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8 min read How to Create a Loyalty Program that Drives Repeated Business

How to Create a Loyalty Program that Drives Repeated Business

Key Takeaways

  • Effective loyalty programs are built on deeply understanding customer behaviour. Data collection will be crucial in the first stages of creating one.
  • Great loyalty program rewards are attractive and personalised – though there are many different types to suit different types of businesses.
  • The best loyalty programs tap into the psychology of customer loyalty – using emotional attachment, value perception, and habit formation to grow.

If busi­ness­es want to thrive in com­pet­i­tive e‑commerce spaces, cus­tomer loy­al­ty pro­grams are the way to go. In today’s mar­ket, cus­tomers have a vast num­ber of shop­ping choic­es and can switch brand loy­al­ty at the click of a but­ton. As a result, it’s more cru­cial than ever that busi­ness­es fos­ter stead­fast loy­al­ty among customers.

Whether your busi­ness is a hum­ble start-up look­ing to make its mark or a larg­er well-estab­lished busi­ness want­i­ng to revi­talise its approach to cus­tomer engage­ment, loy­al­ty pro­grams can be transformative.

In this guide to loy­al­ty pro­grams, we’ll explain how you can cap­ti­vate the hearts and minds of your busi­ness’s tar­get audi­ence. We’ll do this by delv­ing into the psy­chol­o­gy of loy­al­ty pro­grams and inves­ti­gat­ing how dif­fer­ent types are suit­ed to dif­fer­ent businesses.

Stay tuned as we dive into the foun­da­tions of loy­al­ty pro­grams so that your busi­ness not only dri­ves repeat­ed pur­chas­es but also nur­tures deep and last­ing con­nec­tions with your customers:

Why are loyalty programs so effective?

There are sev­er­al ways loy­al­ty pro­grams improve cus­tomer engage­ment. Here are the top 10:

  1. Loy­al­ty pro­grams incen­tivise cus­tomers to return, increas­ing reten­tion rates and reduc­ing churn.
  2. Repeat cus­tomers often spend more over time, con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly to rev­enue.
  3. These pro­grams pro­vide insights into cus­tomer pref­er­ences and buy­ing habits, data which enables tar­get­ed mar­ket­ing.
  4. Reward­ing cus­tomers for their loy­al­ty enhances their over­all sat­is­fac­tion and expe­ri­ence with the brand.
  5. Sat­is­fied, loy­al cus­tomers are more like­ly to rec­om­mend a brand to oth­ers, expand­ing its reach.
  6. A well-designed loy­al­ty pro­gram can set a busi­ness apart in a crowd­ed market.
  7. By reward­ing loy­al­ty, busi­ness­es can build stronger emo­tion­al con­nec­tions with their customers.
  8. Data from loy­al­ty pro­grams can be used to per­son­alise mar­ket­ing and shop­ping expe­ri­ences, increas­ing rel­e­vance and appeal.
  9. Loy­al cus­tomers often become brand advo­cates, pos­i­tive­ly influ­enc­ing oth­ers through their endorsements.
  10. Insights from loy­al­ty pro­gram data can guide busi­ness deci­sions, from prod­uct devel­op­ment to cus­tomer ser­vice improvements.

Evi­dent­ly, loy­al­ty pro­grams don’t just improve cus­tomer engage­ment. They also pro­vide invalu­able assets that busi­ness­es can use to refine their strategies.

There­fore, loy­al­ty pro­grams can be seen as a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial tool for both busi­ness­es and cus­tomers. While these pro­grams offer cus­tomers tan­gi­ble rewards and increased val­ue per­cep­tion, busi­ness­es gain repeat pur­chas­es and col­lect insight­ful data. Con­se­quent­ly, loy­al­ty pro­grams can be seen as a win-win strategy.

The psychology of loyalty programs

Before you can design pro­grams that res­onate with cus­tomers and forge long-term loy­al­ty, it’s cru­cial that you under­stand the psy­chol­o­gy of cus­tomer loy­al­ty. In short, cus­tomers become loy­al to brands through 1) emo­tion­al attach­ment, 2) per­ceived val­ue, and 3) habit for­ma­tion.

1) Emotional attachment

Cus­tomers stay loy­al to brands that evoke pos­i­tive emo­tions or res­onate with their per­son­al iden­ti­ty. When a brand aligns with a cus­tomer’s val­ues or self-image, it cre­ates a strong emo­tion­al bond. Loy­al­ty pro­grams can cap­i­talise on this by per­son­al­is­ing rewards and expe­ri­ences, mak­ing cus­tomers feel under­stood and valued.

