Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It must be the holidays. My inbox is stuffed like a turkey.

Over the years, my wife and I have signed up to receive e-mails from quite a few retailers. The list includes: Solutions, Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer, Land’s End, Sephora, Bath & Body Works, Williams-Sonoma, Victoria’s Secret, Wine Library, Crate and Barrel, Gap, Old Navy, Wine.com, Pottery Barn and The Discovery Store.

It wasn’t hard to pull the preceding list of retailers together—all I had to do was open my inbox. It represents just some of the companies that have sent me e-mail pitches in the past 24 hours. The other day I woke up to a record 76 e-mails, fully 90% of which were promotional in nature.

Stacks of gifts under $25, Last Chance for Free Shipping! and 20% off all items read a few of the subject lines. After a while, they all begin to blur together, the electronic equivalent of shouting carnival barkers on the midway or white noise.

Now, I realize the holidays are here, and these stores are desperate to make their numbers for the year. But I wonder about the sheer velocity at which many of these retailers are blasting out e-mails. Virtually every retailer I’ve mentioned is sending out a promotional message a day, some two a day.

My main point of contention with this e-mail deluge though, is the non-personalized nature of the communications. You see, my wife and I have done business with all of the companies I mentioned, some several times over the past year. But judging by the content of the e-mails, you’d never know it. I’m quite certain I’m getting blasted with the same messages as the other 10,000 or 100,000 people on their e-mail lists.

There’s a better way to communicate with me as a customer, especially a customer who has a relationship with you. Here’s what I believe these companies should be doing:

* Send me personalized content.
I should be receiving a least some content based on my purchase history. If the wine merchant knows I have a penchant for red Zinfandel, send me e-mails about red Zin. Look at my past buying behavior so you have some idea of what I’ll be shopping for in the future.

*Ask me how much e-mail I want.
Give me the choice of how frequently I receive e-mails from you. Maybe I want to hear from you every day—or maybe I only want to hear from you once a week or once a month. Engage with me when I want you to, and I may not tune you out.

*Surprise and delight me.
Offer me something different than the other guys. Give me free gift wrapping. Present an old item in a new way. Try less selling, and more telling. For most of us, a good story works better than a hard sell.

The bottom line is if retailers want to prevent me from clicking on the opt out button, they need to do a better job of engaging with me. Remind me why I did business with you in the first place, and why I should do business with you again.

A final note: Happy New Year to all!

This post is by Tom Rapsas and originally appeared on the blog Loyalty Truth, December 21, 2010. You can reach Tom at tomrapsas@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I’m not a car guy. So why does Pep Boys want me in their loyalty program?

So I was standing in line at my local Pep Boys auto parts store the other day. Not that I’m a car guy. I usually pay my trusty neighborhood mechanic Larry to do everything car-related. But the wife needed some new windshield wipers, and I figured this was something I could handle.

Anyway, the guy in front of me in line was buying a roof rack and the cashier asked him if he was in the Pep Boys rewards program. My quick read: this guy wasn’t a car guy either, just a guy going on vacation. His response, as expected, was “no”.

Figuring the cashier would just move on, or hand him a “take one”, she instead asked him for a bunch of personal info on the spot—name, address, phone #, e-mail address —handed him a membership pamphlet and viola, he was enrolled in the program.

I’m next up in line and she goes through the same routine:

“Are you in the Pep Boys rewards program?”


“Can I have your name…addresss…telephone number…”

There was no asking me if I wanted to join the program, which I didn’t—I mean I go into an auto parts store about once a year at best. There was also no concern that with only one cashier on duty, the line behind me was now a good five-deep.

The Pep Boys program? Well, it seems okay, with some nice added benefits like free flat repair and discount towing. But I could quibble. The program is a straight cash back rewards program with funding at a fair but flat 5% for all customers. Pep Boys might consider:

• A mix of rewards, so the program isn’t all about the money

• A tiered approach that offers incremental rewards when I hit a specific spend level

• Special bonuses and perks for its very best customers

• A program that does more than enroll customers, but engages with them

My biggest concern is the auto-enroll aspect of the program, whereby you’re enrolled whether you want to be in the program or not. The long-term effect of auto-enrollment is detrimental. Because I didn’t raise my hand to join, the chances of my actual participation are greatly diminished. And ultimately, when the program participation numbers come in, it won’t reflect well on the results.

As you might have surmised, I’m a prime example of a customer who should not have been auto-enrolled. Loyalty program or not, I may never set foot into a Pep Boys again. You see, those windshield wipers I bought—they’re still sitting in the trunk of my car. They need a special adapter to be installed, and I’d just as soon have Larry the mechanic do it. Like I said, I’m not a car guy.

