Loyalty operators seem to have learned their lesson to 'show, don't tell' - a message backed up by plenty of studies concluding that people absorb information faster and engage more often when it's conveyed with a visual component, according to Colloquy's Karen Bells.
From in-store or in-restaurant messaging to advertising to social media, more loyalty programmes use photos, videos, games and other visual components to great effect. But many of them routinely fall short in a critical area - their online descriptions of how to actually use the programme.
In that area of their websites, they often have nothing but a lengthy word-dump, big chunks of unwieldy text with no visual relief. Yet these explanatory pages and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sections contain the essential nuts and bolts that members need to know: How do they earn loyalty rewards? How do they spend them? What if they have a problem? When will they achieve a new tier? What if they hate the prize catalogue?
"The element of visual storytelling is becoming a much more important part of the dialogue among marketers," said Buddy Scalera, a long-time marketing and publishing executive and senior director of content strategy at pharmaceutical firm The Medicines Co. "Even with dry, lots-of-facts material - or perhaps especially with it - it's important to think about how the end user will view the content, and make that experience as effective and enjoyable as possible."
A lifelong comic book fan who has written five books on the genre, Scalera often uses comics as a teaching tool at marketing conferences.
"That's not to say that loyalty programmes need to deploy a caped hero on their FAQ pages - although who's to say it wouldn't help? - but studying comics, movie posters and other graphic forms can teach marketers the basic principles of how the eye travels across the page and educate them about the importance of creating a visual cadence," Scalera added.
In fact, even a 'buttoned-up' website can learn something about visual storytelling through comic books. Canadian coalition loyalty programme Air Miles, with 10 million members, has been simplifying and freshening its FAQ pages as part of its recent rebranding effort. "We've looked really long and hard at our language, colour palette, photography for the Air Miles brand within all of its channels as well as related materials used by its partner companies," said Raymond Ludwin, assistant vice president of brand activation and collector experience.
For the FAQ section of the Air Miles website, the rebranding team worked closely with the customer contact centre to address callers' top concerns. Finding, for example, that many callers were confused about how to reset their PIN and couldn't easily fix it using the written FAQ explanation, Air Miles created a simple how-to video for its website and YouTube channel.
That and other new videos are getting thousands of hits, Ludwin said. Most of the videos are shot simply on iPhones and have been put through "the BBQ test" - employees practice explaining programme concepts and rules just as they would tell a friend at a barbecue, and then they record the videos for customers in just the same relatable way.
The need for relevance is clear. Pinterest and Instagram have trained consumers to expect great photos, for example, and more than a billion users watch videos on YouTube.
"Millennials - those 18 to 35 - are especially demanding when it comes to creating visually stimulating loyalty-marketing materials," said Alex McEachern, a loyalty specialist at Sweet Tooth Marketing, which creates loyalty programmes for ecommerce companies. "They don't want to wade through blocks of text to understand how to use the programme."
In addition to photos and videos, loyalty operators should consider redesigning their explanatory and FAQ pages with thoughtfully used infographics, icons, charts, slide shows and more.
One high-profile example is the My Coke Rewards website, recently revamped as part of a programme relaunch that relies more heavily on social media actions and reward tiers. The site is teeming with games, trivia contests, slide shows, experiential videos, recipes and more. Big grey chunks of text are non-existent. The answer to every member question - from how to enter product codes to sweepstakes rules to increasing status - is addressed with a video or graphic or other visual.
Here are several tips on 'jazzing up' the explanatory portions of a loyalty programme's website, as suggested by Scalera, Ludwin and McEachern:
- Visuals should be simple and easy to understand, free from "loyalty-ese" jargon in infographics and icons (not to mention in copy).
- There must be a clear call to action, whether it's encouraging people to enrol, cash in points, move to a higher tier or other actions.
- Graphic designers must be involved early in a redesign process. Often, companies create a plan for written content but don't bring designers in until much later. "If you bolt the designers on at the tail end, it shows," Scalera warns.
- Why the drudgery? Many loyalty programmes "sound like so much work," Ludwin said. Participating should look and feel like an enjoyable process.
- All visual content should be formatted to render properly with multiple devices. An infographic that looks great on a desktop computer can turn into a compressed mess on a tablet or smartphone. Shoddy visuals can be worse than none at all.
"Done right, all those dull-but-important explanation pages can be transformed from formidable slabs of text to enjoyable showcases for all that the programme offers," concluded Bells.