Friday, September 19, 2008

How does your loyalty program greet new customers?

There’s nothing like a loyalty program that greets you with a warm hello. Take the Hyatt hotel chain’s Gold Passport program.

It had been a number of years since I had been to a Hyatt and upon check-in at the Grand Hyatt in New York City I was greeted with the obligatory: “Are you a member of our loyalty program?” I replied “no”.

But instead of the hotel clerk handing me an application or moving on to my check-in, she asked me if I had a business card I could spare. “I’ll fill out the enrollment form for you.” was her reply. I was in a hurry, so handed her my card and moved on.

Sure enough, 2 or 3 weeks later I received a Hyatt Gold Passport welcome kit in the mail. Nice package. Pretty brochure with enticing photos and a clean, concise list of benefits. Not to mention, an honest-to-goodness credit card-thick membership card. (Nothing worse than those ultra-thin cards you can fold in two.)

I also received a welcome e-mail from Hyatt. Same crisp and clean presentation. And with a few mouse clicks, I can personalize future e-mails by Hyatt location—and also set my hotel room preferences, including smoking/non-smoking, King bed/two double beds, high floor/low floor, etc.

Bottom line: Thanks to the warm greeting, I’d gladly stay at a Hyatt hotel again in the future. They’re now in my consideration set. And that’s the best first impression a loyalty program can make.

Tom Rapsas, Associate Creative Director, MRM Worldwide,

Monday, September 8, 2008

Of Icons and Defaults!

An iconic brand is a legacy that most marketers would like to bequeath to the world. A brand that builds a strong relationship over the customer life-cycle and consistently delivers value at various life stages, yet retaining its charm and appeal allowing customers to clearly express their personality in a distinctive manner!

The last decade has been an excitingly turbulent one for financial services brands, driving a roller coaster of emotions for consumers alike. These brands have expanded the market, taking risks of market expansion in their stride and expanding the customer base. Having providing a financial identity to several customers and enhancing the expenditure appetites, the players have successfully fueled the growth of a wide array of industries including the housing, travel and retail fashion sectors.

These brands were viewed as the "dream merchants" that not only showed you the dreams, but actually financed them. Instant loan approvals, cashbacks, rock bottom rates and flexible pricing structures were the darlings of every consumer from New York to New Delhi!

With the collapse of the housing markets across the globe, the meltdown in the financial services space has commenced with rising defaults across all formats of secured and unsecured lending. With the nationalization of Freddie and Fannie, the mortgage majors that fueled the palatial dreams of millions, the market has really turned a corner.

The dream merchants are now perceived as the vultures, as banks and financial institutions are calling in the loans, raising rates or pushing the envelope on the collection engines to curb delinquencies and quell defaults. The monthly statements carrying special offers and treats have now proven to be the messengers of evil debits.

In these trying times, wherein economic survival is in itself the prerogative, how should financial services brands' retain their vigour and connect with their customers? For customers facing challenges in loan repayments, these brands may find it increasingly tough in retaining their emotional connect and relevance.

So, is it really possible to retain the inconic "dream merchant" status even during and post recessionary trends for customers. And moving to an even more pertinent question, do we have brands in the financial services space that are truly iconic! Where lie the Cokes and Apples of the financial services world?

It is often viewed that lending is a "serious" business and meeting consumers financial needs is the stuff of "serious" brands. American Express, Wells Fargo, ABN AMRO, RBS have hit the list of the worlds 100 top brands, but yet again "iconic" fervour is not something that comes to mind too often in their association.

Where arst thou James Dean?