In addi­tion, brands may be able to tap into the self-image of cus­tomers (and pro­mote their loy­al­ty pro­grams) through social media engage­ment, design, prod­uct range, and influ­encer col­lab­o­ra­tions. It’s about shar­ing the same inter­ests, pref­er­ences, and pain points as tar­get­ed groups.

2) Perceived value

Cus­tomers are drawn to brands that offer them val­ue beyond the prod­uct itself. This val­ue can be tan­gi­ble (like dis­counts or free­bies) or intan­gi­ble (such as exclu­sive access or status).

Loy­al­ty pro­grams that offer mean­ing­ful rewards rein­force the per­cep­tion of val­ue, encour­ag­ing repeat pur­chas­es and long-term commitment.

3) Habit formation

Con­sis­tent engage­ment with a brand can turn into a habit, espe­cial­ly when rein­forced by rewards. Loy­al­ty pro­grams that offer con­sis­tent and pre­dictable rewards can encour­age habit­u­al pur­chas­ing. These pro­grams can also use ele­ments of sur­prise or lim­it­ed-time offers to keep the expe­ri­ence fresh and engaging.

These psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors are impor­tant to under­stand because they can be used to design effec­tive loy­al­ty pro­grams. In con­clu­sion, your pro­gram should aim to cre­ate a rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tion­ship where cus­tomers feel their loy­al­ty is acknowl­edged and reward­ed, rein­forc­ing their emo­tion­al attach­ment and per­ceived value.

Different types of loyalty programs

Before you start design­ing your loy­al­ty pro­gram, con­sid­er the fol­low­ing dif­fer­ent types. The right one for your busi­ness will depend on your com­pa­ny’s cus­tomer base, offer­ing, and model.

Loy­al­ty pro­grams aren’t one-size-fits-all; so, it’s impor­tant to con­sid­er the dif­fer­ent types before cre­at­ing your strategy:

1. Point-based loyalty programs

In point-based pro­grams, cus­tomers earn points for pur­chas­es or actions (like social media shar­ing) which they can redeem for dis­counts, gifts, or exclu­sive offers.

Pros: Easy to under­stand and pop­u­lar among cus­tomers; encour­ages repeat purchases.

Cons: Can become unin­ter­est­ing if not refreshed with new rewards or challenges.

This type is most pop­u­lar with retail and e‑commerce busi­ness­es with fre­quent, short-term pur­chas­es (e.g., fash­ion, and beau­ty products).

2. Tiered loyalty programs

In tiered loy­al­ty pro­grams, cus­tomers ascend through tiers based on their spend­ing or engage­ment, unlock­ing greater rewards at each level.

Pros: Fos­ters a sense of achieve­ment and exclu­siv­i­ty; encour­ages cus­tomers to spend more to reach high­er tiers.

Cons: Can be com­plex to admin­is­ter; low­er tiers may feel too dis­tant from top-tier benefits.

This type is best for high-end retail and ser­vices with long-term cus­tomer rela­tion­ships (e.g., lux­u­ry goods, airlines).

3. Subscription-based loyalty programs

In sub­scrip­tion-based pro­grams, cus­tomers pay a recur­ring fee to access exclu­sive ben­e­fits, dis­counts, or products.

Pros: Pro­vides a steady rev­enue stream; aligns with cus­tomers seek­ing pre­mi­um experiences.

Cons: Risk of sub­scrip­tion fatigue; not suit­able for all types of busi­ness­es or cus­tomer segments.

Busi­ness­es offer­ing a range of prod­ucts or ser­vices that cus­tomers use reg­u­lar­ly (e.g., spe­cial­i­ty food and bev­er­ages, groom­ing prod­ucts) are best suit­ed to this pro­gram type.

4. Paid loyalty programs

Paid loy­al­ty pro­grams typ­i­cal­ly ask for a one-time or annu­al fee that gives cus­tomers access to exclu­sive ben­e­fits, often includ­ing free ship­ping and spe­cial discounts.

Pros: Imme­di­ate rev­enue boost; attracts seri­ous and com­mit­ted customers.

Cons: Can deter cus­tomers who don’t want to pay upfront with­out expe­ri­enc­ing the benefits.

