This year’s Loyalty Expo was another impressive event bringing together the best in the loyalty industry. There were many informative sessions and a lot to unpack but here are a few of the central themes I came away thinking more about. Let’s dive in a little deeper into what each topic means to brands and their holistic customer experience and loyalty efforts.
Elevating customer relationships through partnerships
Brands like Best Western, Exxon, and Sleep Number discussed several challenges and dynamics when it comes to partnerships in the loyalty space—specifically how to select the right partner(s), what elements you need to consider optimizing the gains for both sides, and how to leverage partnerships to cultivate deeper connections and add value for members.
What Sleep Number is doing with their partnership efforts is closely aligned to what we talk about here at ICF Next—the human elements of loyalty and elevating that connection. Their approach is about carefully selecting partners who can advocate for Sleep Number’s vision of being "world leaders in sleep" and drive business through connection. Their partnership with the NFL is all about health and wellness and the focus is on creating content that promotes this main idea. They highlight NFL players and how using Sleep Number beds boosts their performance. They want to show their value as a health and wellness brand with a product and partnerships aligned with that vision.
Since chemotherapy treatments tend to cause interruptions in sleep, Sleep Number is also partnering with American Cancer Society to complete a study on the effects of cancer treatments on sleep and help them adjust treatments accordingly making a difficult journey a little bit better. The focus of this partnership is still health and wellness but with a more philanthropic perspective.
When brands leverage partnerships in ways like Sleep Number does, they amplify their focus on the customer and add value for their members in a completely different way. This connects the brand with members on a very emotional, deeply human level and sustains engagement in a way that goes beyond points and transactions.
Driving emotional loyalty through a ritual
There was also an interesting session from Ryan Draude, Giant Foods, who is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, about creating a ritual with your loyalty program. This session reflected much of what we speak to in our Humanizing Loyalty research.
He explored the importance of developing a ritual framework and identifying the rites of your loyalty program. Again, this comes back to thinking beyond points, and where loyalty is moving. The concept of reimagining loyalty as a more human experience is becoming more ingrained in the strategies across different brands and industries. Rituals can be created in the core experiential moments customers share with your brand.
One of Draude’s examples was the pre-boarding experience with United Airlines—that's a ritual. It's creating that experience, that relationship where because of my loyalty or usage, I'm getting this experience back and it's creating a positive connection with the brand. The second example he spoke about was Choice Hotels and how they targeted business travelers specifically with a campaign that created a social experience by connecting travelers with the local community. Members would pick up local art coasters from the front desk that got them a free drink at the hotel bar. Creating these small moments cultivates connection and elevates the experience for members.
This is very similar to what we talk about with our clients. How can you think about the whole customer experience, the whole UX? And what are the strategies to get to that ultimate loyalty experience that goes beyond the transactional nature of points and rewards, and really speaks to the individual member on a human level?
It’s all about the data, and what you do with it
Data is critical to get to know your customers on a deeper level and deliver the right experiences for them. The right, actionable data helps us communicate with customers/members and interact with them in ways that are relevant to their needs, wants, and expectations. There was a great panel on this topic that included Wawa.
Wawa has such a solid, loyal customer base that people get married there—so that speaks to their level of brand love. One of the key reasons for such brand love is how each location provides a personalized and individualized service to the customers walking through their doors. Since Wawa customers are already so loyal, they wanted to create something to reward the members of their program—to thank them for their loyalty to the brand.
This started with understanding what data points they currently have and what they need to continue offering relevant experiences to their customers. They also started using segmentation to understand customer behaviors and run relevant campaigns. Wawa is a strong example of a brand, with an already loyal customer base, that is in the process of unlocking the power of data to evolve their strategy.
This shows the importance of brands being customer centric above all. Wawa pours out love for their customers and that's why it's mutual. They get that back because that's what they put into it. And it’s woven into their culture as an organization. It’s authentic, it’s intentional, and that’s why it works.
When you keep people at the core of your customer strategy, loyalty and brand love will follow. At ICF Next, we co-innovate strategies with our clients that focus on loyalty as an outcome of a mindfully cultivated relationship with your customers. Through the right combination of strategy, analytics, and technology we help create more resilient bonds that exist on a deeper, emotional level.
Learn more at icfnext.com/humanizingloyalty.