This post is by Tom Rapsas and originally appeared on the blog Loyalty Truth, November 2, 2010. You can reach Tom at tomrapsas@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where’s my free shot of Tequila?

As faithful Loyalty Redefined readers know, my recreational drink of choice is beer. But every once in a while, my wife and I will entertain friends over a pitcher of Margaritas on the rocks. (Salt, please.)

Many years ago a friend who knows about these things told me the best tequila for the money was Sauza Gold. Looks and tastes just like Jose Cuervo Gold—my friend says better—for a couple of bucks cheaper.

So a few weeks ago, with my supply of Sauza Gold running low, I picked up a bottle at my friendly neighborhood liquor store. Hanging from the bottle’s neck was a promo tag pitching a $2.50 refund if I filled out the form and mailed in my receipt.

Now for me, a $2.50 rebate is right at the threshold of “is this really worth my time and a 40 cent stamp?”, but I eventually mailed it in. I figured the $2.50 minus postage was the equivalent of a healthy tequila shot—so why not take Sauza up on their generous offer of a free drink?

Only I didn’t get a rebate check. Just a postcard letting me know I wouldn’t be getting a rebate because I used a PO Box as my home address—which I have to do, as my quaint little town has no home mail delivery.

The postcard listed a rewards Web site where I could check on my refund, but after entering my name and address into an online form, I got a message back saying they couldn’t identify me. I looked for another way to contact them—but there was none.

Next stop: the Sauza Web site, where there are some nice drink recipes—but again, no link or mention of how to contact anyone at the company. Unless I want to “friend” Sauza at Facebook, which is an additional step I didn’t want to take.

So here lies my conundrum: My relationship with Sauza has always been a simple one. I give them $20 and change, they give me a quality bottle of tequila in return. I would have been happy continuing this relationship for years to come.

Only, they just blew it. Through a promotional campaign that obviously had some bugs in the execution, they found a way to offer me bad customer service—when customer service didn’t even have to be part of the equation.

Suaza: as far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t have run this promo in the first place, because the bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold sitting next to you on the shelf suddenly got more appealing. But there’s still time for you to make amends.

Like all good companies these days, you should have an ear to the social networking ground listening for chatter about your brand. Sauza, are you listening?

This post is by Tom Rapsas and originally appeared on the blog Loyalty Truth, September 24, 2010. You can reach Tom at tomrapsas@gmail.com

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Discover Says They’re #1 in Loyalty. Does Anyone Care?

I saw a TV commercial for the Discover credit card the other day and they made a claim that caught my eye. It was one of those “we’re #1” declarations, in this case: We’re “#1 in customer loyalty”.

The claim was not explained during the commercial and it got me wondering: to a consumer, what does being #1 in customer loyalty really mean? Is there a benefit, implied or otherwise?

Now I’ve worked in loyalty marketing for several years, and don’t think of myself as jaded—but my initial reaction to the claim was, “who cares?” It actually got me wondering if Discover was #1 in loyalty because they had retained a lot of long-time cardholders with monstrous balances who couldn’t switch cards during these tight financial times.

So I did a little research on the Discover corporate Web site and found some substance behind the #1 claim. There it said that: “Discover Card ranked #1 in customer loyalty among leading credit card brands according to the 2010 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index Report.”

Okay, as a loyalty insider I know a little about Brand Keys. But what does this mean to a consumer? I did a little more digging on the Brand Keys site and read they measured loyalty over several categories with a “combination of proprietary psychological assessments and higher-level statistical analyses, allowing us to statistically fuse the “emotional” values with the “rational” attributes that identify the bond that exists between brand and consumer.”

Hmmm, I was still scratching my head. It didn’t appear to be anything that could remotely be translated into consumer-friendly language. Which got me questioning why the claim was made in the first place.

Customer loyalty is an end result, a desired outcome of the great product and service you offer. So rather than tell me your customers are loyal, tell me why they’re loyal—amazing customer service, lower fees, a unique add-on benefit—and how this will benefit me.

Sure, being #1 in customer loyalty sounds nice, and we do know that Discover puts a happy face on lots of consumers, but these days most people don’t want to hear corporate chest bumping—they want a brand that delivers tangible benefits, with each and every transaction.

This blog post originally appeared on Loyalty Truth, Setember 08, 2010, via creative director/writer Tom Rapsas.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The USPS – Death Spiral of an Industry?

Suppose you had a business whose sales had dropped 13% over the past year, continuing a multi-year sales decline. You’d probably look for ways to run your business more efficiently by cutting expenses. You might even consider reducing your prices to attract more business.

Well if you’re the United States Postal Service (USPS), you have a different take on what to do about a double-digit decline in revenue: you decide to raise your rates to make up for lost income, in some cases dramatically.

