The 2019 holiday season just ended.
So, why are we already talking about holiday 2020?
Loyalty played a major role for the successful retailers during this past holiday season. And building or revamping a successful loyalty program takes time.
If your goal is to compete on more than just price during the holidays, the time to start thinking about loyalty is now.
Here’s what you need to do quarter-by-quarter to make sure your new program is ready in time for the holiday season.
Q1: Loyalty Program Planning and Analysis
Whether it’s a revamp, relaunch, or your first loyalty program, the first quarter should be used to plan and analyze.
This involves figuring out what you want to do and why.
Define what you’ll build. What types of benefits will you offer?
The best loyalty programs offer a mix of transactional and experiential benefits.
Here are some steps to consider:
Determine Your Loyalty Program Goals
It’s critical to understand your goals so that your program is built to match and so you can measure against the right KPIs.
To help with this, create an internal checklist that answers the following questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- What do we want from it?
- And what are our goals?
The goals can be different for every company.
While increased engagement is a common goal with any loyalty program, another goal could be around data. For example, collecting first-party data about your customers’ preferences and pain points to make your program more personalized and valuable.
It’s important to make sure you have a clear vision so that everyone is on the same page. If company officials aren’t aligned on the same goals, it becomes impossible to measure program success.
What Do Your Customers Want from Your Loyalty Program?
Next, think about what your best customers want. Put them at the center as you’re thinking through everything else.
This is the time to do a deep dive into your customer data.
Think from the perspective of your customers.
- What are their habits and preferences?
- What pain points can you alleviate with this loyalty program?
- What would make their experience more convenient or rewarding?
You can find some of this information in reports and data from second- or third-party sources, but it’s best to use your own first-party data since your customers are unique to your brand.
Talking to your data team about demographics and personal preferences is a great place to start. Conducting surveys or interviews with your customers is even better.
This helps paint a fuller picture of their worlds and how your loyalty program fits in.
Evaluate Your Internal Resources
Every company is different in terms of size and resources, so it’s important to take stock of your own house before putting anything in motion.
Assess your organizational readiness. (This step should be done throughout all stages.)
Internal buy-in must be there from the start and at every key juncture along the way.
For example, this means figuring out your current technology, marketing, and in-store resources. If you’re an omnichannel retailer, do you have the resources to train in-store associates to get customers excited about the program?
If you want to offer a premium loyalty program where customers are paying for membership, do you have a billing engine and customer service department? Do you know how to source the benefits?
Does it make sense to work with an outside loyalty partner?
Even though a partner does a lot of the heavy lifting, there is still a people and time commitment for your brand.
The best thing to do is create a small loyalty team committed to your loyalty program. This team should include representation from IT, a program manager, product, and brand.
This group will act as the internal loyalty evangelists for the entire process (and beyond).
Q2: Loyalty Program Build
Now that you have a clear sense of purpose with your loyalty program, it’s time for your brand to define test markets and marketing details.
This quarter also is when you map out a specific timeline with a project plan that spells out roles and responsibilities.
Develop Your Loyalty Program Marketing Plan
These are some of the questions that need to be answered:
- Where will we market?
- How will we market?
- When will we market?
- How do we define our success KPIs?
While a loyalty partner will help you develop a marketing plan and creative assets, you still need to know where your customers are and when to reach them.
If you’re mostly an e-commerce retailer, email campaigns, social media ads, and influencers might define your strategy.
If you’re an omnichannel retailer, you need to think about in-store signage, ads at checkout, and a training program for your associates.
Build Your Loyalty Program Timeline
At this point, you’re into the second quarter, so you need to make sure to stick to the plan and launch in time.
This is where project managers on both your side and your partners’ side (if you’re working with a loyalty partner) need to develop a timeline to follow.
- Develop a project plan outline each step.
- Define roles and responsibilities.
- Commit resources to different parts of the project, like IT, marketing, and reporting.
Build Your Loyalty Program
This is one of the most critical periods because this is when the actual program should be built to keep everything on schedule.
A huge benefit to working with a loyalty partner here is the alleviation of a lot of heavy lifting.
It is often unrealistic for brands that build their own programs in-house to complete this step in one quarter.
There is a tremendous amount of resources, especially on the IT side, that goes into physically building the program.
But for loyalty companies that specialize in it, the time to build it and launch is much quicker.
Your resources are likely better spent on running your business.
During this process, it’s important for your small team of loyalty evangelists to communicate the vision, progress, and launch plan across the company.
This can consist of tech-to-tech talks, sharing marketing plans, and KPI outlooks.
Not only is this important to keep everyone on the same page, but it gets people across the company excited.
Loyalty truly is a mindset and it’s important for everyone to buy in to the culture from top to bottom.
After all, how can you expect your customers to be excited about the program if your people aren’t?
For a loyalty program to be successful, it’s important that everyone is excited within your company because loyalty needs to be a company-wide mentality.
And if you’re working with a partner, make sure there is constant communication there as well.
From a service level agreement with operations & customer service, to reporting expectations from the analytics team, no one should feel in the dark.
Q3: Piloting Your Loyalty Program
Quarter three is exciting because all the plans are in place and your loyalty program is built.
Now that your loyalty program is planned and built, this is the crucial time to pilot launch in a specified number of stores/locations.
Loyalty Program Training
Internal and frontline teams are trained on program details and how to service the program.
Store associates making the offer and explaining the program need to know what they’re talking about.
It’s critical they understand the benefits of it and how to effectively sell it to customers.
This makes all the difference.
You can have the greatest program in the world, but if you can’t get customers excited about it, or explain it well, they’ll never have the chance to experience it.
Launching the Pilot
Once you’re confident that your company is prepared, it’s time to launch the pilot.
Put the program into market, monitor KPIs, refine and fix anything that didn’t meet KPIs.
For example, if your program didn’t exceed the number of planned joins, why is that?
Was there enough store signage?
Were your store associates properly trained and excited about the program?
Is the program simple enough for your customers to understand?
The pilot phase is extremely important because it allows you the chance to correct any bugs before rolling it out across your whole brand.
That’s why it’s critical to start this entire process now.
Q4: Loyalty Program Rollout
Congratulations! Your program is live.
This is a big milestone! Stop, take a breath, and enjoy it.
Now get back to it.
A lot of work went into launching your program, so the celebration is warranted.
But, now that you’re live, it’s how your brand manages the program after the launch that will determine its future.
Reassess your road map to see what’s working, what’s not working, and adjust accordingly. Evaluate for your future road map and remember to always think about loyalty program optimization to make enhancements.
Now that you launched your program to all markets, it’s time to test and optimize.
While a big part of this is testing marketing to acquire new members, make sure to optimize communication with existing members.
Testing your messaging will help ensure current members engage more and stay in the program.
And begin thinking about what else you can add to the program.
Evaluate member feedback and evolving business goals. This will allow you to prioritize new features.
Adding to the program over time keeps the program current and helps you avoid a costly relaunch in the future.
Q1 to Infinity: Always Focus on Your Customers
It’s easy to say that if you follow these steps, you’ll have a successful program launch. But one thing that always holds true is this:
Focus on your customers and you will see positive results.
If you’re thinking of launching a loyalty program in time for the 2020 holiday season, the time to start is now.