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Great reward experiences turn customers, channel partners and employees into brand fans. Here’s how to make it happen.


Technology has made the world a more experiential place. Think about it. We’re constantly searching, sharing, communicating and checking-in using apps, platforms and responsive websites. Increasingly, we can’t tell the difference between an online conversation with a chatbot, and a human being. Digital technology is shaping our reality in some truly extraordinary ways.

For brands, this ‘always-on’ digital phenomenon takes relationship-building to a whole new level of experience; what marketers will know as the omni-channel experience. Today, when we encounter a brand instore, we expect its online presence to be engaging. Not to mention, seamless and social.

Creating reward experiences that are involving and immersive is key to building brand affinity. Here are five ways to ensure that your brand’s loyalty is won through reward experiences that surprise and delight:


1. Get personal

Gather as much data as you can about the people you are rewarding. Demographics are a good start, but don’t stop there. Behavioural analytics will give you greater insight into what your customers, channel partners and employees really want, and what kinds of rewards will work best. The more nuanced your insights, the more likely you are to foster authentic connections; connections that resonate with people because they are personal and meaningful.

Personalised emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates
Source: Experian


2. Play the generation game

Never before have there been as many generations represented in the global workforce than right now. From Baby Boomers, through Generations X, Y, and Z, knowing how to reward people in these different age groups begins with an understanding of what motivates them.

Currently, there is a marked focus on Millennials in the workplace. By 2020, Millennials will be the largest generation in SA’s workforce, representing over 50%.
Source: Fin24

Yet, while it is true that Millennials are the largest generation in the global workforce today, many people working in human capital and talent management fail to consider generational diversity in their reward strategies – at the cost of employee engagement, and even retention. 

Being attuned to each generation’s unique values, attitudes and beliefs goes a long way to structuring rewards for personal preference and likeability within the different generational groups.

So, while rewards linked to social and environmental causes may be suited to the Millennial mindset, they may not hold the same appeal to Baby Boomers, who love prestige, power and promotion. For this group, gift cards and luxury travel score high on personal reward wish-lists.


3. Give a reward rush

Mistakenly, people think that dopamine – the chemical associated with the brain’s reward centre – is released once we receive a reward when, in fact, dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward. This is an important piece of information if you’re using rewards to motivate specific behaviours among your customers, channel partners and employees.

It is vital that you draw sufficient attention to your rewards, and well in advance of the action you want people to perform for your rewards.

There’s one industry that applies this knowledge, brilliantly.

South Africa’s tyre fitment market is characterised by two peak sales periods annually, both of which coincide with school holidays – and the road trips they give rise to. The first is between June and July, and the second, between December and January.

In the run-up to these periods, traditional media, such as radio and television, are flooded with ads promoting free gifts, special offers and rewards linked to tyre sales and fitment. With the right rewards on offer, and ample time in which to advertise them, the notorious grudge purchase that is vehicle tyres, can be overcome.

Goodyear South Africa and its distribution network, Hi-Q, have been using pre-loaded gift cards as a reward mechanism for over two years, to great effect. Which effect, specifically, you’re wondering? Simple. The anticipatory rush of dopamine in the brain.


4. Micro joy

People love rewards. Even in situations when there is no guarantee of receiving a reward, people will still experience pleasure, simply anticipating the possibility of getting a reward. Truth is, our brains are wired for rewards.

For marketers, micro rewards are a great way to establish relationships with prospective and new customers. Why? Because of a behavioural construct psychologists call, reciprocal loyalty.

The logic goes like this: Give someone something and they will feel indebted to do something for you, in return.

This construct of human exchange has been employed by advertisers and marketers for years. From free face cream and samples attached to women’s magazines, to kiddies’ toys contained within cereal boxes.

Today, the digital equivalents of these ‘freebies’ can make for cost-effective loyalty rewards. From free e-books and vouchers to downloadable music and games, the options are almost endless and the volume rate exponential, thanks to digital distribution.


5. Way to go

Here’s another learning from behavioural science that can be put to use by marketers looking to boost loyalty using rewards: Nudging.

In a study conducted by Columbia University on the relationship between rewards and human effort, researchers observed the behaviour of customers participating in a coffee rewards program. The reward formula was simple: purchase ten coffees and get your next one, free. What the researchers found is that when customers were given two ‘bonus’ stamps on their loyalty cards, their purchase behaviour changed.

They bought coffee more frequently, effectively earning their eleventh free coffee, faster. The bonus stamps made customers feel as though they had already made progress – two coffees’ worth – and that they were much closer to their end-goal: getting a free coffee.

What’s the takeout? Showing people their progress towards receiving a reward sets off a release of dopamine, in anticipation of that reward. Also, introducing nudges – perceptual prompts – that make people feel as if they are closer to achieving their goal can increase their rate of purchase and/or productivity.

Leveraging these experiences in your reward strategy will go a long way to winning the loyalty you want for your brand. The more we learn about neuroscience and human behaviour, the better geared we become to deliver reward experiences people love. Ultimately, it’s how we can turn customers, channel partners and employees into brand fans.


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