According to BtoB Magazine, in early-July the USPS requested that standard-mail letter rates, the kind used most often for commercial direct mail campaigns, be increased 5%. The USPS also asked that standard-mail parcel rates, used to send small-size merchandise and product samples, be raised a whopping 23.3%.

Raising prices to make up for decreasing sales? Is that any way to run a business?

Mail volume is dwindling because consumers are increasingly using electronic communications as alternatives to postal deliveries. That’s an undeniable fact. The proof: from 2007 through 2009, the volume of mail handled by the USPS fell by 36 billion pieces, a 17% decline and the greatest drop in its history.

This year, the USPS is on track to lose a stunning $6.5 billion. Yet, instead of doing something to manage expenses, the Affordable Mail Alliance reports that in 2009 the USPS managed to reduce labor costs by a mere single percentage point, 1%.

I have long been a proponent of direct mail, believing it best to give consumers a choice of communications vehicles. We’ve also seen studies showing that most people still prefer snail mail over e-mail, viewing it as a welcome respite from their clogged inboxes. But this latest plea for another price increase begs the question: At what point does it become cost prohibitive to use a communications medium whose delivery costs can run up to 100 times more than that of its electronic competitors?

I hate to say it, but maybe it’s time to consider eliminating mail—and the USPS—from the marketing mix.

What do you think?

This post originally appeared on Loyalty Truth, July 26, 2010, and is by Tom Rapsas. You can follow Tom on Twitter: @TomRapsas

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dogfish Head: Smart Marketing on Beer Money.

Suppose you’re a local craft brewery, without the marketing resources of a Coors, Miller or Sam Adams. You don’t have money in the budget for national TV commercials—or any TV spots for that matter. So how do you get the word out about your award-winning brews?

If you’re Delaware-based Dogfish Head, you make the most of your marketing dollars—by leveraging the Web and social media to help spread the word and turn casual customers into loyal fans.

Now if you’ve ever had a bottle of any type of Dogfish Head, you’ll know that this is one company that knows what they’re doing when it comes to making beer. Dogfish Head brews are consistently tasty, distinctive and often complex in flavor, with notes that are more akin to a fine wine than a beer.

So it probably comes as no surprise that these passionate brew masters have brought the same level of passion and flair to their brand marketing efforts. A few highlights that set the brand apart:

A robust Web experience—at the Dogfish site, you can read about the latest Dogfish Head releases as well as happenings at the brewery and company restaurant. What’s important here is the sheer depth of the content. Each brew—and there are lots of them—has it own page, with the story behind the beer, tasting notes and even food pairing recommendations.

An active presence on Facebook and Twitter—the key to success on both of these social sites is to keep the material fresh and interact with those who reach out to you. Dogfish Head does both and has over 55,000 Facebook followers and 18,000-plus on Twitter, impressive for a microbrew.

Its own video-rich YouTube channel—most of the videos feature founder Sam Calagione with a behind the scenes look at the brewing ingredients and process. Sam is personable, has a good camera presence and his commitment to his craft comes through loud and clear.

A community of fans—what better way to develop brand advocates than to develop a place where they can congregate and interact. At the site’s community forum, members can pontificate on issues ranging from music to home brewing to, of course, Dogfish Head’s latest releases.

On a personal note: my favorite Dogfish Head beers are the delicious 60-minute IPA, or when I’m in the mood for a more intense “sipping” beer, the raisin-infused Raison D’ Etre.


This blog originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on July 1, 2010, and is by Tom Rapsas. Tom can be reached via Twitter @TomRapsas

Monday, June 21, 2010

How To Revitalize An Aging Brand. (The Return of the Hoodoo Gurus.)

I’ve been a fan of the Australian rock band the Hoodoo Gurus since the 1980’s, when they were college radio favorites with hits like Bittersweet, Come Anytime and What’s My Scene. The group’s sound has been described as everything from power pop to garage punk to surf rock, and has aged well—at least if you consult the number of plays the Gurus get on my iPod.

The band has been under the radar in the US for a decade or more—but a few weeks ago, the Gurus put out their first new music release in several years. Titled Purity of Essence, it’s better than anything they’ve done since their heyday—a tuneful, hard rocking set that I’ll be playing loud on my way to the beach this summer. (Recommended download: I Hope You’re Happy.)

The good vibes got me thinking: How do you revitalize and market an aging brand? In this case, how would you bring to life an aging rock band that has been out of sight & out of mind for years? Should the brand image be repackaged for a younger market? Can it be done without putting a lot of money behind the effort?

Here’s my quick take on what the Hoodoo Gurus, or any mature brand, can do to make a go of it in today’s market.

