be worth the effort. When I worked at Apartments.com, we knew people would only look for apartments once a year or less. There was not much we could do influence that. What we could do was stretch our product to be useful for not just the apartment search, but also services you need once you find an apartment e.g. moving. Beyond that, there wasn’t much opportunity we could tackle, meaning we’d probably have to spend money to acquire those same users whenever they looked for an apartment again.
Frequent, Non-Loyal Strategy: Incentivize Platform Use
In this segment, consumers are very active, but don’t always use your product/service over a competitor. This is the most common type of loyalty segment because it’s easy to understand the upside. You can typically measure how much activity occurs off your platform. Here, you need to invest in an incentive to move those uses onto your platform. This typically takes the form or rewards points or punch cards.
Frequent, Loyal Strategy: Build Moat
In this segment, consumer are very active and don’t use anyone else for your product/service. These are your best customers. So, a loyalty strategy shifts from trying to increase how often someone use the platform to doing all you can to make sure these consumers don’t decrease their use of your platform or are wooed away by a competitor. This is by definition a money losing strategy to decrease risk instead of a money making strategy in the first two segments. Moat strategies can take many different forms and are frequently misunderstood. Some start out looking like the same strategy as frequent, non-loyal. One common one is to increase switching costs. One example of that is Facebook shutting off friend access to competing apps.
Many other moat building strategies get much more creative. They rely on looking at every possible risk to your consumers doing less of what they’re doing today and trying to address it. One of the most ambitious is Google’s launch of Android. Google makes most of its money from web advertising. They saw consumer attention shifting from an open, web platform they increasingly controlled via their browser Chrome to closed platforms on mobile owned by competitors Microsoft and Apple. So, they acquired and put hundreds of millions of dollars behind their own, open operating system in Android, which they charge no money for, but powers most smartphones all over the world. This is all so they could continue to control how people searched and saw ads in a mobile world.
So, we can go back to that 2×2 with our strategies now.
Now that you understand the segments and their corresponding strategies, you need to identify where the opportunity is for your product or service. The easiest way to do that is to run a survey to determine loyalty, and mine your user data for frequency. Then, see where the highest percentage of your users are.
This post covered how to identify which segment to focus on and the appropriate strategy to pursue. My next post will talk about making that strategy and implementation successful.