Commentary

Loyalty: Not Just An Email Relationship Anymore

Welcome to the second day of the Email Insider Summit! It's stopped snowing and still very cold, but we enjoy a gorgeous morning on top of the mountain. Everyone had such a great time at the dinner last night that we are all planning how to get the budget to come again next year! This is certainly an event that builds a loyal following.

Speaking of loyalty, to kick us off, David Rosen, SVP, Strategy and Channel Development of Loyalty Lab, challenges us to think about loyalty in a new way. The social nature of the Internet, plus the proliferation of mobile devices The motivation for rewards has changed now consumers interact with brands, and also changes the expectations consumers have about what loyalty looks like - and how they are rewarded.

Most marketers who have a loyalty program use multiple channels to reach their best customers. There is now a new dimension - that consumers can participate in the Brand Conversation (via Twitter, Facebook, Digg, YouTube, forums, comments on the blog, etc). And that user generated content changes the relationship. It's no longer one way -- where marketers provide incentives and thanking participants. Consumers can now share opportunities, rate them, source them and quickly dismiss them. David gave some good examples of Looped, Virgin Atlantic and Pink from Victoria's Secret are using social media to share coupons, but also content and news.

Think about the amplification opportunity here. We all struggle to find ways that email can work well with social media and here is a wonderful synergy. Email is still a great way to communicate regularly and with authority, but social media can accelerate some of those offers and strengthen the relationships with key customers. It's truly the start of 1:1:Many marketing.

Caution: This is not about giving consumers the ability to spam their friends. Please, let's all be conscious of this and close all the right loops regarding privacy, governance and notification. But it is a great opportunity to amplify our brand messages in a way that communicates not just in the way WE talk about our brand, but how our customers talk about our brands. That has such authenticity and power. (Yes, there is a risk that these forums amplify negative or inaccurate information as well.)

Socializing your loyalty also expands the value of loyalty to your company. David mentions an interesting point. That loyalty has always been the essential tool of the retention team. But social media puts loyalty square in the center of the more sexy acquisition arena.

David posits that social media needs loyalty. Think product reviews. How does a brand like Best Buy motivate buyers to actually post a product review? David thinks that bribing people is not beyond the scope of good relationship building. I don't disagree, but find that too many email marketers ask for product reviews too often, and too early in the purchase cycle. Give buyers a chance to actually consume or use the product before you ask, and be careful to limit the number of requests for frequent buyers. Product review request email trigger messages often get higher complaints (clicks on the Report Spam button) than other triggered messages like post purchase discounts. This puts your inbox deliverability at risk. That's a big deal. If you can't reach the inbox, you can't earn a response. Actually, higher complaints on these messages makes sense to me - because product review request are much more about the marketer than they are about the subscriber. Those are the kinds of messages that get complaints.

David gave the example of a Dell campaign that rewards frequent buyers not with a $200 coupon but with a special insight video/note from Michael Dell. Being an insider and being appreciated has more value to these buyers than another discount. That is a great lesson for all of us. How can we use incentives to inspire and thank your best customers? Bring them closer into the relationship.

Email has been a major component of loyalty programs - giving marketers a channel for frequent communications that subscribers value. A real win-win. David gave us some good food for thought on how to integrate and merge email with social marketing to enhance the connectivity between brands and shoppers.

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