*Capitalize on name recognition – Is a rebranding needed? Not here, as the Gurus name has enough cache to bring back happy memories to fans of a certain age. In rock and roll, nostalgia still rules, as evidenced by the fact geezer bands from Rush to Crosby Stills & Nash are still successfully touring. By comparison, the Gurus, now in their late-40’s, are relatively young.

*Revitalize the product – The group could have rested on past laurels with a “greatest hits” release, but instead has opted for a brand refresh—a new CD that puts a fresh new spin on their sound. This increases the chance of winning new fans as well as rekindling the interest of older ones.

*Connect with thought leaders – While the new release has received good reviews from mostly obscure music blogs (save a glowing review in allmusic.com), they need to connect with the leaders in the space. This includes Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, and of course the leading rock radio outlets including XM and Sirius. Push, push, push, to get the new CD reviewed—and played—wherever possible.

*Use social media to get the word out – Social media represents the best way to reconnect with a now scattered fan base. While the band has set up Facebook and MySpace pages, it looks like there could be more interaction from band members, especially regarding fan posts that reference old videos and shows. Make the conversation a dialogue, not just a monologue.

*Take the show on the road – There’s nothing like a live product demonstration, especially when it comes to rock-and-roll. So I recommend the Gurus dust off their passports and hit the road for a tour. If they’re anywhere near Philly or NYC, you’ll find me not far from the stage.

This post originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on June 11, 2010, and is by Tom Rapsas, a seasoned Creative Director and Loyalty Marketing guru. You can follow him on Twitter here: @TomRapsas

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Virgin Atlantic Goes The Extra Mile

I just signed up for the Virgin Atlantic loyalty program called the Flying Club. I have no immediate plans to fly on the airline. Nor do I really need another frequent flyer card, as I’ve got miles banked in three or four programs now.

The reason I joined the club is I just finished reading Business Stripped Bare, Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur, the new book by Virgin-owner Richard Branson. I’ve come away impressed with Branson’s business acumen, his marketing skills, as well as his infectious joie de vivre.

I mean here’s a guy who started in the record business and has since branched out into mobile phones via Virgin Mobile, financial services, health clubs, bio-fuel, stem cell research, health-care and even space travel with Virgin Galactic. His brand, and passion for business, truly knows no boundaries.

But, getting back to Virgin Atlantic, what might be most impressive is how he has keyed into the customer experience as the crucial element of continued loyalty. Sure, Virgin has a traditional air miles program, but Branson identified several areas he believed would offer a better onboard experience, and delivered on them.

These features, some since copied by competitors, include:

*The ability to order food from your seat on-demand, according to your schedule, not the flight attendant

*A vast choice of music and movie options, delivered to a personal entertainment screen at your seat

*Seat-to-seat chatting with friends, colleagues or the attractive woman in 9B, via an entertainment screen keyboard

*Custom designed “soothing” lighting and comfy seats

It’s a reminder that true customer loyalty is never achieved by points programs and perks alone—you also need to deliver a superior customer experience. It’s something Branson strives for across all his business lines, and has me hoping I can find an excuse to fly Virgin Atlantic soon.

This post was written by Tom Rapsas and originally appeared on the blog Loyalty Truth, May 24, 2010.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Social Media: Maybe It’s Not for Everyone.

These days, it’s just about impossible to find a social media “expert” who doesn’t recommend that your company and/or clients jump on the social media bandwagon. And why not? It really is an amazing new channel that both empowers customers and is about as close to the holy grail of 1-to-1 communications as we ever may get.

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment: Is there ever a situation where getting into social media is a mistake? Well, just maybe. There are at least a few companies on the social media scene that are taking a thumping.

I’m talking about companies that, justly or unjustly, are seen as having a less than sterling reputation when it comes to customer service. With the advent of social media, these companies have to deal with more than angry customers on the phone—they now have angry customers on the Net, with the ability to amplify their message to thousands of others, often on the company’s own social networking sites.

One vertical that seems to have more than its fair share of angry Netizens are the cable companies. Take for instance, Comcast. In a past post, I wrote about some Comcast service-related issues I was having with the cable conglomerate, but also pointed out that their Twitter presence was top-notch.

As far as I can tell, Comcast has no official Facebook presence but, as you might expect, others have filled the void. A quick look reveals two separate Facebook pages for people who don’t like the company, including “I Hate Comcast”. Yet the fact that Comcast doesn’t have its own corporate Facebook page may be a good move—especially when you take a look at competitor Verizon, who is being forced to fight off critics right on its home turf.

On Verizon’s Facebook Discussion page are threads that include “Verizon sucks” and “Awful Customer Service”. More vitriol can be found on the company’s “Fans of FiOS” page. Along with accolades, there is a steady stream of negative postings like: “Verizon has the worst customer service in the world and here are all the things I now HATE about FiOS”, followed by a 10-point list.

