Loyalty Programs – to Re-Brand or Not to Re-Brand?

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By: Mike Giambattista, CLMP |

Posted on November 29, 2018

Recently some very prominent organizations have announced re-branded loyalty programs.  In two of those cases, the re-brands were part of significant program overhauls.  In fact, it could be argued that those overhauls were significant enough to have affected the program to the point where the new program barely resembled the old.  I point these things out because, as usual, there are at least two valid sides to any worthwhile discussion.

Let me also say that I (we) champion people and organizations that are actively looking for new and better ways to engage their customers.  And if re-branding your loyalty program will produce a statistically valid lift, then a re-brand might be in order.  But there is more to consider.

You can make a strong case for not competing for attention with the main actor.  Is the loyalty program trying to steal the spotlight?  Is it intended to supplant the star?  I think loyalty marketers need to understand where they live within the broader brand eco-system.

Isn’t the primary purpose of a loyalty program to support the health of the mothership?  Is it smart to ask your customer to remember another brand in a world of millions of brands – and then to figure out how to cognitively associate that new brand with the mothership?

The Nordy Club (Nordstrom) overcomes that challenge nicely by creating a loyalty program brand that already sounds and feels like the cute new child of its parent.  To be fair, I’ve seen lots of comments from people who don’t think much of the name, but those are subjective preferences.  Objectively though, when you hear or see the word Nordy, it’s an easy leap of logic to connect that with the primary brand.

It boils down to existing program brand equity vs overcoming the significant inertia of creating brand equity from scratch.

One popular headline read “Marriott Rewards Program Renamed Marriott Bonvoy”.  The announcement garnered a lot of enthusiastic praise from various corners of the customer loyalty universe.  It is a catchy name after all.

But I’m more likely to remember Bonvoy only because of how clever it is.  I can almost guarantee that within a short period of time I will have forgotten that it’s a Marriott program.  It certainly helps that Marriott has a big enough checkbook to overcome new brand inertia but my question is … why?

The other compelling reason to think hard before creating a separate loyalty program brand has to do with language.  People (customers) tend to think of loyalty programs as reward programs.  A quick look through Google search stats shows the word “rewards” to be almost universal as a description for a loyalty program.  It may be a boring word but it’s a boring word with a solid meaning attached to it.

Mike Giambattista is Editor in Chief at The Wise Marketer and is a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).