For many B2B brands the loyalty platform forms a pivotal part of the marketing and communications mix. After all, listening and speaking to best customers is both an art and science that can return handsome results. But for many brands, loyalty communications are undervalued… a mistake even in the best of times!
By: Graeme Thomson, CLMP
Gone are the days of an entity introducing a loyalty offering simply because of competitive response. Today, B2B brands must carefully assess how effective the loyalty programme can be and how it should be uniquely positioned within their communications mix.
In many situations we find it surprising that organisations do not consider the importance of who, what, when, where, and how they communicate with their best customers! While the old incentive designs, which only rewarded customers for their sales behaviours, have lapsed — the new wave of B2B loyalty has flourished and is now recognised as serving many core components within the strategic positioning of the programme sponsor!
B2B Marketing Communications Are Essential!
Many organisations simply do not consider communications as core to their survival let alone their positioning within the respective markets they serve. Communications are often viewed as an expense or confined to traditional B2B advertising in trade publications or newsprint.
Like all other elements of B2B marketing, communications require planning and sufficient resources. Core elements that make up successful communications plans include:
- Desired channels of communications
- Frequency of communications
- Tone of communications
- Positioning of communications
- Communication of content/offerings
- Purpose and desired outcomes
- Message variation by segment/personalization
And the list will no doubt go on!
It is my view that an entity is also a ‘being’. Successful entities tend to humanise their business to reflect the best fit for market positioning. Humanisation helps shape the desired market perception and how the business sees itself in the eyes of existing and potential customers!
Those organisations who provide their customers with a loyalty offering are ideally positioned to communicate with their customers on diverse levels. The loyalty platform provides for greater activity, stronger relevance/personalization, and higher engagement — hence a greater likelihood that communications impact will be more substantial.
An active and well managed (ongoing) loyalty programme will provide accurate data on members! This data should be highly valued and analysed for insights into how best to communicate with customers. One message doesn’t fit all and could even have a reverse affect to that which was intended!
Client programme data will consist of the following:
- Clients name, address, and contact details/preferences
- Clients sales data
- Frequency of sales: peaks and toughs of their business sales
- Product SKUs purchased
- Key people within client’s enterprise and role
- Branch locations
- Possibly/hopefully a bit about the composition of the client’s family
- Clients sports and social interests
- Benefit earning and redemption history
Reflecting on what is outlined as above, the scope and diversity in what to communicate is significant. Reference was made that one message may not fit all, caution is required as to what is conveyed, and to which segment of your customer base you are conveying such a message. What is perceived by one segment may not be viewed as the same by another. The potential risk in damaging best customer relationships is real when communications lack precision and personalization.
Motivations to Communicate within the B2B Loyalty Space
All too often a programme sponsor will rely on the monthly Points Statement as the core piece of communication with the member. This approach is entirely shallow and does not meet B2B loyalty best practices. There are many valid reasons you can and should communicate with your members, here are some examples:
- Introduction of new product lines
- Bonus points campaigns
- Movement of distressed inventory accompanied by a bonus points offer
- Seasonal campaigns
- Target client’s spouse/families with specific reward offerings
- Soliciting client’s participation in a company/product survey &mash; offer bonus points with participation
- Product knowledge campaigns: quiz, competitions, etc.
- Industry related news, the source of knowledge
- Charity/community support messaging
- Promotion of reward offerings
- The ongoing positioning of the programme sponsors image
As humans we often think about how we are perceived. My experience tells me that there is really no difference for a business (or rather shouldn’t be!)
Today more than ever it is important to differentiate from your competitors. The business must be able to convey how they would like to be perceived within the marketplace. This can be influenced significantly by the communications within the loyalty programme.
The programme membership is not often 100% loyal. B2B buyers don’t like to be the sole source for obvious reasons. How you deliver your message should be aimed at improving the current level of loyalty and where possible generating referrals or unsolicited endorsements to attract new customers.
Loyalty Communications will Keep your Clients Engaged!
A passive loyalty programme will operate at your peril. All too often a programme is launched with great fanfare only to grow stale over time. The lack of investment to maintain communications and build engagement is very real. The most successful B2B programmes will see gradual increases in communications spending as membership increases. They will also see reductions in communications/engagement costs per member — a far better metric to control than total dollars spent.
As previously alluded to it is important to ‘humanise’ a programme as best you can. This discussion and the eventual humanisation plan should have been a key component of the overall programme design prior to launch!
Programme members are almost always most valuable customers. They want to be reassured that the organisation they buy from meets both subliminal and considered expectations:
- Trades with high values and business integrity
- Offers a comprehensive range of services/items
- Recognises the value in the trading relationship of its customers
- Provides great support and customer service
- Communicates with its customers with transparency and frankness
- Elevates the customer experience every day, at every single touch point along the customer journey
With these elements in play your customer engagement strategies will be met with greater authenticity, hence engender a stronger response to the messages you are conveying!
Graeme Thomson, CLMP, is a principal and Director of the Wise Marketer Group and Chairman of The Loyalty Academy Board of Regents. A native of New Zealand, he has more than 25 years’ experience within the loyalty industry, specializing in program design and incentive marketing within the B2B environment.