What’s most interesting are the responses from the “Fans of FiOS crew” (aka Verizon employees) who have the unenviable job of answering these rants. In most cases, they respond in a bright and chirpy manner that deals with the issue at hand and ignores the nastiness. But many times the FiOS crew appears to let damaging claims go unchallenged.

Here are two customer postings that did not get an official company response:

“Beware. Their billing is atrocious. Watch your bills closely, they are playing games with the bills.”
“Verizon lies again with their offers and promotion propaganda and I am not the only one. Many people on this board are not getting the $150.00 gift card that you promised when we signed up as new costumers. Explain please!!”

The query below received some polite technical advice regarding the Xbox issue, but ignored the “bill” and ”dedicated line” comments:
“This service blows I’ve been getting so much lag on xbox live…my bill is crazy high every month going up and I’m still in my one year contract…and by the way its not fiber to the home… its a shared network too… stop advertising “dedicated line” until u back it up.”

Ouch! So what do you do if you’re Verizon, now that the social media genie is out of the bottle, and you’re consistently being hammered on your own Facebook page? Well, the “Fans of FiOS Team on Facebook” recently took action. They put up a “Notice Regarding Repeat Posts on the Wall” which in part reads:

To our valued Fans,
Recently, we’ve seen a number of fans repeatedly posting questions regarding content that we’ve addressed in the past…these repetitious posts have made it more difficult to address new questions…for this reason, we have decided to begin removing repeat posts of the same topic.

So they’ve given themselves the “right to remove posts”—which could mean taking down any complaint on any issue they feel like they’ve already addressed. This is sure to tick off some fans of FiOS, who see the Facebook page as a public square—but I think Verizon has done the right thing.

At a certain point, you just can’t let your own Web pages be a platform that assists in your own demise and further damages you’re already less than golden reputation.

What do you think?

This post originally appeared on the blog Loyalty Truth on May 11, 2010 and was written by Tom Rapsas.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Giving your customers a head start.

I have a young daughter and being the competitive type she will sometimes challenge me to a race. There’s just one condition—I have to give her a head start. This is important, at least to her, because it increases her chances of winning—and seems to motivate her to run even faster than if we’re at the starting line together.

It’s something I thought about as I read a passage in Switch, the new book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They tell a story about a local car wash that ran a promotion featuring loyalty cards. Each time a customer bought a car wash, they got a stamp on their card. When the card was filled up with 8 stamps, the customer got a free wash – a concept known as punch card loyalty.

But at one point, the car wash tried something different. They gave customers a card that needed 10 stamps to qualify for a free car wash, instead of 8—except the card already had two stamps on it, effectively giving customers a “head start”.

According to the book: “The goal was the same for both sets of customers. Buy eight additional car washes, get a reward. But the psychology was different. In one case, you’re 20 percent of the way toward a goal, and in the other case, you’re starting from scratch.”

The result: those who got a head start were about twice as likely to stay in the program and redeem for a free car wash. As the book points out, it seems this group of customers was more motivated when they were partially finished with a longer journey than at the starting gate of a shorter one.

It’s something to consider in all loyalty endeavors: What if you gave new members a head-start? Would they be more motivated to stick with your loyalty program? It works with my daughter, it worked for the car wash in Switch, and it just might work for you.

This blog entry originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on April 15, 2010 and is by Tom Rapsas. Tom can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

Monday, April 5, 2010

IHG Hotel Group Grabs My Attention & My Business

Up until a few weeks ago, I had little awareness of the InterContinental Hotels Group. Known by the acronym IHG, they operate brands like Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza which are part of the Priority Club Rewards loyalty program.

The main reason IHG hasn’t been on my radar is simple: for most of the past decade, the majority of my stays were business-related and on the company dime. So to build up maximum loyalty points for personal use, I had narrowed my hotel universe to the Fairmont Hotel group (President’s Club), as well as hotels aligned with the Hilton Hhonors program.

Over the past few weeks though, IHG has come to my attention not once, but twice.

Reason #1. IHG made a brilliant marketing move. When Hilton Hotels decided to raise the number of loyalty points required for a free hotel stay earlier this year, IHG pounced. They launched a campaign for their Priority Club rewards program that called out the changes to the Hhonors frequent guest program via a contest called the “Luckiest Loser”.

The consumer who was the “luckiest loser”—the one with the most points invested in the HHonors program—won 2 million Priority Club points. Additionally, 20,000 “lucky losers” got up to 20% of their current HHonors balance in Priority Club points. Everyone else got 1,000 points just for entering.

It was a smart move —and a great use of the IHG database. It seems they had a 50 to 60% overlap between Priority Club members and those enrolled in HHonors, making it easy to target disgruntled Hhonors members. After all, these folks had seen their stake in the Hilton program shrink by 20-25% overnight.

