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  • Writer's pictureBob Salmasi

Is Meerkats the best loyalty scheme in the UK today?

Insurance isn't a glamourous business. Few of us left our career fairs at school all misty eyed at the prospect of a career in insurance. As consumers, we feel pretty much the same about it as a product, its a grudge purchase that we take out to cover us in case things go wrong and other than the annual re-engagement letter we really don't have any need or want for any dialogue between the two of us.

The relationship is largely based on trust, we buy insurance at a price we can afford with a brand that we believe will look after us should we ever need it. But we don't really know if we have bought wisely until we have to make a claim.

If you are an insurance aggregator, it is important to ensure that you too are not only offering

the cheapest / most affordable insurance, but from well known brands that consumers trust. But you also need need to build your own brand persona and equity along the way.

Back in the day (a lovely millennium "Americanism" that captures an undetermined timespan) I'm guessing an ad agency came up with the "Meerkats" proposition. Ad agencies are good at creating brand "vehicles" for clients and what a great brand vehicle it has developed into.

The early proposition was around simplicity "Simples" and the catchphrase was quickly followed up with the Meerkats first foray into loyalty - cuddly toys.

When you have great insurance brands on board and are offering great discounts on insurance the answer isn't to discount further - that's just a race to the bottom. The answer is to take what you could have afforded as a promotional discount, call it an acquisition budget per customer and see what you can create for the customer in terms of added value - in this case a range of cuddly toys.

For me this was brave and brilliant on so many levels. It extended the brand in an exciting and fun way. It rewarded you with a cuddly toy for every insurance transaction through the site. In terms of perceived value, well you just have to go online to see how much these dolls are trading for even today to appreciate that for a fraction of the cost, the added value was exponential. But most importantly, it got families hooked on collecting, gave an element of immediate reward back to the consumer and acted as a constant piece of advertising in the home, extending the brand engagement. Lastly it worked, how do I know it worked? Well, by the number of years it ran for and the expansion of the range.

The costs associated with launching a reward program of this nature are big, someone had to pull the trigger of filling a warehouse full of toys, so it is was a brave move to go in this direction - many brands just won't entertain the possibility of having a warehouse full of promotional stock in case it goes wrong.

What impresses me immensely, is that this reward program and all subsequent loyalty activity to date has been put at the heart of the business and has been the focus of pretty much all marketing communication. If only more brands could see the benefit of doing the same with their loyalty scheme rather than seeing it as an add-on to what they do.

This kind of investment doesn't happen often - you need to go back to the 80's to see the Nat West Piggy Bank Collection to see a similar bold move in the financial services sector.

Like all good things, I'm sure that the dolls program needed to come to an end. So they followed this up with Meerkat Movies, two for one cinema on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Again a similar model, adding value to the relationship ensuring that every time you go to the cinema with the Meerkats that you feel warm and connected to the brand. Equally their reputation for putting this at the core of what they do and investing big in communication paid off again. It is a strategy that clearly works for them - find an added value proposition, put it at the core of everything you do and communicate the hell out of it.

But it's not just communication, Meerkats activity adds a great sense of theatre to their brand and adding theatre to your proposition exponentially drives the direction of travel.

Following Meerkat Movies, Meerkat Meals arrived adding even more value to their proposition. Did they need to add dining? I have no idea, if their plan was to promote two of the top leisure and lifestyle incentives and widen their entertainment proposition then yes it it is a good addition.

Meerkat Music is the latest in the Meerkat offering providing the nation an opportunity to access a special Take That concert - if you ever need a case study of a brand that has no fear of not only doing something big here it is - from taking a risk on filling up a warehouse full of toys in the early days - to getting Take That and Robbie Williams to do a special gig for them.

The marketing from Meerkats is big, bold and fearless, well funded and well communicated. This kind of success and track record only occurs in companies where "NO" "we can't do that" isn't the first reaction to anything new or out of your comfort zone.

Now the purest loyalty community out there will be saying that this isn't traditional loyalty... well I disagree, all of the above activity is a long term, added value, reward focused program that has evolved to continually be relevant, continually add theatre, continually add value and continually engage and love a brand that at the end of the day - provides you with savings on insurance.

For me what has made this exceptional is that Meerkats is at the heart of everything they do - not a bolt on - not a side project - not a tick box for the chairman - it's loyalty executed seamlessly and for that reason I think it is one of the best programs in the UK today.

Equally I'm a big fan of Direct Line's "Winston Wolf" work. It has a lot of similarities, it was based around a vehicle that an ad agency invented. Instead of providing added value through leisure and lifestyle incentives it focussed on adding value to the actual product you are buying - insurance.

The proposition being the best insurance and insurance related support in the event something does go wrong. It was communicated in a way that created theatre and was equally at the centre of everything they do.

So both companies for me flawlessly executed added value based loyalty - the difference being that Direct Line Group invested in making their insurance product superior by adding value to the claim process in the event that something does go wrong - building trust and reassurance to higher levels through brand extensions and brand promises e.g. getting a plumber to you in the event of a burst pipe etc.

Meerkats is executing a "friends with benefits" approach to loyalty, a description I picked up on a recent webinar to describe any program where you are being rewarded with rewards of this nature. Whilst I admire it, it comes at a cost.

Direct Line's investment also comes at a cost but every pound invested in making their product better is directly re-invested into its end product. Which means better levels of trust, better levels of service in the event something does go wrong - all of their investment is channel back into their brand in a more equitable way.



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