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Loyalty360 Digital Roundtable: Connecting with Members During the Holidays



The saying goes, “It’s better to give than to receive,” but what if you could do both? As businesses enter the holiday season and look for ways to boost revenue and gain new customers, using loyalty strategies and rewards becomes a win-win. But how can brands best use rewards programs to generate sales, boost brand advocacy, and gain new fans during the busiest time of the year?  

Loyalty360 spoke with supplier members for their insights and perspectives on ways brands should best incorporate loyalty programs into their holiday sales plans, as well as ways to overcome the challenges involved with keeping consumers engaged in the efforts.

Leveraging Loyalty to Capitalize on Holiday Sales
It’s no secret that many businesses make the most revenue during the holidays. Brands can leverage their loyalty programs to capitalize even more on holiday sales.

Natasha Janic, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Loyalty Management at Salesforce recommends using loyalty programs to stand out from other seasonal sales, saying, “The holidays are the perfect time to bring the magic to your most valuable customers.”

She states that while most brands are offering deals and discounts to all of their customers this time of year, relying on that alone isn’t enough to differentiate your program. Brands should think about what would make life easier for their members who may be shopping for friends, family, and even themselves during the holiday season. Things like early access to products that will be in high demand, exclusive holiday events or free gift-wrapping services are extra perks that will be meaningful to loyalty program members.

“This is also a great time to collect zero-party data,” she adds. “Ask your customers who they are shopping for this holiday season in exchange for bonus points or early access so that you can curate personalized shopping recommendations based on those responses.”

The economy is fresh in the minds of those at Baesman, pointing out that consumers are spreading their spending and looking for the best deals during the holiday season.  It’s all about value and getting the best price so customers can gift and give what they want without sacrificing their inflation-burdened budgets.

Says Director of Client Services, CRM & Loyalty Cassie Preston, “There’s never been a better time for brands to remind customers about the value and added benefits their loyalty program offers to customers. Promotional efforts surrounding loyalty will go a long way this season, too. Offering bonus points can be a nice way to secure a bigger basket from your existing loyal members, while a first purchase discount aimed at acquiring new members can be a great way to capitalize on the high traffic holiday months.”

Zsuzsa Kecsmar, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer & Head of Partnerships for Antavo, recommends businesses integrate their loyalty program into their holiday marketing strategy. “For instance, the design and front end should be changed to reflect the season,” she says, adding, “There should also be some form of limited edition, holiday-centric reward campaign, featuring a unique gamification event, or surprise email campaign that heavily uses personalization. Brands should keep in mind that though this requires a lot of planning, effort, and resources, it’s a one-time only deal, and the benefits of attracting new customers (and capturing their data) offsets this long-term.”

“Due to mass adoption during the pandemic, ecommerce and social commerce will continue to achieve massive growth,” explains Katie Berndt, Senior Director, Strategy, at ICF. “Brands who have more robust loyalty programs will have more levers available to drive even more growth.”

Additionally, she recommends incorporating cross-channel loyalty promotions that reward preferred behavior (downloading or using a mobile app, storing credit card, using co-brand card or buy now pay later, using new service such as buy online pick up in store) as they will have a larger pay-off in the long-term as members may be more apt to try something new, saving money where they can. Developing a measurement and test plan for CRM campaigns with global holdout groups can also attribute revenue to proper channels and offers.

First-Party Data Crucial During Holiday Sales Tracking
With many customers making gift purchases during the holidays, it can be a challenge to keep personalized content and messaging relevant. There are times when a consumer purchases a gift and will continue to receive irrelevant recommendations based on that purchase. Brands can use data analytics, and they can especially use first- and zero-party data tactics to remedy this challenge.

“There’s nothing worse than buying a gift for someone who has completely different interests and then having to weed through endless digital ads and emails when the brand has assumed you are their next potential advocate,” says Berndt.

By investing in a declared data strategy that includes short quizzes that help point members toward the perfect gifts while capturing this data in a robust preference center, brands can encourage customers who make purchases during the holiday season to explicitly indicate if a recent purchase was a gift for someone else (or a gift for themself). The more declared data that can be captured and leveraged in conjunction with transactional and behavioral data, the more distinct customer segments can be built and used for a more personalized CRM strategy in the months that follow the busy holiday season.

Preston agrees, stressing the importance of first-party data during the holiday season when traffic patterns aren’t just loyal existing customers, but also gift-givers buying for others.  She recommends collecting data that indicates whether a purchase may be associated with a gift. “Have your store associates ask customers if they’re buying for someone and collect that data at the point of sale. Then personalize your marketing efforts to those gift givers and consider how you may treat them differently within your marketing campaigns.” 

Keeping the Momentum Going Post-Holiday
Brands may see several new customers during the holiday season. However, keeping these new customers engaged after the holidays and into the new year can be a challenge.

“Holidays are a great time for brands to build new connections with first-time customers,” says Bindu Gupta, Senior Director, Strategy, at ICF. “The key to continuing to build the relationship with these customers is to onboard them effectively through a strong communication strategy via customers' preferred channels. A robust preference center is very crucial here to capture not only communication preferences but also to collect valuable and essential zero-party data to boost personalization.”

Preston agrees, saying, “The retail environment during the holiday season is a ripe opportunity to acquire new, loyal members into your program. New member nurturing campaigns are important to implement so new members have a safety net of relevant brand touch points after the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over.”

She recommends collecting key data points from new members at the first point of sale – not just email address or phone number, but critical pieces of data to help personalize their experience.  It’s also important for brands to remind new members of their benefits and communicate the value of the program early and often.

