If there is one go-to strategy loyalty marketers use to turn occasional shoppers into rapt customers, it is evidently through enhanced birthday presence. The challenge now is making those annual perks hold a candle to the competition, according to Lisa Biank-Fasig, senior editor for Colloquy.
From US$30 gift certificates courtesy of Benihana to US$20 tubes of mascara from Smashbox, merchants are getting more creative and generous with their birthday rewards. They pretty much have to if they want to remain relevant. Birthday perks have become so prevalent they are increasingly expected, and scrutinised - and one customer can easily contrast and compare the special gifts delivered by various merchants during his or her birthday month.
As a result, several inventive brands are reimagining the concept of the birthday reward to their competitive advantage, some looking even beyond birthdays.
"I've always been fairly willing to give an aggressive offer and I have seen an increase in people giving them. That would suggest people have to give a better offer to stand out," said Jon Parrish, CEO and founder of CityGro, a Salt Lake City-based loyalty-marketing firm. "When it's my birthday I expect my Facebook page to be populated by 30 different offers."
It takes more than a coupon to stand out among those 30 offers. Following are several examples of special-occasion rewards that take the cake:
- Surprise parties
With a list of customer preferences and favourite things (attained through annual surveys), a loyalty programme can surprise with unexpected items, from chocolates to movie tickets. The key is making it clear to the member that the information she provides may be used to surprise her later on, said Jeff Berry, research director at Colloquy. "By inviting the member into the process early on, you build a sense of anticipation and excitement," he said. "Once she gets that surprise gift, the experience and related positive association will last longer than a simple birthday discount". Kimpton Karma, for example, gives members 20% off on stays during birthday months and then surprises them with gifts based on the favourite things they list in their profiles.
- Half-birthday rewards
Shoppers have come to expect birthday rewards, but half birthdays? That is an occasion more likely to be recognised by younger consumers. So CityGro launched such a concept at Utah State University, which offered free pretzels to student members on their half birthdays. Soon after, sources at Utah State University noticed students were going out to celebrate their half birthdays. Encouraged, CityGro offered the programme as a service to other loyalty clients and today it is a popular perk among many of them. "People don't even realise it's their half birthday," Parrish said. "So it really gives them a reason to celebrate and to create some buzz". CityGro leaves it up to its business clients to determine the rewards, but Parrish said they are commensurate with birthday rewards.
- Go beyond birthdays
Some marketers look to other special occasions to thank their members. Hertz Gold Plus Rewards celebrated its own anniversary in 2014 by surprising European members with luxury upgrades and offering U.S. members double points on weekly rentals (for a total of 1 million bonus points). Hertz also surprised members with other small gifts, including chocolates, flowers or books, depending on the country, according to Charlie Coniglio, vice president of marketing and sales. "It was a very special moment for both members and employees - who played a key role on this initiative".
Meanwhile, for Kellogg's Family Rewards, giving is about the green. The cereal maker offers its members up to 1,600 bonus points for purchases made around St. Patrick's Day (March 17-20). In 2014, Kellogg's Family Rewards saw a near three-fold lift in code entries during the promotion, said Dan Keller, vice president of customer relationship management and loyalty. "Holidays like St. Patrick's Day provide a key moment in time to further engage consumers," he wrote in an email. "We're also planning bonus offers around upcoming holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Thanksgiving later in the year".
- Go big
Often, the best-received perks are those that stand apart merely for their generosity. This does not mean the merchant has to burn the margins, however. The cosmetic company Smashbox, for example, offers its Pretty Points members free full-size products on the months of their birthdays (this year the gift is a full-size Full Exposure Mascara, worth about US$20). But to get that gift, members must spend US$35 in their birthday months, encouraging more visits and purchases. "Offering a birthday perk to our loyalty members is just one of the relationship touchpoints that connect our customers closer to our brand," said Julia Koulbitskaya, manager of digital marketing and e-commerce at Smashbox, in an email.
"All birthday (or non-birthday) perks should generate revenue by inspiring the customer to keep with the brand. Put another way, the perk should have presence with the customer long after the present is opened," concluded Biank-Fasig.