Everyone loves a playground

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Michael Leis
Michael Leis

I can still remember the felt sign with white plastic lettering on the counter of our local savings and loan, counting down the remaining days of the Christmas Club, a program that allowed bank customers to put away a little money every week so they could really splurge once a year.

Banks have changed drastically since then; they're much more focused on the convenience of ATMs as opposed to encouraging customers to save every week. Banks understand that as a culture, we're much more addicted to the fun of now rather than the far-away promise of a better future.

Yet loyalty programs, with few exceptions, keep trying to be the “bank” that even today's banks don't want to be as they continue to encourage customers to save points generated from transactions for future upgrades.

What if, instead of treating loyalty programs like a bank of old, we treated them like a playground?

Think about the dynamics of a playground; it's a space created specifically for people to come together and interact. The equipment is designed to make us feel safe while we are having fun, giving us the opportunity to meet friends and have something to do together.

Today's few thriving loyalty programs do this well. They create a space where a customer's positive behavior is encouraged and rewarded separate from the sales transaction. Customers' voices are amplified and reflected in social media and they get a thank-you in the form of loyalty points for any action that benefits the brand.

Think about the choices and surprises that Groupon is built on. The first thing a user does is decide what they're interested in by category. From that point on, it's nothing but daily surprises from retailers offering deep discounts. Email, social networks, mobile devices and the Web are simply channels of distribution. Look at the difference in who talks to the brand when you offer an opportunity to collaborate on a photo album as opposed to a free shipping offer. Even adding a sharing element to a typical giveaway can generate 10 times as many “likes."

People are eager to engage with brands that give them the immediate ability to share a bit of their best selves with their friends, even (and sometimes amazingly) if it's at their own expense. It's our job as direct marketers to create this virtual playground, and give our audiences the equipment to regularly share that social capital instead of saving it up over a long period of time in a solitary relationship between their lives and our business.

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