Janic also suggests brands get to know new customers right away by incentivizing them to complete their profiles and using that data to send personalized content throughout the season such as “curated charcuterie boards for your hostesses, the most anticipated game releases for your gamers.”

In a customer’s lifecycle, securing the highly coveted “second-purchase” is the key to building brand loyalty. Says Kecsmar, “If a customer comes back for a second time, it’s more likely they would stay for a third. As such brands should think of ways to re-engage customers with new year offers, or have built-in features that act like loose ends, tempting new members to come back.”

For example, if there is a prize wheel feature, customers are likely to come back and spin it with the tickets they received for their holiday purchases. If they win a coupon on the prize wheel, it plants the seed for them to buy again.

Brands can further encourage post-holiday visits by running a promotion during the season that rewards members with a little something for themselves in January. “It’s all about maintaining consistent engagement and continuing to learn more about these new members,” adds Janic.

Making Holiday Rewards Memorable and Meaningful
Using innovative rewards or “gifts” for loyalty members during the holiday season encourages loyalty and is a way for brands to build a more emotional connection with their customer base.

Rewards and gifts are important during the holiday season, but so is the presentation. Says Kecsmar, “We’ve seen some of our clients come up with creative ways to reward their customers during this time of the year, like a magic ball that dishes out randomized rewards (similar to prize the wheel, but program members don’t see at all what kind of rewards are in it), or a holiday calendar we all had in our childhood, where customers received a different kind of gift, reward or content each day.”

‘Tis the season for shared values and appreciation, so don’t underestimate the power of saying “Thank You” to your loyalty program members.

“There are ways to do this that aren’t simply offering deep discounts on Black Friday or Cyber Monday,” says Lauren Sutherland, Senior Strategist at ICF.

The organization has seen brands recognize member loyalty with a year-end-review message of thanks, offer early access to holiday-centric merchandise, increase the reward earning potential of their members for a limited time, top off points so members can reach the next reward or tier-level, donate to a cause that aligns with both their brand and members’ values (allowing them to choose from a handful of organizations makes it more personal), or offer to match members’ charitable donations or enable them to donate or gift loyalty points.

At Baesman, Preston says more brands are moving toward a catalog-like redemption of rewards options, where members can redeem their points for items in the rewards catalog.

She explains, “Maybe it’s a $5 reward for some, while others choose to use their points on specific product the brand offers. This approach really plays into the concept of customer-choice and this ability for members to feel like they can design a program that rewards them the way they want to be rewarded for their loyalty to a brand. Expect to see more brands allowing the option to give points as a charitable donation to a cause or non-profit this holiday season.  The name of the game is ease of use – if it’s simple for customers to donate their points or use them for a variety of types of rewards, they are more likely to redeem in that way.”

Janic also stresses the need for options, noting that it starts with knowing what is meaningful and important to members. “This is the perfect time to create more emotional connections,” she says. “Some great rewards include making a donation to a customer’s charity of choice, a special shopping event post-holiday so they can spoil themselves, or experiences that they can enjoy with their families during the holiday season, like cookie baking kits, or movie night packages with hot chocolate, popcorn and more.”

It is also a great time to bring external partners into the program to help bring some of these experiences to life: vouchers for travel in the new year, exclusive access to the theater or ballet, or early access to a new Christmas movie on a streaming service.

Engaging Your Most Valuable Fans with Members-Only Rewards
Member-specific campaigns and benefits are great ways for brands to showcase the importance of their most loyal customers and remain top of mind during the busy holiday season. Perks like free shipping and early access encourages customers to shop your brand first.

“Holidays can be a stressful time for consumers,” Gupta points out. “Brands should focus on addressing key pain points to make their members' lives a bit easier.”

These perks can include free shipping, free trials, exclusive or early access to special events, personalized gift guides, surprise gifts, last-minute gift ideas, and donating points to charity. She adds, “In addition, offering discounts or buy one get one free on subscriptions (one for you and one for a friend) and gift cards (buy $100 for a gift and get $25 for yourself) are great ways to show appreciation during the holiday season.”

“Offer exclusivity to your members,” advises Preston. “Don’t just say it’s member exclusive – make your member-only campaign, offers, and benefits things that actually feel exclusive and special to your members.”

Simply offering a members-only discount isn’t enough. But offering a discount plus early access to a popular giftable makes members feel like they’re getting something special and exclusive for being a member.

“Free shipping is a fan-favorite reward type during the holiday season” notes Kecsmar. “Some brands even extended access to free shipping during holidays (making it available for all program members instead of keeping it as a gold-tier perk), just to lure in new customers.”

Another worthwhile tactic is introducing limited edition gifts like designer items or making high-value benefits like free shipping more accessible for a few weeks in order to capitalize on the shopping spree, and then return to default once the holiday season is over.

“When there are a lot of great promotions going on for all customers during the holiday season, it can be challenging to find something special for your members,” says Janic, though she agrees that perks like free shipping and extended return periods are table stakes when it comes to the holiday season.

“Black Friday sales started back in October this year. Brands need to focus on the experience of the season and get creative with what they are offering their most valued members,” she adds. “This can be something that makes their shopping day easier – free coat check so customers don’t have to carry their coats through the mall all day, a complimentary coffee lounge for top tier members to recharge, a virtual holiday concert hosted on your website, or a virtual cookie making class. There are so many ways to engage your most valuable customers this season that extend far beyond the sales and discounts they are seeing everywhere.”


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