Five Steps to Creating the Best Name for Your Loyalty Program

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By: Bill Hanifin, CLMP |

Posted on July 26, 2023

Don't Make your Program Identity an Afterthought of Your Strategic Plan

"What's in a name?"

That’s the much-celebrated line from William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. In the play, Juliet asks the famous question and then explains, saying “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet". Shakespeare’s theatrical word puzzle is meant to convey that the naming of things is irrelevant, as he believed that names are a convention to distinguish things or people, but by themselves do not have any worth or meaning.

Humans are given names at birth. Pets are given names by their owners. Companies or products are given their identity in part through the creation of a brand name. In every case the name is a starting point, as the individual, pet, or product creates their respective brand through their behaviors over the course of their existence.

A name is a starting point for a story and the name you select for your loyalty program’s “story” – its lifecycle - is important. Roses smell sweet by nature, and I suppose Shakespeare was correct to say that any name would do. But a loyalty program must prove its worth over time and the proving is never done. Therefore, the selection of a name for your loyalty program is critical to building awareness, communicating value, and connecting with customers. The program name must somehow tie to your core business brand and reflect or even amplify its value if possible.

In my experience, I have often seen the program naming exercise become an afterthought in the strategic planning process. And almost every team I’ve worked with has sought help in the naming process. Most are hungry for a pattern to follow to identify a short list of program names. After being asked for help by multiple clients over time, we created a naming process that has worked well ever since.

This is one aspect of loyalty program planning we don’t see discussed much, and it seems a good moment to share what we have learned with you.

Our Unbranded, yet Effective Loyalty Program Naming Methodology

We adopted a five-step process for Loyalty Program Naming focused on these areas. If we were more attentive to detail, we would have given it a cool name and trademarked that name. While this may be our humble, unbranded methodology, we can assure you that it works if you work it, starting with these criteria.

  1. Cultural Relevancy
  2. Value
  3. Utility
  4. Brand Compatibility
  5. Regional Reach

Cultural Relevancy – We recommend selecting names that work well in cross-border applications, but the optimal name you select must resonate with your core audience at home. Will that name translate well in the local language and are there any conflicts that should be avoided? Does the name fit well with cultural trends? Avoid anything that could trigger and offend customers.

Value – Does the name communicate the crux of the loyalty program value proposition? Is it enough to use the words “rewards” or “points”? Probably not. The name you select should reflect the program focus on savings, cash, experiences, fun, causes or whatever else you are creating.

Utility - Is the name easy for your customers to remember, spell, and pronounce? Are there any limitations that will be problematic when creating marketing collateral?

Brand Compatibility - Does the name complement the core brand message? It should be easy to associate the name with the core brand promise rather than introduce a separate brand or set of messages. The optimal name you create should be a natural component of the customer buying experience and possibly an adjective to describe that experience.

Regional Reach – As mentioned, we recommend creating names that translate and adapt to other markets where you expect to seek market share. Even if you don’t have physical stores in multiple geographies, your e-commerce business is accessible by anyone, anywhere. Will the name you select be understandable by visitors to your stores or web site. Will visitors understand your message?

Using these five criteria for name selection, we typically assign a weighting to each factor totaling to one hundred percent and then score each candidate name on a 1-5 scale. The result is a ranking of candidate names by numerical value.

Numbers are not quite enough to make a decision, however, and we complete the naming process by applying a series of qualitative filters to the top 3-5 names in order to make a selection.

  1. Is the name already in use in markets where we compete?
  2. Is the URL for this name available?
  3. Does the program name conflict with the name of an unrelated business?
  4. What other limitations exist to using this name (apply common sense here).

Completing this process normally results in a consensus among stakeholders for a name choice. Depending on the strength of that consensus, you may decide on whether to commission consumer research to validate the name choice.

Once you’ve completed research – or if you decide to move forward without it – it’s time to perform the perfunctory legal review, reserve the URL and address trademarking issues. When this is all complete, you can celebrate your name choice and get busy creating some outstanding marketing collateral.

