Championing the loyalty champions

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Loyalty marketers view customer engagement with loyalty programs at three levels of success: participation, multiple participation and advocacy.

Now, generally the advocacy the marketers seek is word-of-mouth promotion of the corporate product and, ultimately, the corporate brand. But we ran across a recent example of an important though little-considered variant of consumer advocacy-word-of-mouth promotion of the loyalty program itself.

In certain ways, a loyalty program is a "product" in and of itself. Just as conventional marketers must strive to complete the rising arc of acquisition/retention/advocacy (read "first purchase/multiple purchases/brand word-of-mouth"), so too must loyalty marketers urge program members to "buy" (read "redeem and benefit") the program once, then "buy" multiple times and then ultimately tell friends and colleagues, "Hey, you have to get in on this."

After all, if no one knows about your loyalty program, or if members aren't fully aware of the benefits that participation brings, you lose most, if not all, program leverage.

That's why I was delighted to learn about advocacy strategies employed by the Vitality initiative, offered by Destiny Health, a Chicago-based provider of group health insurance.

A wellness program that employer groups can offer to employees, Destiny Vitality uses tried-and-true incentive strategies. Employees who engage in healthful activities, participate in health education or achieve certain goals (weight loss, smoking cessation, etc.) earn "Vitality Bucks," which can be redeemed for rewards. It is very much a classic loyalty incentive program, motivating health (and lowered insurance costs) rather than purchase.

The Vitality program employs two advocacy-based self-marketing tactics that I admire:

A formal Vitality Champion program . Vitality does more than just hope for advocacy-it incentivizes it. Certain program participants, including early adopters and those who have lead in talking up the initiative to other potential participants, are designated as program champions.

"We provide the champions with tools and incentives to promote the program to co-workers," Stuart Slutzky, vice president of product development of Destiny Health, said. "And we've had great success-employer groups that have adopted Vitality Champion see more uptake and usage of the wellness incentive program."

By recognizing and rewarding those who pioneer the effort, Destiny Health simply and easily motivates further advocacy. This effort, something of a loyalty program within a loyalty program, has been operating for about a year.

Workplace delivery of rewards . "We used to deliver rewards to members' homes," Mr. Slutzky said. "But now we deliver them to the work site. Opening up that iPod or even a plasma TV has great impact on their colleagues, who will want to know how they can get such rewards."

Hearing about the payoff of participation is one thing. Seeing it-and being able to touch it-is quite another.

Interestingly, the source of that second tactic was a suggestion from within the Vitality Champion program.

Of course, to engender such advocacy, you must have a compelling, well-designed program in the first place. Strong rewards and an attractive value proposition, a transparent earn-and-burn structure, multiple Vitality Status tiers that incentivize increasingly healthful engagement-all these elements make me a champion of Vitality Champion. It's a great tactic that, hey, you have to get in on, too.

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