Reason #2. IHG saved me a few bucks. Funny how when I went solo and hotel charges began appearing on my personal card, as opposed to a corporate credit card, I began looking at hotels that were, how can I phrase this, cheap. So when I was searching for an inexpensive place to stay in New York City a few weeks back, I checked the IHG corporate site—and came up with a mid-town Manhattan Holiday Inn with an eye-popping rate of under $100 bucks a night.

So what was a $100 room in New York City like? Okay, it won’t be confused with The Plaza. But while this particular Holiday Inn was a little worn around the edges, the room was clean, the bed was more than comfy and the staff was friendly. I even got a pretty good cup of coffee in the morning.

So now I’m a member of a new hotel loyalty program, IHG’s Priority Club Rewards. I’ve already received a “thank you for my stay” e-mail which was nice. And while I dearly miss the Fairmont, until the economy picks up, I’ll be pulling out my Priority Club Rewards card a little more often.

This article was originally published on March 17, 2010, on the Loyalty Truth blog and is by Tom Rapsas, a 20 year direct and loyalty marketing veteran. He can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Fan Rewards Goes for the Gold.

Does anyone remember the launch of the Discover Card? When introduced in 1985 as “the card that pays you back”, it really felt different from Visa and MasterCard. Forget the card’s super high interest rate—I was getting cash back on every purchase!

Times change and now the cash back bonus doesn’t feel quite so special, but an outfit called My Fan Rewards is putting a fresh spin on it. They’ve teamed with the U.S. Olympic Committee to launch a program called MyTeamUSA Rewards.

The program works like this: When you shop through MyTeamUSARewards.com, using any credit card, you not only earn cash back from the retailer—a like amount is given to support U.S. Olympic athletes. For example, shop at the Nike Store and you’ll earn 4% cash back, while 4% of your purchase is matched and handed over to the USA Olympic team.

The program is free and feels like a good way to tap into the emotions surrounding the country’s Olympics love fest. But the real test is coming: keeping fans interested in the MyTeamUSA program now that the Olympic torch at the Vancouver Winter games has been put out.

My take: a solid, targeted emotion-based communications program could do the trick. The key will be in getting program participants juiced not about the Olympics that just passed, but for the next Olympic games to come. (2012 in London, in case you were wondering.)

On a side note, My Fan Rewards is rumored to be expanding into the pro sports market next. It’s not a bad idea, as professional sports teams showing fans a little return love could help ease the grumbling about ever-increasing ticket prices. (Of course, let’s hope the cash rebates will be a one-way affair, and go straight into the pocket of the consumer!)

This article was written by Tom Rapsas and originally published February 28, 2010, on Loyalty Truth. Tom is a writer and creative director and a 20 year direct and loyalty marketing veteran. He can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

Friday, February 26, 2010

Is Caesars Atlantic City “Swinging” for a New Target Market?

Just a few months ago, on these very pages, I gave kudos to Caesars Atlantic City and its Total Rewards loyalty program.

During some trying times for the economy in general, and Atlantic City in particular, Caesars AC was making some smart moves to get its loyalty program members back to the casino.

Last week, Caesars AC got my attention again. But not in a good way. You see, they ran a rather bizarre full-page ad in the Sunday NYTimes magazine.

Let’s start with the photo in the ad (which can be seen above): a well-dressed 30-something guy has a pretty woman to his right. She has one hand on his shoulder and another wrapped tightly around his arm. It looks like they’re at a show. Okay so far, except our guy seems more interested in another woman to his left. He has his lips to her ear and her extended arm appears to be resting on his thigh.

Under the headline “The Life You Were Meant to Live“, the stilted copy reads:
Who is that in Section A, Row 1, Seat 5, having the time of your life? That’s Todd. Flanked by your fiery vixens. Paying no attention to your favorite band on stage. But give credit where it’s due. Todd is an escape artist. And when it’s time for a getaway, he get it’s right.


Putting aside the confusing use of the possessive “your”, who are the fiery vixens with Todd? Am I supposed to pretend I’m Todd…on some kind of a three-way tryst? Is this what they mean by “he gets it right?” More importantly, did Caesars’ market research show the ménage a trois market to be a growing demographic?

Personally, I can only think of one word for the ad – Stupid.

Instead of creating a scenario that the largely upscale readership of the NYTimes magazine might be able to imagine themselves in, they’ve come up with a fictional character in a contrived situation that’s a non-starter for anyone not in the “swinger” category.

It of course begs the question, what were they thinking? The only thing I can come up with is that Caesars AC is trying to out Vegas-Vegas.