Loyalty Program Naming Case Study

Sierra sells active and outdoor apparel, footwear, and gear, including sporting goods, snow and water sport, camping, and fishing. The TJX Companies, Inc. (NYSE: TJX) acquired Sierra, originally named Sierra Trading Post, in 2012.

Shopping in a Sierra store recently, we encountered a large poster in the checkout area that called for customers to take part in “Epic Rewards”. The sign stated “Epic Rewards, Every Day, Every Store … Go wild and earn 5% back in rewards when you shop our family of stores”. The TJX family includes TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, Sierra, and Home Sense.

The message from the poster was unclear. Was the name of the program Epic Rewards, or did they describe their offering as simply Epic? To get the answer, I started my search online using the term Epic Rewards to learn more about the program. As a loyalty professional (CLMP™), I was particularly interested to see how TJX was constructing a single branded loyalty program to serve multiple retail brands.

The search results shocked me. The name Epic Rewards is being used by a PC gaming company, a ski destination company, and a movie theater operator. Sadly, I had to find information on the Sierra program by adjusting my search and clicking through to the Sierra website to learn about their program.

Here’s a quick summary of what I found by searching for Epic Rewards:

#1 – The Gamers

Epic Rewards is a program that allows Epic Games account holders to earn rewards for eligible purchases including buying games, apps, add-ons, or virtual currency on the Epic Games Store. You can earn 5% back on eligible purchases and get a $5 Epic gift card for every 250 Epic points. The Epic Rewards program is free to join and doesn't require sign-up.

#2 – The Mountaineers

Epic Mountain Rewards is a loyalty program that gives pass holders a 20% discount on food and beverage, lodging, group ski and ride school lessons, and equipment rentals at dozens of Vail Resorts destinations across North America. As part of Epic Mountain Rewards, Pass Holders can redeem one free wax and 50% off one basic tune per season at select U.S. locations. Epic Mountain Rewards is available to anyone who purchases an Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Epic Day Pass, Epic Military Pass, Epic Australia Pass, and many of the Company’s other regional season pass products, regardless of whether a guest plans to ski one day or every day of the season. 

#3 – The Entertainers

EPIC Theatres currently operates 144 screens at 12 sites in Florida and North Carolina. The company website says that EPIC Theatres is operated by third and fourth generation exhibitors whose family built their first theatre in 1947. The company is dedicated to providing the ultimate movie going experience in state-of-the-art theatres by properly exhibiting movies and events in well maintained facilities. Besides reference to the rewards program, we could not find any information on their site save for this login page.

#4 – The Retailer

Oddly enough, my search did not provide the information about the Sierra program that I was looking for. In fact, it did not give me any information about the umbrella loyalty program concept that TJX had created for its family of retail brands. This was perplexing and forced me to return to the Sierra site to get information about their loyalty program.

I confirmed that in the case of Sierra, the use of Epic on the poster represented a fuzzy message. It turned out that the word on the poster was included for descriptive purposes, but it was not the actual name of the program. After checking the web site of each of the TJX family retailers, I came to understand that the rewards offer from TJX is a private label credit product that offers cardholders 10 percent off first purchase and 5 percent when shopping anytime in the family of stores. Other benefits, including invitations to exclusive private shopping events are offered to cardholders. I suppose that TJX thought this reward offer was worthy to be coined “Epic”.

What does this Case Study teach us?

Opinions of the Urban Dictionary may vary, but it states that Epic is “the most overused word in the English language”. Invoked by everyone from surfers to gamers to weekend warriors, they might be right. Apparently, the use of the word Epic for naming a loyalty program is overused also, based on our search results.

The case study teaches two big lessons. If TJX had been more careful with the wording and structure of the poster that we encountered in the Sierra store, all confusion about their “loyalty program” could have been avoided. Ironically, if that had been the case, we would have missed the opportunity to share our Loyalty Program Naming Methodology with you.

Based on our experience, if the other three brands that popped up in our search results had used the program naming methodology outlined in this article, they could have avoided the repetitive and undifferentiated impact of using this word in their program names.

The biggest lesson to learn from this story is that program naming is important. It should not be relegated to either a popularity contest among stakeholders or an afterthought of your strategic planning process.