Offline Loyalty Firm Moves Online

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With the launch of its 24k Gold Points this week, global travel, hospitality and marketing services giant Carlson Cos. asserts that it is leapfrogging competitors such as in the integrated loyalty space.

The root of this claim is that Carlson's Gold Points are already firmly entrenched in offline stores. This is the reverse of the MyPoints.coms of the world that are working to break out of cyberspace and establish themselves in supermarkets and other real-world establishments.

Carlson is a veteran loyalty marketer. Curt Carlson launched the company's Gold Stamps in 1938 to compete with S&H Green Stamps, which also moved online with its S&H currency earlier this year.

24k Gold Points essentially brings together Carlson's offline Gold Points program with its newly launched, a lifestyle portal that allows consumers to earn points by booking travel, shopping online and finding entertainment.

Carlson's experience will make all the difference for merchant partners looking to acquire, retain and grow customers, according to Murad Velani, executive vice president and chief operating officer at 24k Gold Points, Minneapolis.

"We've run loyalty programs for Fortune 500 companies for the past 60 years. We've figured out loyalty offline, the hard way," he said.

The army of online competitors does not intimidate Carlson Cos., as these companies' currencies are merely one-dimensional customer acquisition tools, Velani said.

"In the past 12 to 24 months there has been a large increase in the number of online loyalty programs, but they're really just customer acquisition vehicles," he said. "People are realizing online companies have 'allowed me to get eyeballs, but has it built me a relationship?' "

Offline Gold Points can be earned at many of the popular chains within the Carlson family, such as Radisson Hotels & Resorts and T.G.I. Friday's. The program has more than 4 million members and a presence at more than 1,500 offline locations.

By leveraging the chains the company owns or has relationships with, Carlson can create greater incentives for consumers, Velani said. "We've got cruise ships, restaurants and hotel rooms -- the type of inventory that allows us to give a huge multiplier back to the consumer because we don't have to buy it."

The newly launched will offer consumers relevant offers and content tailored to consumers' needs. For example, if they book a ski trip, they will be presented with offers for ski equipment. They earn Gold Points for all of their activities on the site. The company partnered with Net Perceptions, BroadVision and OrderTrust to create the site.

To promote 24k Gold Points, Carlson is launching a direct marketing campaign next week. All 4 million-plus Gold Points members will receive information about the program by either an e-mail or direct mail. The message will alert members that they now can earn points online.

The company is testing a 100-point bonus for a sign-up offer with a cross-section of its database. Others will receive no offer.

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