That was one of the questions posed to Virtual Incentives CEO Jonathan Price during an engaging interview with Loyalty360.

Price, who participated in a compelling interview with Loyalty360, offered some eye-opening views on the future of rewards and customer loyalty.

As Virtual Incentives tracks the changing needs and demands of consumers for receiving rewards, where is the Future of Rewards headed? What trends do you see emerging today (into 2018? 2019?) and where do you see customer loyalty headed?
Price: At Vi, we have been putting incentive design and delivery at the center of everything we do for our clients and their recipients. Since we founded the company almost a decade ago, we have built our products to meet the choice, flexibility, and virtual delivery needs that the market has demanded. Now, we’re making additional strides to add to our product road map by fielding a national research study to understand how consumers value and respond to rewards and incentives.  

We always knew that rewards needed to be virtual, but the early results of our recent Future of Rewards study, conducted in partnership with Koski Research, Lenny Murphy of Greenbook, and Ask Your Target Market (AYTM), has reinforced our commitment to providing choice and flexible electronic delivery options. We all recognize the shift in consumers using non-traditional payment methods, but what we’ve learned to pay extra close attention to is how these shifts are influencing their demand for virtual options. Per the Future of Rewards study, consumers are now placing the greatest value on reward types that can be received instantly and digitally.   

As it relates to loyalty, we found it fascinating how much incentives are now influencing choice in brand purchase. We believe in the power of a brand at Vi and recognize that consumers are still brand conscious, but now more than ever are willing to try new products and deviate from traditional brands. The data showed that following price, an incentive along with reviews were the top reasons for making a purchase decision. We know the power of reviews, especially when it comes to online purchase behavior, but we did not expect that consumers would indicate that the incentive was one of their top influences in making their purchase.

We are just beginning to dig into the data, but are going to focus our efforts around developing engagement vehicles for rewards that meet the channel preferences, influence in choosing a brand, and in a relevant form of currency to consumers.

Consumers overwhelmingly prefer to get their rewards digitally with fast access to spend immediately. How does Vi create solutions/technology to address that?
Price: We were the first, or certainly one of the first, to recognize the shift to virtual rewards several years ago. Our platform and product solutions are developed 100 percent from the knowledge that incentive recipients then, now, and more importantly in the future, will want choice, flexibility, and instant access to spend their incentive when and where they want. Our platform of physical and virtual card offerings, along with the ability to personalize the electronic delivery, have made our solution a winner for our customers and their recipients.

The next generation of reward-seekers (Millennials) are earning incentives in a new, digital way. They are significantly more likely than all other generations to earn rewards through playing video games (36 percent). How have virtual rewards disrupted the gaming industry?
Price: This is some of the more exciting work we have been doing over the past year. We have an industry leading API and the ability to create interesting incentive solutions that are built to align with the behavior gaming companies are looking to incent−playing more of their games. Our solutions need to allow an incentive offer that does not disrupt the gaming experience, while in real time connects the incentive to the consumer when engaged with the game. We are even working on how to integrate incentive opportunities into the actual game environment, which will allow for a more natural experience while motivating some additional time spent playing the game.

It’s not just cash–with consumers placing high value on the instant nature of digital rewards. What’s the current standard and how will the demand for “instant/real-time” rewards continue to progress in the future?
Price: We, the incentive industry, have argued about cash or non-cash rewards for what feels like forever. I believe that as cash becomes even more ambiguous and we transact more electronically, we will eventually meet the consumer mindset in the middle as it relates to a reward or incentive. It is simple: Give them the flexibility to electronically take advantage of their incentive and put it to use immediately. You could call that cash, virtual gift card, virtual Visa, or MasterCard, etc. … but it is about the delivery in electronic form with the ability to direct their spend now.

Incentives have the power to sway consumer decisions. What are the best examples of “futuristic” incentive programs that you’ve seen tip the balance in a brand’s favor to win over (loyal) consumers.
Price: As I mentioned about gaming, our belief is the closer you can connect the incentive opportunity to a consumer’s brand experience and simultaneously deliver the reward, this is the most powerful use of an incentive. We have seen this in gaming and significantly in retail, hospitality, research, and energy and across most categories, making it a universal truth.

What do some of those experiences look like? It’s providing an incentive during the gaming experience, at a retail store (online or physical) when the purchase decision is being made. We witness the use of mobile devices to not just receive an incentive, but to engage with the brand to redeem the incentive, such as taking a picture of a product consideration and being rewarded when a purchase is made. We have accomplished great strides in our technology to make these experiences actually happen. We think the next few years are going to be a major tipping point toward more engagement, more choice, and an increased role in how you deliver the incentive−even surpassing the incentive itself.

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