Over the weekend I purchased two things from two different stores, of no more than $30 in value, and on both occasions I was asked if I wanted to sign up to their club card/rewards club/loyalty program or whatever they called it. On both occasions, I refused. I did this without knowing a single thing about these programs. Sitting here today, I’m wondering why their attempts didn’t work on me, and probably hundreds of others.

Loyalty programs or clubs seem so common place these days that I think it’s why we all screw our noses up when the nonchalant sales person follows their script or the prompt on their screen, and asks us if we’d like to sign up. Being a ‘member’ also doesn’t make you feel special anymore. It feels more like a licence to be marketed to, which we all know is the real reason behind a loyalty program, but does it have to be so obvious?

We’re also a lot more careful where we put our details, thanks to the many breaches of our privacy that continue to occur.

Worse still, there are plenty of loyalty programs that don’t always reward loyalty. Sometimes the members of the programs don’t know they are members of the programs, or think they are but actually aren’t.

I think the concept of a loyalty program has been so over-utilised or badly utilised we’ve all forgotten what it really means. A customer’s loyalty is invaluable, and companies should work hard to get it, and keep it. But some of that passion seems to be gone.

For example, if I’m a loyal drinker of a certain wine, a discount is good. (And this is where the standard loyalty program usually ends). A free gift every 12 months is surprising. A ‘first taste of the new vintage’ opportunity is special. Being sent the new summer restaurant menu the day after the chef signed it off, is exciting (and upselling at its best). Inviting my friends to a ‘members only’ ticketed function is exceptional.

Today’s loyalty programs need to be different. Just having one is no longer a differential.

Loyalty programs also require back-up marketing – they won’t survive on their own. For example, posters or Point of Sale material throughout the store explaining the benefits; a feature area on the website homepage; and reinforcement by sales staff (not just ‘do you want to sign up?’).

Staff need to be actively promoting the program, but with some initiative thrown in there too. If my face is familiar, sell me the loyalty program. If I have wandered around the store for half an hour before deciding what to buy, I might benefit from a program which alerts subscribers to new products. If I’ve sat here talking to you for 10 minutes – there’s your opportunity! Ask me!

As we mention on hundreds of occasions (go to Scott’s next Super Online workshop and you’ll know what I mean), a database is the most powerful asset a business will ever have. Yes, an asset – something of significant dollar value. You can sell a database if you want to. But you can’t sell loyalty. Loyalty is earned, and it takes hard work.

Are you working hard enough for your customers’ loyalty?