This pro­gram type is best suit­ed to online retail­ers with high ship­ping costs or those offer­ing high-val­ue prod­ucts (e.g., elec­tron­ics or home goods).

5. Value-based loyalty programs

Val­ue-based loy­al­ty pro­grams link rewards to char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions or social caus­es – typ­i­cal­ly those that align with cus­tomer values.

Pros: Builds emo­tion­al con­nec­tion and brand loy­al­ty; aligns brand with social responsibility.

Cons: Less direct incen­tives for pur­chas­es; requires align­ment with caus­es that gen­uine­ly res­onate with the cus­tomer base.

This pro­gram type is pop­u­lar with brands that have a strong eth­i­cal mis­sion or cus­tomer base which is pas­sion­ate about social caus­es (e.g., eco-friend­ly prod­ucts, and social enterprises).

6. Coalition loyalty programs

Coali­tion pro­grams are born out of part­nered busi­ness­es that want to offer their cus­tomers a wider range of rewards.

Pros: Access to a wider cus­tomer base; shared mar­ket­ing costs.

Cons: Requires coor­di­na­tion and agree­ment between dif­fer­ent busi­ness­es; rewards might not be as tai­lored to your spe­cif­ic customers.

This pro­gram is best suit­ed to busi­ness­es seek­ing to expand their reach and will­ing to col­lab­o­rate with com­ple­men­tary ser­vices (e.g., local busi­ness col­lec­tives, trav­el, and hos­pi­tal­i­ty industries).

7. Game-based loyalty programs

Game-based pro­grams incor­po­rate game mechan­ics (like chal­lenges, and leader­boards) into the loy­al­ty program.

Pros: High­ly engag­ing; cre­ates fun and inter­ac­tive cus­tomer experiences.

Cons: Can require sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment in app devel­op­ment; not all cus­tomer seg­ments may find it appealing.

Brands tar­get­ing a younger demo­graph­ic or those in the enter­tain­ment, lifestyle, and tech sec­tors are best suit­ed to this type of loy­al­ty program.

Each type of loy­al­ty pro­gram offers unique ben­e­fits and chal­lenges. The key is to align the pro­gram with your busi­ness objec­tives, the nature of your prod­ucts or ser­vices, and the pref­er­ences of your cus­tomer base.

How to create an effective loyalty program

Cre­at­ing an effec­tive loy­al­ty pro­gram is a mul­ti­fac­eted process that involves strate­gic plan­ning, tech­no­log­i­cal inte­gra­tion, and effec­tive mar­ket­ing. Here are the cru­cial steps you’ll need to fol­low to cre­ate a loy­al­ty pro­gram that res­onates with your customers:

Step 1: Understand your audience

Before design­ing a loy­al­ty pro­gram, it’s cru­cial to under­stand your cus­tomer base. First, analyse cus­tomer data to iden­ti­fy pur­chas­ing pat­terns, pref­er­ences, and behav­iours. These insights will help tai­lor the pro­gram to meet the spe­cif­ic needs and desires of your customers.

For exam­ple, you might find that a younger demo­graph­ic is more engaged with a dig­i­tal, app-based pro­gram. In con­trast, an old­er audi­ence may pre­fer tiered rewards or a tra­di­tion­al point-based system.

To ensure data col­lec­tion and analy­sis run smooth­ly, you might require the assis­tance of a data ana­lyst or a Cus­tomer Rela­tion­ship Man­age­ment (CRM) sys­tem. What­ev­er method suits you best, it will be fun­da­men­tal that your pro­gram meets the needs, pain points, desires, and pref­er­ences of your audience.

Step 2: Define clear goals

Next, it’s time to deter­mine what you want to achieve with your loy­al­ty pro­gram. It might be that you want to increase aver­age order val­ue, cus­tomer reten­tion, or cus­tomer acqui­si­tion through referrals.

Hav­ing clear objec­tives will guide the struc­ture of your loy­al­ty pro­gram and help in mea­sur­ing its suc­cess. For instance:

  • If your goal is to increase pur­chase fre­quen­cy, your pro­gram could offer rewards that are redeemable on the next purchase.
  • If you aim to increase aver­age order val­ue, your pro­gram could offer dis­counts once a bas­ket reach­es a cer­tain value.

Clear goals will make it real­ly straight­for­ward to mea­sure the effi­ca­cy of your pro­gram and also guide every strate­gic deci­sion in the process. If these are strong from the begin­ning, the rest of the process will be much easier.

Step 3: Choose the right type of program

As dis­cussed above, there’s no one-size-fits-all loy­al­ty pro­gram. Con­sid­er the pros and cons of each type and select one that aligns with your busi­ness mod­el, its cus­tomer base, and their preferences.

You might pre­fer mix­ing pro­gram types, offer­ing both points-based and sub­scrip­tion-based options.

Step 4: Leverage technology

Tech­nol­o­gy plays an essen­tial role in mod­ern loy­al­ty pro­grams – and it could be your best friend dur­ing this process.

First­ly, util­is­ing a Cus­tomer Rela­tion­ship Man­age­ment (CRM) sys­tem to gath­er cus­tomer data will be cru­cial. Trac­ing cus­tomer pur­chase pat­terns and inter­ac­tions will be invalu­able to per­son­al­is­ing the loy­al­ty expe­ri­ence – so don’t for­sake this step.

Anoth­er handy bit of tech is a ded­i­cat­ed loy­al­ty pro­gram soft­ware that can inte­grate with your e‑commerce plat­form. This will make it much eas­i­er to track cus­tomer actions, reward redemp­tion, and mon­i­tor how well your pro­gram is performing.

Speak­ing of apps, cre­at­ing your own loy­al­ty pro­gram app could be instru­men­tal in tak­ing yours to the next lev­el. Apps offer con­ve­nience, push noti­fi­ca­tions, and gam­i­fi­ca­tion – not to men­tion appeal­ing to the younger generations.

Step 5: Create rewarding experiences

The rewards your pro­gram offers should be both attrac­tive to the cus­tomer and sus­tain­able for the busi­ness. They can range from dis­counts, free prod­ucts, exclu­sive access to new prod­ucts, or expe­ri­ences that align with your brand.

It’s cru­cial that the process of earn­ing and redeem­ing rewards is straight­for­ward and trans­par­ent, as cus­tomers will be put off if things are over-com­pli­cat­ed or deceptive.

In addi­tion, it’s an appeal­ing touch if you can per­son­alise rewards where pos­si­ble – e.g., birth­day discounts.

Step 6: Market your program effectively

Once your loy­al­ty pro­gram is ready, it’s time to mar­ket it to your cus­tomer base and beyond. For this step, utilise your web­site, social media plat­forms, and email mar­ket­ing to announce and explain the pro­gram. You may also like to use tar­get­ed ads or influ­encer part­ner­ships to pro­mote your new program.

To appeal to the self-image and pref­er­ences of cus­tomers, make sure you cre­ate attrac­tive visu­als and easy-to-under­stand con­tent that out­lines the ben­e­fits of join­ing the program.

Once launched, the pro­gram should be inte­grat­ed into the cus­tomer jour­ney. I.e., prompt­ing cus­tomers to join the pro­gram after their first pur­chase with an imme­di­ate reward.

Last­ly, make sure your cus­tomer ser­vice team is trained to under­stand the pro­gram thor­ough­ly so they can help cus­tomers use it optimally.

Step 7: Continuously improve

Once your loy­al­ty pro­gram is up and run­ning, it will need to be con­sis­tent­ly mon­i­tored and improved over time. For this last and ongo­ing step, you can use cus­tomer feed­back and data to refine the pro­gram and keep it fresh and optimised.

Mar­kets are always chang­ing; so, be open to mak­ing adjust­ments. In the future, you may choose to tweak the rewards or rede­vel­op the app. As your busi­ness grows, it may also be nec­es­sary to upgrade your CRM sys­tem or app infra­struc­ture – but it should be scaled accordingly.

Final thoughts

With the right blend of data, tech­nol­o­gy, cre­ativ­i­ty, mar­ket­ing, and cus­tomer-cen­tric strate­gies, your loy­al­ty pro­gram can become a sig­nif­i­cant asset that builds long-last­ing cus­tomer relationships.

An effec­tive loy­al­ty pro­gram requires a deep under­stand­ing of your cus­tomers, clear objec­tives, attrac­tive and per­son­alised rewards, and a com­mit­ment to con­tin­u­ous improvement.

By fol­low­ing these steps, busi­ness­es can devel­op a loy­al­ty pro­gram that res­onates with cus­tomers, offers mean­ing­ful rewards, and encour­ages ongo­ing brand advocacy.

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