Neiman Marcus sweet rewards target loyalty

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Recently, this caught my eye (and watered my mouth): "Choose from renowned favorites from the chef, such as Classic Creme Brulee, Coconut Cream Pie, and Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake."

That's not from a menu but from the Neiman Marcus InCircle customer-appreciation program Web site. When InCircle members redeem points for certain items, InCircle throws in a dessert reward of its own: 500 bonus points.

Consumers likely will perceive this offer as an incentive freebie. Loyalty marketers will see it for the well-planned strategy it is: part of the rules of engagement.

In the parlance, engagement is company-customer interaction. Engagement isn't just transaction; it's participation. When customers are engaged, they're specifically aware of your company, they consciously decide to do business with you, they feel that they are recognized and listened to, and, ideally, they communicate satisfaction to others.

The Neiman Marcus InCircle bonus-point promotion employs a two-pronged engagement/participation strategy.

First, it promotes action with classic marketing tactics: a March 1 deadline incentive, something free and the "good-toward-your-next-purchase" device. The actions promoted are participation and redemption.

When customers redeem, they realize the value of participation, mentally and materially. Case studies indicate when customers redeem, they are more apt to remain program participants and increase their activity.

Second, it seeks to engage by leveraging "something for free." This reward pushes the customer toward the next redemption. Here's where the comparison to the classic "good-toward-your-next-purchase" coupon doesn't do justice to additional point allocation. The "next purchase" is not a purchase at all: It's the next redemption. But to achieve that next redemption, the customer must continue to conduct business with you.

Of course, 500-point freebies here and there won't by themselves keep an affluent shopper from returning to Neiman Marcus. In loyalty marketing, such efforts are almost always part of a larger engagement campaign, pursuing dialogue and participation.

You must engage the customers in a dialogue by listening and responding with relevant, regular communications and offers.

Relevance has multiple forms. In the context of redemption, relevance means "Can I actually earn this reward soon? Eventually?" Providing multiple redemption levels is critical.

High-value redemption items establish dreams. Lower-value items establish program accessibility. Customers can redeem after a short time, which gets that redemption or participation cycle working more quickly.

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