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Keeping it Real: The Key to Loyalty Program Retention

According to recent studies, more than 75% of Americans belong to some type of rewards program, and most consumers have multiple loyalty program memberships.  The question is: how do you capture consumers and keep them coming back for more?  With the news of the Durbin Amendment capping debit swipe fees and many banks cutting the free perks consumers have grown used to, like rewards programs, now there’s even more of an opportunity for other loyalty and rewards programs to step up to the plate.

When we created Swagbucks in 2008, we weren’t trying to change consumer behavior; we wanted to reward them for actions they were already taking every day. The concept of Swagbucks.com evolved from our team’s previous experience building online loyalty and reward programs for some of the biggest names in sports, entertainment, and charity sectors.  We set out to create a trusted destination on the Web for people to earn branded virtual currency, with real world value, redeemable for significant rewards. 

Today, Swagbucks.com is ranked among the top 125 most trafficked sites in the United States and top 700 in the world by Alexa.com. At last count, the site gets more than three and a half million monthly visitors and will award over 10 million dollars in prizes in 2011. But we didn’t get here overnight. It was an evolution that came from listening to consumers coupled with some good old fashioned trial and error. 

Swagbucks is powered by Prodégé, a provider of branded and incentivized reward portals. In 2006, Prodégé launched the first “Search & Raise” charity portals, allowing charities to fundraise by having supporters perform internet searches.  By early 2007, Prodégé began launching private label search and win sites for a variety of brands, from sports properties like the Green Bay Packers and World Wrestling Entertainment to music groups like KISS. Users searched the Web and each search was a chance to win an instant prize or sweepstakes entry for a grand prize.

Prodégé then introduced SearchWinMerch.com – the first phase of Swagbucks.com. Enter the “Swag Buck” – introduced onto the partner search and win sites and SearchWinMerch.com, replacing the sweepstakes and instant win features.

The opportunity to create Swagbucks.com in its current incarnation came because research indicated that consumers loved the concept of earning rewards for every day internet activity but they’d rather earn something that helps them save money and maximize their dollar rather than band merchandise.

Today, users register for free on Swagbucks.com and then start earning “Swag Bucks” for participating in local daily deals; taking online polls; playing free online games; surveys, special offers; printing coupons to redeem at a local grocery store; searching the web through the Swagbucks search engine; watching video content on Swagbucks TV; trading in used books, cell phones and electronics; and more.

On our Swagbucks journey, we learned a few lessons that have helped us to better understand our members, and subsequently, continuously grow our membership:

  • Keep it simple. Who says you have to work hard to be rewarded?  Swagbucks users are earning virtual currency from the comfort of their own couches. And one of the reasons they keep coming back is because we aren’t asking them to do anything more than what they are already doing every day like shopping online and searching the internet. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Earning rewards shouldn’t feel like a chore for the consumer, it should be an added bonus. 
  • Offer valuable rewards. We’ve heard it time and time again from our members – people want valuable rewards that help them save money such as gift certificates to sites like Amazon.com gift cards and PayPal cash. Know your audience and cater your rewards to them. Some of Swagbucks’ biggest fans are moms and teen boys. That’s why we’ve stocked our Swag Store with products that can help moms defray costs for their families, such as school supplies or kids’ apparel, and new gadgets and video games that teens love.
  • Give members a reason to come back – every day. Sweeten the rewards pot by constantly engaging your loyal members with special contests and games. Swagbucks.com runs daily games and promotions, including trivia contests and Swag Code Hunts that provide users additional ways to earn more Swag Bucks.
  • Engage members on social media. Keeping members engaged in your rewards program goes beyond just directing them to your website. We’ve created unique opportunities to reward people for using social media, and as a result, we’ve seen our social media following grow exponentially.  Facebook is an excellent way to incentivize your rewards community to offer insights and tools to other members – and earn rewards for it.  On Twitter, we incentive users by setting up online treasure hunts and providing Swag Bucks as a reward.   These strategies allow us to organically add thousands of fans and followers on Twitter and Facebook each day.

We’ve all signed up for a loyalty program, earned some points or currency and then forgotten about it. So how do you ensure that yours is the program that keeps consumers coming back? While there’s no magic answer, beginning by listening to your members and not being afraid to continue to iterate your program based on their needs will take you one step closer to success. 

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