Loyalty Programs Are Working, Could Be Better

The good news: that loyalty program you’re running that earns points or some other rewards for consumers is probably working. The bad news: it’s less about “loyalty” and more about “getting rewards.” 

According to an online survey of 2,000 consumers from Maritz Motivation Solutions, 45% of consumers who are members of a loyalty program say the opportunity to earn rewards is a primary drive for purchasing specific brand products. However, only 17% of those who joined loyalty programs said they did so because they have a love for the brand’s products or because of a shared identity with the brand. 

“The use of rewards and points is the dominant model that consumers have been faced with for some time,” Barry Kirk, vice president of customer loyalty strategy for Maritz Motivation, tells Marketing Daily. “Brands will offer consumers the kinds of rewards they’re looking for.”



Indeed, 43% of consumers who join loyalty programs do so out of a desire to earn rewards from a brand. Furthermore, 60% of consumers said they felt the brands only offered these programs as a means to get consumers to buy more, rather than to build a deeper relationship with consumers. 

Kirk calls the majority of loyalty programs “mercenary” programs, because of their reliance on an exchange of goods and services for for rewards. For many companies, the goal should be for “cult loyalty,” which is based on a shared identification of brand values and a desire to connect with other consumers who have the same affinity. (Kirk cited Apple as a top “Cult Loyalist” brand, noting that the company often includes stickers with its products for consumers to place where they wish. Many people put them in car windows to show off their loyalty.)

“If you want something like ‘cult loyalty,’ that requires a different conversation,” Kirk says. “If you don’t give people that opportunity for cult loyalty, then you’re not going to get [that affinity].”

While brands’ current loyalty programs are working, the study suggests an opportunity exists for building deeper connections with consumers that move the relationship beyond one of simply an exchange based on commerce to one that is deeper, Kirk says.

“If you’re doing a typical loyalty program, that’s a strong and viable model,” Kirk says. “Beyond that, there is an opportunity to differentiate. If you add to [your current program] some other element, cult loyalty or true loyalty is available.”

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