Q. What changes has Hinda seen during your tenure in loyalty rewards fulfillment?
O’Neill: From the perspective of the program operator, the most significant changes to loyalty rewards fulfilment is the recognition that loyalty reward redemptions are not just cost, but also a key driver of positive business results. Brands now look at post-redemption behaviors as predictive of long-term, profitable customer relationships.
From the perspective of individual consumers, we’ve found that they have become much more savvy in choosing the best rewards, and frequenting those brands that offer the most personalized, relevant reward options. The traditional loyalty program rewards portfolio has grown from three to four categories of rewards - in-kind, merchandise, travel, and gift cards, for example – to dozens of categories including partner, experiential, entertainment and dining, and many more categories besides. It’s important that your reward catalog reflect the needs, desires, and dreams of your best customers.
Q. How have changes in consumer loyalty impacted the loyalty industry, and Hinda in particular?
O’Neill: Hinda has operated in the loyalty space for 20 years, and during that time we’ve seen loyalty marketing move from a marketing tactic to a comprehensive enterprise customer strategy that can drive significant business results. Loyalty programs are ubiquitous, and consumers have come to expect that the brands to whom they give their loyalty will respond with rewards and recognition.
As for Hinda, the growth of the global loyalty industry has seen us grow from a distributor of rewards for employee and channel incentive programs to a become a significant force in the loyalty space. We had a number of significant early wins in the financial sector, and we’ve grown from there to become far more than a vendor – we have become a strategic partner offering rewards strategy and insight to our clients.
Q. Are there significant differences in how you address rewards strategy in employee and sales channel programs versus rewards in consumer loyalty programs?
O’Neill: When we first entered the loyalty space, we saw significant differences in the way our clients in the employee/channel space would approach rewards versus the way our clients in consumer-facing industries approached them. Employee/channel rewards were largely undifferentiated and focused on the incentive side of the equation, while the consumer side was much more advanced in their focus on personalized and relevant rewards.
Today, those lines have become blurred. Employee/channel marketers have become much more sophisticated in their approach to loyalty, and their goals are largely the same as the goals of their counterparts in the consumer space: to engage, inspire, and reward your best customers, employees, and channel partners.
Q. What is the primary driver of consumer adoption of loyalty programs?
A. O’Neill: First and foremost, we believe it’s the promise of a hard-benefit reward that engages the individual to join a program. No one joins a loyalty program just to accumulate a promotional currency. The most successful programs create an aspirational journey that might begin with a lower-cost, introductory reward and then lead to the fulfilment of a lifelong dream of travel or the obtainment of long-sought merchandise or a guilty pleasure. The anticipation of earning rewards drives loyal behavior.
Q. How do you help a loyalty program operator control program economics such as cost-per-point (CPP)?
A. O’Neill: Because of marketing budget implications, controlling program economics is critical to successful loyalty program design. Rewards are usually the largest expenditure of most programs, so we help our clients design rewards portfolios based on the total life cycle of their programs. We factor in segmentations such as New vs Mature, as well as demographic segments based on life stage or life style. We calculate the economic value of these segments to the brand and then build a rewards portfolio that includes a variety of CPP tiers and reward categories. Everything we do is based on deep customer insight.
Q. Where will loyalty program operators look to add innovation to their programs?
O’Neill: Our clients ask us this question every day. Technology will certainly play a role; innovation will come in how we leverage technology to communicate with customers on their terms. Innovation will also be driven by disruptors who reimagine loyalty interactions, remove friction, and provide speed to market to give first adopters an edge.
Rewards will remain a critical center of loyalty innovation. We’re certainly seeing innovation in earning velocity, with currency becoming more fungible as a creative way to engage consumers. We’ll also invest in rewards personalization, in both the online browsing experience and the “moment of truth” redemption experience. And the delivery experience is critical, where we can create "magic moments" that truly build an emotional experience between the consumer and the brand. Innovation in the post-redemption experience, such as including a personal note along with the brand during reward delivery, will also be very powerful.
Q. Are you bullish on the future of loyalty marketing? Where do you see opportunity?
O’Neill: We’re absolutely bullish on loyalty. Loyalty will continue to evolve; while some marketers wonder if the loyalty program model is sustainable, we’re confident that it is, and that we’ll see expansion into new verticals. In many ways we’ve become a subscription-based economy, and this model creates some great new opportunities to create rewards in online retail, ride-sharing and housing. Uber has launched a program, so why can’t AirBnB have one as well? We should also see renewed loyalty innovation in cable TV and cellular. We’re very excited for the future of engaging loyalty rewards portfolios, and we plan on playing a big part in it.
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