Sorry Caesars, as much as I like you and your loyalty program, you’re no Vegas. And there are better ways to spend your precious marketing dollars.

This article was originally published on Loyalty Truth on February 15, 2010, and was written by Tom Rapsas, a 20 year direct and loyalty marketing veteran. He can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tim McGraw Strums Loyalty for My Outback Rewards.

A celebrity endorsement—for a loyalty program?

The pros and cons of using a celebrity spokesperson in advertising have been long established. The pros? A celebrity draws attention The cons? A celebrity draws attention—away from your product or service.

What’s more, as we recently saw with golfing legend you-know-who, there’s the potential downside of aligning your company with a celebrity whose reputation takes a sudden nosedive. So when I learned that restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse had signed country music star Tim McGraw as a celebrity spokesperson, I was doubly surprised. You see, his job is not to pitch the brand, but to help launch their new loyalty effort My Outback Rewards.

As explained on the Outback Web site:
Fans of Tim McGraw and Outback Steakhouse will have the chance to win exclusive Tim McGraw memorabilia, downloads, tickets to the upcoming Southern Voice Tour and VIP access, great offers from Outback Steakhouse and even a chance to travel to Australia to see Tim McGraw perform live in the Land Down Under!

Another thing that’s different about My Outback Rewards are the rules: The program has no loyalty cards, as it’s based totally online. Once users register at the program Web site, they simply collect their Outback receipts–and then record numerical codes from the receipts on the rewards site. A point is earned for each dollar spent, and points can be redeemed for prizes.

The choice of McGraw as Outback’s loyalty program spokesman comes as less of a surprise when you learn the program was developed by event marketing agency Rally Marketing Group, whose specialty is experiential marketing. In the loyalty business we’ve long talked about the value of experiential rewards. But I wondered about putting the Tim McGraw experience on the same level as the Outback dining experience.

So it was with great interest that I visited the My Outback Rewards site on the program’s January 25th launch date. Just how would they incorporate McGraw into their communications? Would he be strumming an Outback inspired tune? Be shown chomping on a ribeye or a Bloomin’ Onion®?

Well, I can say they’ve done a nice job of integrating Tim McGraw into the My Outback Rewards Web site. The site is clean and easy to navigate, they do a good job of explaining step-by-step how the program works, and they have successfully linked Tim with the Outback brand by identifying several dishes that are “Tim’s choices”.

Still, I can’t help but wonder why Outback chose to put all its loyalty program eggs in the Tim McGraw basket. An e-mail welcoming me into the program came written and signed by Tim McGraw himself. A view of the reward list shows more Tim McGraw-related rewards than Outback options. And with the program so closely linked to McGraw, I’m left wondering if they have a fall back plan should the unthinkable happen.

I personally think Tim McGraw seems like a stand-up guy. Who doesn’t love his wife Faith Hill? And I really think they’ve done a beautiful job with the My Outback Rewards site. But in some ways the whole thing sure feels closer to a Tim McGraw loyalty program than one for Outback.

This article originally appeared on the Loyalty Truth blog, 1/29/10, and was written by Tom Rapsas, a 20 year direct and loyalty marketing veteran. Tom heads up Creative Services at Hanifin Loyalty and can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Six Myths of Customer Loyalty

Was attending a conference recently on Loyalty, and came across an interesting presentation from the team at Corporate Executive Board, outlining the myths of customer loyalty. This of course is based on extensive global research and inputs provided by leading firms, and offers a refreshing perspective.

Am also elaborating on each of the myths with a summary interpretation and perspective

Myth 1: A satisfied customer is a loyal customer : Proactive v/s reactive being the key message

Myth 2: Loyal efforts help you retain business, not acquire new business : Principles of WOM (word of mouth) shall prevail at all times, hence the benefits of customer loyalty in generating new business, though possibly not clearly measurable at all times, definitely works

Myth 3: Loyalty efforts should focus on the attributes that customers say are most important : Functional attribute requirements arising from customer / consumer dialogue and research are important. The tipping points however lie in the latent emotional support and benefits.

Myth 4: Enrolling a customer in a loyalty programme will result in loyalty : Logical.....

Myth 5: Developing personal relationships with customers is the best way for sales to drive loyalty : Personal relationship is par for the course. Making the extra effort in understanding the client's business drivers, goals & objectives, and even challenging the client is what makes the difference.

Myth 6: Employees who don’t face customers cannot affect customer loyalty : EVERYONE contributes and can make a difference. Enhancements in invoicing design can make an impact as much as a smiling sales executive.

Am also going to be shortly publishing another listing of myths in the context of loyalty programme design, but in a lighter vein

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Social Edge

Tasti D-Lite, the New York Ice Cream Parlour Chain, has launched a unique social twist to its loyalty programme.

