The loyalty mutual-benefit admiration society

Just as we all do, I’ll occasionally get a song running through my head. This morning, it’s classic Beatles: “I am he . . . as you are me” – and not because these lyrics rhyme with “loyalty,” but because, philosophically, we are all together.

The appropriate rhymes came to mind while thinking about a continuing trend in loyalty marketing, moving from the “me” of program rewards and privileges to the “we.”

Used to be, rewards were all about the individual. I get a free seat. I get to move up to first class. I get a nifty free gadget. There were logical extensions from “me” rewards to “we” rewards: I earn a dinner for two, I get a family pass to a theme park, that sort of thing. But we’re seeing further extension of the “we” in programs today, reflecting that, indeed, you are “me,” and we are all together.

Here I’m talking about more than just purely altruistic reward-catalog redemptions – donations to charity, carbon offsets and so on. Yes, those are on the rise, as well, but keep in mind that the trend toward altruistic rewards in traditional programs may be more in the offering than in the redemption. Colloquy recently conducted a study comparing loyalty marketing perception among specific US consumer segments. Among some of the study’s surprising findings were when we asked consumers to point to the primary beneficiary of their redemption events, about 90 percent pointed to themselves. I get a free seat; I get a nifty gadget.

Instead, I’m talking about what might be called mutual-benefit rewards, and they take many forms. For example, a newcomer to the field is Lifespring Health, coalition program combining health and personal finance that launched in June 2007. When you shop with its 300 online retail partners at the coalition website, or when you use the Lifespring Health Rewards credit card elsewhere online or in the bricks-and-mortar world, you earn points that can be redeemed against any of your chosen health and wellness benefits. Apply your points to, as examples, a Health Savings Account, paying for gym memberships or a personal trainer, elective procedures your health insurance might not otherwise pay for, or health insurance premiums.

The “we” in this program is both implicit and explicit. Implicitly, if you stay healthy, all who depend on you benefit. That’s a literal and figurative tug at the heartstrings. Explicitly, you can gather up family or like-minded friends for mutual benefit.

“It’s not just you getting involved,” Lifespring Health’s Adam Bashe tells me. “It’s you and your family, or it might be ten people you go biking with every Saturday.”

The coalition is constructed around the concept of social community, both for marketing and for member benefit. The more people in your Lifespring Health community, the greater the earning power.

Lifespring Health is in the mold of the Upromise coalition, which rewards participants with 529 college savings program contributions – and in a we-are-all-together approach, grandparents and uncles and even friends of the family can designate that their points be applied to the 529 of a youngster not in the immediate household.

These programs address specific corporal needs – got to pay for health care, got to pay for college – but they also reflect loyalty-marketing awareness of appealing to the human need for altruism.

In general, throughout loyalty programs, the appeal is likely the selling point. I, as a consumer, may not redeem for an altruistic reward, but I might think more fondly of a program that is caring enough to make that redemption option available in the first place.

Take a look at your program to see how you might weave “we” rewards into your redemption mix. That family pass to a theme park I mentioned before? Allow your members to donate that redemption to an organization for underprivileged kids. But keep in mind our study results. That family pass very likely will stay all in the family. Yet, just by supplying such “opportunities,” you are rewarding self-esteem to your program members.

After all, we’re all in this together – a fact that forces me to end this missive with two thoughts: Have a good day, world. And goo-goo-g’joob.

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