Saturday 25 September 2010

After 25 years - Amex games card loyalty


Back in 1985 there was a revolution in computing which although small at the time went on to dominate our everyday lives - this revolution was Windows.

For many, Windows 3.1 was the first version that will be remembered and this was also the first version that could be extended to support TCP/IP - or essentially the internet. 

While it has been full-steam ahead for both Windows and the internet since this time, there has also been major change with the likes of Apple and Google increasingly innovating - whether this is new operating systems, new hardware or new ways of distributing applications.

There was however another revolution that started 25 years ago - credit card loyalty schemes.

In 1984 Diners Club launched "Club Rewards" which allowed card holders to earn frequent flyer miles or merchandise rewards based on card spend. This was closely followed by Sears who launched the Discover Card. Although quite revolutionary at the time as it had no annual fee, higher credit limits and most importantly for wider acceptance lower merchant fees, the big innovation was the inclusion of a cash-back rewards programme - giving card holders 2% of spend back.

What's interesting however is that while Windows 1.0 would be unrecognisable for many today, the Diners Club and Discover Card loyalty programmes they pioneered are pretty much the same used on all loyalty credit cards today.

In fact the latest programme from Chase called Ultimate Rewards has all of these features including a new one "Pay Yourself Back" which allows you to offset any qualifying spend on your statement with points - something which is essentially what Discover introduced 25 years ago - namely cash-back.


It was great then to see Amex breaking the mold and doing something different.

Their new scheme Social Currency has partnered with foursquare to allow card holders to check-in to retail stores to share purchases with friends.

Using a dedicated iPhone app, members can then share what they purchased, what they want to purchase and photo's of the event/product.

Keeping with the foursquare gameplay, members are rewarded for taking part with a selection of unique badges based on their behaviour such as the "Thrifty Spender" badge or the "Chinatown" badge.

I've discussed recently that loyalty is changing and that adding a gaming layer to loyalty programmes is one of the most important changes to loyalty in the last 25 years. It's great then to see an industry that once pioneered loyalty now embracing the next phase.

Amex may have been a little late to the party with it's original loyalty offering, "Membership Miles" back in 1991, but it's certainly at the forefront now. I wonder how many other banks will be brave enough to follow suit.

Sunday 12 September 2010

What we (and Guns N' Roses) can learn from Google Instant


Google Instant has launched amongst mixed reviews. However, love it or hate it - it's part of an increasing trend amongst consumers to have have everything now. In the launch PR, the main selling point for Google instant was that it saved the worlds internet users the equivalent of 11 hours per second or 111 years per day.

On an individual basis this is just 2-5 seconds per user, and yet this is the main selling point.

It's easy to see why Google would want to minimise any possible wait time; in a recent survey, two-thirds of us have stated that we've walked away from buying something because we were fed up of queuing and 51% of us wouldn't even enter a store if we spied a queue.

This apparent impatience at having to wait for things also seems to be increasing. In the same research it was reported that British consumers are now only prepared to queue for up to two minutes - down from five minutes just six years ago. (At that rate we'd expect instant service by 2014)

This isn't necessarily just an impatience with queuing though - it's an impatience with anything that stands in the way of getting something now.

In a recent Experian survey it was noted that young people tend to use offline channels for purchases, despite researching them online simply because they "want it now" and don't want to wait for it to be delivered.

Even our leisure time doesn't escape this level of impatience as the legendary band Guns N' Roses recently experienced. At a concert in Dublin they were booed and bottled off stage after only performing four songs due to a late start to the concert. Keeping fans waiting for over an hour, they were shown peoples impatience when they did finally arrive on stage.

So with an increasingly impatient consumer, how do loyalty programmes fit which require a longer term commitment.

Many loyalty programmes work around annual timelines, with quarterly statements, annual tiering and rewards which take at least 12 months to make viable. This can make it hard to engage consumers early on when they are impatient for recognition from the programme they've joined, leading to disengagement.

For loyalty programmes to engage an impatient consumer they need, like Google Instant, to provide faster and more relevant recognition.

The standard response to this is to give more value more quickly. Giving double points, welcome point bonuses, hero rewards, instant discounts, merchant offers - anything which can bring the loyalty value exchange forward.

However, while I'd agree we need to make recognition faster and more relevant, I'd argue that the rewards tied to this recognition don't need to have a tangible value.

You don't need to give discounts, priority queuing or a £10 voucher to MAKE a customer feel special - you just need to make them LOOK special.

Giving someone a Black credit card might make them feel special - letting them show it to others makes them look special - and this in turn really makes them feel special. This is known as "Social Currency" and is defined as:-

  • Things that help me belong
  • Things that make me significant

Making loyalty programmes social so that peoples achievements can be shared allows this social currency to be leveraged. Using different achievement mechanics which have their roots in gaming dynamics, such as unlocking badges/levels or the use of leader-boards allows for many options to recognise and engage customers quickly and early on, without the need for monetary rewards.

Seth Priebatsch, CEO of SCVNGR recently wrote about some of the gaming dynamics which help form this social currency saying:-

Game dynamics are fast becoming a critical currency of motivation. Their power lies not in connecting us to our friends, but in directly influencing our individual behavior. Smart companies will take this time to look at their product portfolios and community behaviors through the lens of game dynamics.

Google is a smart company and is constantly looking at ways to improve its products and services to further engage consumers and stay one step ahead. If we don't want to be booed and bottled off the loyalty stage, then we also need to learn the same lessons; recognising and engaging consumers more quickly and more relevantly.

The use of social currency is one way to do this and is set to become the "Google Instant" for loyalty.