Now it's loyalty customer base can earn extra points by allowing Tasti D Lite to send out tweets on their Twitter and Foursquare accounts. Customers can earn an extra point every time they purchase ice creams at Tasti D-Lite!

A novel and interesting twist on leveraging the power of social networking to the advantage of both the brand and its loyalty customer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Napolean Hill, Chris Brogan and The Year Ahead.

Over the recent holidays, my friend Bill Hanifin pointed out a post written by the person arguably at the forefront of the whole social media movement, Chris Brogan. In the post, Brogan said, “People are slowing down to turn their thoughts to family and to their own development, and to what worked and what didn’t in 2009. Not me.”

While he did leave an escape hatch for those choosing to bail out during the holidays, “You don’t have to do it this way”, Brogan was working as hard as ever, holidays or no holidays.

It got me thinking about Napolean Hill, author of the classic Think and Grow Rich. Although it was first published in 1937, the book’s message about gaining monetary success through hard work, determination and positive thinking, still rings true today. The popularity of the book endures as well, as it ranks in the top 1,000 books on Amazon.

What a lot of people may not know is that in 1967, three decades after the publication of his magnum opus, an 80-year old Hill put out a book with a more expansive view of the role of work in our lives. Its title: Grow Rich—with Peace of Mind.

While offering many of the same valuable lessons on self improvement as Think and Grow Rich, Hill adapted his message to basically say, grow rich—but have a life, too. We’re not talking 4-hour workweek here, but Hill did suggest we “make a time budget”.

Spread out over a 24-hour day, his time budget looks like this:

* 8 hours a day for sleep and rest
* 8 hours a day for work at your business or profession (but as your success grows, less work)
* 8 “particularly precious” hours “devoted to things you wish to do, not have to do”

Hill’s suggested list for the final 8 hours includes: “play, social life, reading, writing, playing a musical instrument, tending a garden, or just sitting and watching the clouds or the stars.” (I would add “spending time with family.”)

Hill further amplifies the point with this passage: “Do not let a day go by without taking some time for yourself — some time you spend in pure pleasure, as you see it.” He adds, “With increasing success, increase your hours of pure enjoyment, do not allow these hours to be eaten away by business or anything else.”

God bless Chris Brogan, he’s an inspiration to all of us. But there’s something to be said about the whole work-life balance thing. And while I have personally set business goals for 2010, following Hill’s lead, I’ve set leisure ones as well.

The bottom line: Sure, let’s get rich. But let’s not forget that success is measured by more than the balance in our bank accounts.

This article was originally published on Loyalty Truth on January 11, 2010, and was written by Tom Rapsas, a 20 year direct and loyalty marketing veteran. He can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tiger, Accenture and a celebrity endorsement gone bad.

Editors Note: This article originally appeared on Loyalty Truth on December 13, 2009. A few days later Accenture announced they had broken ties with Woods.

For me, the most compelling question to arise from the tawdry Tiger Woods scandal isn’t whether his wife will leave him, but whether his corporate sponsors will. In particular, the management consulting company Accenture.

We’re not talking energy drinks or golf shoes here, Accenture is a starched white collar Fortune Global 500 firm that, excuse the analogy, is figuratively in bed with Tiger. In the words of Accenture’s own Web site:

Since 2003, Tiger Woods has been the centerpiece of Accenture advertising. As perhaps the world's ultimate symbol of high performance, he serves as a metaphor for our commitment to helping companies become high-performance businesses.

A metaphor for your commitment to helping companies? Well Accenture, I’m thinking that right now Tiger Woods is not exactly the paragon of commitment.

Yet, a visit to accenture.com a full week after the scandal broke revealed he is still gracing the company’s home page. The headline, over a big color image of Woods apparently looking for a misplayed shot, reads: "Opportunity isn't always obvious." Which, like virtually any headline used with Tiger these days, can be followed up by a punchline. (Sure, opportunity isn’t always obvious. Sometimes you have to go to the back room of a Vegas lounge to find it!)

Naughty behavior is always a danger when using a celebrity as your spokesperson. But the fact is, when using a celebrity, even one as previously squeaky clean as Woods, you’ve got to be prepared for a worse case scenario. In this case, I think it would have been smart for Accenture to put Tiger on the shelf for at least a few weeks or months until the scandal blew over

Accenture’s TV commercials used to end with the line “Just another day in the life of a Tiger”. And if that becomes the perception of the company’s attitude toward the Wood’s scandal—that they’ve chosen to ignore the negative implications of being tied to the Tiger—Accenture is going to turn off more than a few current and potential clients.

Tom Rapsas is 20-year direct and loyalty marketing veteran and heads up Creative Services at Hanifin Loyalty. He can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas.