This is the age of the consumer. In essence, consumers now dictate to brands how they should operate if customer loyalty is the ultimate goal.
Loyalty360 talked to Martin Hood, Senior Vice President of Channel Sales for Virtual Incentives, about various topics, notably the sophistication of customer experience and customer loyalty initiatives, the customer journey, and opportunities for loyalty marketers.
How sophisticated are the customer experience and customer loyalty initiatives of most brands today? From the very nascent stages of considering a program to the ability to assess and integrate an array of complex new technologies that create consistent and seamlessly connected programs, where do brands exist along this spectrum? And where is this headed in the future?
Hood: We believe brands will constantly adjust their loyalty programs to meet the needs of their customers in whatever shape, form, rules structure, etc. They need to move the business forward. There will be analytics, testing of the right reward or rewards to make their product sticky, real-time responses to behavior that work to engage with the brand, and communications to continue the behaviors brands are looking to motivate.
The winners are those who utilize the modalities that allow their customers meaningful engagement that leads to purchasing and participation in a loyalty program for repurchase. The strategy is relatively the same: The right product, the right message, and the right incentive at the right time. So, you need data, analytics, insight, and most importantly, a platform for delivery that is device-agnostic and performs in real time.
Can you define what the phrase “customer journey” means to you? What does it mean to brands? And how do you see it changing?
Hood: Customer journey is, and always will be, relevant in marketing. If you understand the journey the customer takes to become aware, be influenced, and motivated to engage and ultimately purchase your product, then you can positively influence the process. For brands, this need to understand the journey will never change. However, what will change is how their customers absorb and consume information, conduct product comparisons, search for ways to increase their perceived value of the purchase decision, make the purchase, and continue to purchase in the future.
Our role is getting out in front of this for our clients, by taking on initiatives like the Future of Rewards study, and pushing technologies so brands can stay current with what and how consumers will be influenced. Some of these critical touch points are at the time of purchase, participation in a research study, the exchange of old products, on-site recognition, etc., and most importantly, the flexibility when it comes to taking advantage of rewards immediately.
What is the single most important thing that you have done (or do) over a period of engagement (say a year) that helps clients increase customer loyalty?
Hood: We are not just a virtual incentive company, nor a technology company. We are much more. While our solutions ultimately take place in a small moment of time in that customer journey, the impact is significant. We recognize the importance between when the reward is earned and the need for a tailored reward experience to create the most impact. We have put in place Client Success Teams to work with our clients to monitor, report, and provide actionable strategies and executions to improve the performance of their rewards. In addition, we are constantly evolving our solutions, based on the aggregated learnings from all of our customer programs and product innovation efforts. The results are new or enhanced offerings that are focused on one thing: Making rewards more rewarding for both the recipient and the customer.
What are the biggest opportunities / challenges for brands and marketers today? If you could recommend one thing to a client (or prospective client), what would it be?
Hood: I will not go too deep into security, that could be its own Q&A session, but clearly that is a significant challenge or concern for consumers now, and as we head into the future. The consumer demand for freedom and flexibility to control many aspects of our lives inherently opens up a consumer’s data to risk. So, the biggest opportunity is to capitalize on meeting the real-time, on-the-move demands of consumers, while protecting the data. As a technology first company, we’ve implemented security protocols and continue to innovate in ways that ensure that our virtual solutions are executed with the security interest of our clients and their customers in mind.
And another topic I would suggest all marketers, and especially marketers that leverage consumer data, pay attention to is the shift that will inevitably happen where consumers take complete control of their data. The day that we as consumers will monetize our own data is not too far away. In fact, it’s already started happening in many forms. Something for all of us to keep an eye on.
What does your road map look like?
Hood: We have advanced and continue to advance our platform to enable delivery and how the incentive is received to accomplish the engagement our clients are looking to obtain from their customers. Our API integration allows brands to execute their programs effortlessly. Being marketers ourselves, we believe in building branded relationships, so we also have ensured that companies can personalize and customize their incentives to deliver that branded experience all the way to the finish line.

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