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The 6 fundamentals of high functioning rewards

June 10, 2018 Customer rewards  |   Employee rewards  |   Behavioural science

In a world where brand complacency is not an option, every point of contact with customers, channel partners and employees is another chance to show your stuff and strengthen your relationship.

You know, create a feel-good spark to forge another link in the brand love chain. Rewards are a conduit for this emotional alchemy. Or at least they can be.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a damp squib rewards experience - too many points for too little reward value, weirdly incongruous reward choices, or worse, no choice at all. Not a relationship deal-breaker, you say? Maybe not today, but the bar is rapidly rising on what kind of brand experience people want and expect in exchange for their loyalty to your business. This sort of brand compromise will soon start to bite.

Long gone are the days when brand identity was a closed system - a closely guarded, untouchable, monolithic entity lording over eager consumers. It’s all about community ownership now and the brand fans, brand family and the public perceptions that drive brand equity. So while brand value still matters (the financial worth of your image, identity and assets) you need to factor brand equity into the total calculation to get a true picture of return on your brand investment.

In the context of this hybrid model, what kind of returns are you getting on your rewards investment? High? Low? None? Want to fix that?

1. Personalise the experience. Yes, a mail merge < first name> salutation is a start, but there’s more. If you’re running a rewards program, you most likely have plenty of data to start a meaningful conversation and launch a virtuous cycle of engagement. Be authentic, relevant and watch one-to-one relationships unfold.

As people come to trust and value interactions with your brand, relationships will grow organically, providing more lifestyle and lifecycle information to maintain meaningful dialogue over the long-term.

Work your data. Augment your registration data and transactional insights with ethnographic and psychographic research, personas, surveys and other research tools to create a detailed segmentation model.

2. Make rewards purposeful.  This one’s a double-header. Your rewards strategy needs a specific and clearly articulated creative purpose to attract interest and sell your benefit. Who are you speaking to? Does your message resonate? Is it consistent with your brand and aligned with your business strategy? Answers to these seemingly obvious, but often overlooked questions around strategy mean the difference between brilliant success and costly failure of your program.

And the rewards mix needs to offer people purposeful choice. What does that mean? Two simple examples say it all - airtime and data, micro-rewards that rank right up there with air and water on the shortlist of modern life’s most ‘purposeful’ necessities. Low cost, high perceived value, these and other digital products are quintessential high-functioning rewards.

3. Make rewards easy to redeem/experience. A reward is not a reward until it manifests, whether that’s the gentle ping of digital voucher delivery or the knock-knock of a door-to-door courier service. Until it can be seen, touched or experienced by the recipient, a reward is a concept. Fulfilment makes it real. Seamless fulfilment makes it memorable. What’s the formula? It depends.

If you’re going digital, an ever-evolving array of apps, transactional software and mobile capabilities make digital delivery faster and easier than ever. For traditional merchandise fulfilment, a specialist full-service provider can handle everything from procurement to contact centre support. Reward redemption doesn’t get easier than that.

And keep innovating. Creating an exceptional rewards experience begins and ends with knowing your audience, what they value, how they want to be rewarded and how to make the process rewarding from start to finish.

4. Get your timing right.  In all of life’s many special recognition moments, timing matters. Missed your mother’s birthday? An apology three days later isn’t really going to cut it, but she’ll most likely forgive, forget and carry on loving you. Real world relationships are a little more challenging.

Rewards can be a powerful catalyst for building relationships with employees, channel partners and customers, but it’s the timing that makes a difference between sparking emotional connection and raising a shrug of indifference.

When is the right time? According to classic behavioural theory and more recently illustrated with neuroimaging, the right time is always sooner rather than later. The less time between action and reward means the more dopamine released in the brain and the greater the feel-good associations with the whole rewards experience.

5. Surprise and delight.  Rewards are great. Unexpected rewards are even better, which is why no reward strategy is complete without a surprise and delight factor. The 2 for 1 movie ticket, the free coffee voucher, the after-hours private shopping invitation, all arrive unexpectedly and for no obvious reason. Now that’s very surprising and absolutely delightful. And again, science can explain our glowing stimulus response.

Our brains have a strong positive reaction to being rewarded. Even anticipating a reward gets the pleasure hormone dopamine coursing through our circuits. But it’s encountering the new, novel and unexpected that generates the biggest rush. In fact, neuroscientists have concluded that the more random and unexpected the reward, the more pleasurable the experience. It’s a must-have element in any high-functioning reward strategy.

6. Keep growing relationships.  If you’ve got your fundamentals right, rewards are a highly effective means to deepen and grow the value of your customer, channel partner and employee relationships. Enhance your understanding of individuals through data analysis, engage in authentic and open dialogue and use these insights to build an engaging rewards experience. Make an emotional connection to your audience and create the emotional alchemy of lasting brand love.


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