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Renaming A Rewards Program: 5 Steps And 3 Missteps

WM Circle Logo

By: Jenn McMillen |

Posted on June 13, 2024

Tips from Ulta, Victoria’s Secret and More

Changing the name of a branded product is risky. When that product is something as personalized as a rewards program, the stakes rise. Here are a few tips, with examples.

It’s reported that just 3% of parents change their baby’s name after birth. When it comes to a company’s baby, however, a name is not so precious.

Take loyalty (rewards) programs. In 2022, 80% of loyalty initiative operators said they planned to revamp their programs in the next three years, the loyalty tech company Antavo reported. Well, we’re squarely in that period now, and the evidence is that Target, JCPenney, Domino’s, Red Robin, and Ulta are among a string of retail and restaurant companies that have updated and relaunched their initiatives since September 2023.

Some of these companies used their revamps as an opportunity to replace program names, as well. But, just like with a human baby, this is no small undertaking. A reward program’s name is its identification, and altering it could put it at risk of losing recognition.

The Rewards Program Formerly Known as My Favorite Rewards Program

Choosing a brand name for a rewards program requires shrewd consideration. What impression will it make? What does the name say about the company (its parents)? Does the name accurately reflect what the program is about (like, what does the Target “Circle” stand for)? And will the name suit the initiative as it grows and matures?

When the chosen name replaces a recognized one, the task can be even headier because it requires those who trust the brand to accept it will still deliver under a new identity.

But it can be done. The following examples illustrate best-practice “baby” steps to changing a program’s moniker.

Get a temperature check from members. At the risk (or fortune) of receiving suggestions like “Boaty McBoatface,” program designers can recognize members by inviting feedback early in the naming process. Before Ulta Beauty changed its Ultamate Rewards program to Ulta Beauty Rewards in January, for example, it made sure to include what members wanted – such as picking their own rewards birthday gifts (previously they were pre-selected). As Kelly Mahoney, senior vice president of customer and growth marketing at Ulta, stated in Chain Store Age: “The enhancements we’ve made to Ulta Beauty Rewards go beyond a new name; they reflect the wants of our most loyal guests.”

Don’t spring it on members. A rename should be a crawl, not a run. So, a company should schedule its announcement over time to prevent confusion and disengagement. This means planning the relaunch for a period when a company’s teams and customers have the headspace to pay attention (not between Thanksgiving and the holidays, for example). The announcements can build over several months to generate interest: A short “tease” message about something new on the horizon (after seeking feedback); a contest to engage members right before relaunch. Some professionals advise a two- to four-week internal testing process before a program relaunch.

Use it as an opportunity to streamline. Consumers have a shrinking interest in time-consuming loyalty programs. Half of reward program participants say they dislike initiatives that force them to wait too long to get rewards, according to Statista. Nearly one-third dislike programs that make it difficult to earn. An analysis of a program’s touchpoints could detect where members are at a higher risk of becoming inactive. The newly relaunched “JCPenney Rewards and Credit Program” is a mouthful, but the department store chain had streamlining in mind when it introduced the plan in April: Program members simply earn points twice as fast as before.

Use it as an opportunity to fix hiccups. If a rewards program is a company’s baby, then a name change can be an opportunity to update the nursery – eliminating structural problems and adding a fresh coat of benefits and capabilities. An analysis of member data and feedback will likely reveal areas that can use upgrading. Take when Red Robin recently relaunched its rewards program, Red Robin Royalty. It did so with the goal of transitioning it from a plain “discount” program to a VIP-like rewards experience, including early access to new menu items, Restaurant Dive reported in May. The name has not changed, but there’s now a telling kicker in the logo: “Bottomless Perks.”

Implement upgraded data analytics. A name change is a good time for a company to update its data capture and analytics mechanisms so it can monitor behavioral patterns among both existing and newly enrolled members. This data could expose weak points and support good practices. When Victoria’s Secret launched its VS & Pink Collective program in early 2023, its use of consumer insights helped it exceed its enrollment goal by 40%, company execs told attendees at the 2024 CRMC conference. Specifically, Victoria’s Secret uses data its members proactively share (zero-party data) to keep up with expectations.

3 Potential Missteps To Renaming A Rewards Program

For every baby step, there is, of course, a misstep or two – otherwise known as what not to do. Here are three:

  1. Do not cut benefits as part of the change. In recent years, several companies cut back their rewards benefits, or made it harder to earn them, and they suffered harsh blowback from members. (See: Dunkin’) Trying to hide a stingier program under a new name will likely have a worse effect by appearing deceptive.
  2. Do not make members work for it. A program change that requires members to update their information is at risk of losing them. If the requirement is unavoidable, program planners can notify members very early on, and occasionally remind them, and offer incentives to make the updates.
  3. Do not forget to provide answers. Any rewards program name change, regardless of how minor, is cause to re-evaluate the initiative’s frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. Here, the company can detail its mission behind the new program identity, add new questions/answers and update others (especially if there are new features).

The ABC’s Of Giving A Rewards Program A New Name

The most important consideration when changing a loyalty initiative’s name is, of course, whether it improves the program proposition for members. The following tips can reveal the answer.

  1. Choose a name that is easy to remember. This is not just for members of the program, but also for the company teams that are expected to promote and support the platform. This means selecting a name that is easy to pronounce and spell. Why is Issac among the most-changed baby names? Because it’s misspelled.
  2. Ensure the name clearly explains what to expect. Cutesy names are not clever if they fail to communicate the program’s value. Perhaps this is why Ultamate is now Ulta Beauty Rewards. The name – as the program itself – should be simple to understand and explain.
  3. Use a name that evokes emotional engagement. Customers tend to personally identify with rewards programs, so the name should be self-identifiable. Case in point: Cookie Monster Rewards, by PNW Cookies, aims for the heart of a cookie lover. If the reward points also have an emotionally relevant name, members will feel good every time they use the program. Cookie Monsters chips, anyone?

No matter the product or the person, name changes tend to attract attention. Companies should use their best intentions to ensure that attention is good.

If a proposed program name outperforms the former one in the above exercises, then it might be ready for a new identity.

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This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Forbes.com retail contributor Jenn McMillen is nationally renowned as the architect of GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards, and is Founder and Chief Accelerant of Incendio, a firm that builds and fixes marketing, consumer engagement, loyalty and CRM programs. Incendio provides a nimble, flexible and technology-agnostic approach without the big-agency cost structure and is a trusted partner of some of the biggest brands in the U.S.