As everyone knows, many Cuckoos will lay their eggs within the nests of other species. This activity, known as brood parasitism, relieves the parent cuckoo from the investment of rearing young or building nests and so they have more time to spend foraging for food or producing offspring. It also lets them mitigate risk by distributing their eggs amongst a number of different nests - taking the phrase "not having all your eggs in one basket" to it's literal conclusion.
The word parasite can seem quite negative but it literally means "one who eats at the table of another" and it is just one type of symbiotic relationship. Another type of symbiotic relationship is known as Mutualism and this is where two organisms of different species interact in a relationship in which both parties derive benefit.
As with biology, where different species have evolved to benefit from and to other species, we are seeing a similar evolution within marketing.
Credit card loyalty marketing for example could be classed as a parasitic relationship as it essentially benefits from the merchant (the host) spend without providing it with any real benefit back. However, this is changing with the advent of transaction driven marketing. With companies like Cardlytics allowing merchants to interact directly with consumers through targeted offers that are based on card spend, they now stand to gain from this relationship, moving it from parasitic to more mutualistic.
This is not just about adding value back to merchants though. It also begins to change the loyalty paradigm for many sectors, including loyalty providers.
As an example, consider a retailer looking to get closer to their customers. Setting up and running a loyalty programme would be a costly endeavour and while there are many benefits to running their own scheme, at a basic level they may simply want to be able to identify customers (and prospects), based on their value so that they can communicate with them and encourage repeat purchase.
Traditionally, without a loyalty programme the only method to do this was advertising - getting a message out there far and wide in the hope it hits the right customers.
However, what if you can find someone who already knows your customers and your competitors customers - already knows how much they spend and how frequently. You might want to strike up a relationship...
This is where mutualist marketing comes into play. Working with payment providers like card issuers, retailers can create well designed acquisition and retention campaigns without running their own loyalty programme. To use the cuckoo example, they can put their eggs in someones else's nest, albeit with their permission and for mutual benefit.
This isn't just limited to card issuers though.
Google provides a great example of an acquisition host, letting merchants and brands target their services based on google search resources in a mutually beneficial relationship.
What's really changing though is the number of hosts (vendors with data) and their ability to collect, retain and utilise behavioural information in the form of transactions and interactions.
Whether is location based checkins, TV viewing or sports/fitness tracking services, these are becoming increasingly sophisticated and more importantly utilised. At the same time, they're providing additional ways for a brand to target the right behaviours without the expense/investment of a dedicated loyalty solution.
Pepsi for example has recently run a promotion that tied up with reward company Kiip to offer fitness "achievement rewards" when a user logs activities such as runs through fitness apps such as Nexercise and MapMyRun. Rather than trying to get consumers to enter on-pack codes to interact with Pepsi, they have instead chosen to interact with the consumer at the point when they may actually want a Pepsi.
There has been talk about the divide that may be created between the data "haves and have nots" - in evolutionary terms, a data survival of the fittest. However, like all things in evolution, it was never going to be that simple. Just as symbiotic relationships form in nature to ensure species survive, the same is true for us.
The data "haves" are essentially leveraging their data for the "have nots", creating a mutualistic relationship which benefits both sides.
This means on the one hand your loyalty strategy should take account of all routes to your customer, not just the ones you can create - using other peoples "nests" may just let you focus on growing your business and distributing risk. On the other, a strong loyalty programme may also prove a real data asset that you can leverage for greater synergies.
The question as to what your loyalty strategy should be has just gotten a little more complicated.