Telecom loyalty programs - time for something new?
I have a soft spot for telecom loyalty programs, largely because they remind me of Christmas... they are often presented as these big production pieces and there's always something exciting going on. Not just in terms of the rewards they provide you with, but the way in which the adverts and supporting comms characterised the programs too.
But these types of programs have been with us for nearly two decades now, so are these formats "timeless"? Are these programs becoming a "victim" of their own success? Are these brands simply creating a wallpaper of "me too" executions? Or more importantly, is there a better more innovative format to replace them with?
Best place to start, the beginning.
Arguably the creator of this kind of program in the telecoms sector was of course Orange with Orange Wednesdays.
Orange Wednesdays ran from 2003 until 2014, enabling any Orange customer to apply for a 2 for 1 cinema ticket at participating cinemas on a Wednesday by text message.
At one point, the Orange Wednesdays program also allowed Orange customers to redeem a 2 for 1 main course at Pizza Express restaurants. Both the cinema ticket and meal offers only required a promotional text from Orange, which was redeemed at the point of purchase.
Orange Wednesday's is alas no more, but the mantle has been taken up in a similar exuberant manner by the Meerkats, from Comparethemarket.com offering movies, meals and now music.
O2 Priority Moments
In 2008, O2 launched Priority Moments. Basically providing you with priority access to tickets for major concerts and sporting events.
The program quickly expanded beyond just priority access to gigs, sport and entertainment. It also provided location based offers and discounts with a range of partners including cinemas, restaurants, coffee shops and department stores.
So both Orange Wednesdays and O2 Priority were designed to reward you with the things that you love in an engaging manner.
From a consumer point of view, both programs were simple, straight forward to understand and participate in. Both were also extremely well funded with millions of pounds being reporteddly spent above and below the line.
However, what's pleasing to me as a marketeer, is that both programs have enjoyed longevity, notoriety and success. In my opinion, both had / have the "secret sauce" - Relevance from a reward point of view and well funded in every aspect - rewards, production, execution, communication etc.
The Orange ads were epic - Orange Film Funding Board
To illustrate what I mean - the cast members that Orange used in their cinema and TV advertising included Rob Lowe, Dennis Hopper, Patrick Swayze. Carrie Fisher, John Cleese, Ewan McGregor and of course, Darth Vader - all pitching their crazy (and sometimes not so crazy) ideas to a fiction panel of Orange movie executives played by Brenan Brown and Steve First.
Priority Moments - the alternative from O2
02 on the other hand had major events to promote. Events and acts, who by their very nature and status, added value to their proposition. It wasn't "Priority" access to a few random events - it was priority access to some of the hottest music and sporting tickets in town.
When it came to other lifestyle offers, O2 also cleverly incorporated their brand partners into their advertising in order to make their restaurant, coffee shop or cinema partner the hero.
My consumer view point so far.....
Luckily (or unluckily) over the years I have been a customer of T-Mobile, Orange, EE, O2, Three and currently Vodafone. It's not that I'm promiscuous by choice, it's just that I live in a valley, therefore mobile connection at various times has worked (and then not worked).
So I used to enjoy redeeming Orange Wednesday's and I still enjoy Meerkat Movies. Live music is a big passion of mine and living 30 minutes from the O2, I made great use of Priority Moments both in terms of buying concert tickets and using the Priority lounge.
For me though, Priority Moments began to be a victim of it's own success - early on I found that not only were there a number of gigs that I wanted to go to, but that I could access and buy / redeem the tickets for them pretty easily. Later as the number of O2 customers grew, there were more of us looking to buy / redeem tickets and often the allocation had been completely taken up by the time I got there.
Whilst these kind of rewards are of course welcome, the key criteria for selection when it comes to a network is coverage, handset options and price. If I'm going to commit to an 18 month or two year contract then those are the things that have always really influenced my buying behaviour.
Three launched their program Wuntu back in 2016. The program lasted nearly three years closing down towards the back end of 2019. It had very similar structure to other, programs in the sector - money saving offers, easy to enter competitions and a smattering of giveaways.
However, there aren't an endless supply of partners to work with on any loyalty program, so with O2 already established in the market sector and the arrival of Vodafone's VeryMe program in 2018 we now had three big programs from the same sector all looking to source and provide the most cost-effective, most rewarding and compelling partner offers to give to their customers.
Travel with Swagger - easyJet partnership
What I did like about the Three / Wuntu work, was the partnership they put in place with easy Jet which gave you both phone and travel upgrades.
Three are currently working on developing a new and improved program and I'm looking forward to seeing their new offering soon.
Many might think that Vodafone were a little late to the party when it comes to these types of programs, but they actually launched an innovative points based scheme called Vodafone Freebeez back in 2012 for the PAYG market which allowed customers to "Grab" or "Grow" their rewards.
I know the program well as I worked on the scheme for many years - the program while points based allowed customers to redeem instantly for leisure and lifestyle rewards or collect their points and save up for gift vouchers or larger rewards.
The Vodafone VeryMe proposition, however, is based on providing customers with a more personalised reward experience.
"VeryMe Rewards is our customer loyalty programme – with weekly treats, giveaways and prize draws personalised to you. The more you use VeryMe Rewards, the more we get to see what kind of rewards you're into – and the more we can personalise them"
It's a great proposition - but to me it is a similar in part to O2 Priority and Three's Wuntu. Yes, Vodafone are looking to provide you with more personalised offers over time but there are still only so many partners out there to work with and as the number of customers redeeming and enjoying the weekly treats grows, then there is always the possibility that costs in these types of programs will also increase.
EE Everything Everywhere
EE have taken a different approach to their loyalty program. For a start, their key message is largely focussed on coverage and of course handsets - the loyalty aspect is based around "Swappable Benefits" which I think is very clever.
So what are "swappable benefits"? Well these are benefits which customers can select from when they take out a plan - a bit like how you might select your entertainment package from Sky TV.
What are "Swappable Benefits" (Source: 4G.co.uk)
Swappable Benefits are extra perks available with EE’s ‘Smart Plans’. Swappable Benefits include things like a free or discounted subscription to benefits such as Amazon Prime Video, Brit Box, BT Sport Ultimate or the use of unlimited data with a selection of video streaming services.
When you first take out a compatible plan you’ll be able to choose one of these Swappable Benefits, then, if your needs ever change, you can swap your benefit for an alternative one.
Generally you might be happy sticking with the same benefit throughout your contract, but having the freedom to switch could still come in handy.
There's also a Video Data Pass, which lets you use an unlimited amount of data for select services without it coming out of your data allowance
The services in question are Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, BT Sport, Amazon Prime Video and BritBox. Of course, the Video Data Pass only covers the data – where relevant you’ll still need a subscription to the supported services.
My personal preference...
I'll be honest, I really like what EE are doing - it seems in some ways a better reward strategy from a functional needs perspective - helping you make more of your phones screen time.
The rewards also have high perceived value, you can change them up if you want to and they are unlikely to become a victim of their own success as some treats can be. Most importantly, it's not reliant on securing a constant stream of treats and partner offers.
Is there a better alternative?
So here we are at the end of this journey - so is there a better loyalty format out there?
Well clearly all of the above schemes are working for each of the brands above. That said, with so many partner based programs in one sector - it's a tough call to provide an endless stream of relevant offers.
But here is the question I think telecoms should be asking themselves - do we need to provide offers and treats to grow our Net Promoter Scores? If we are really looking to drive engagement through leisure and lifestyle as a channel surely consumers would value rich content just as much?
Now as a reward and partnership specialist I'm sounding like a Turkey voting for Christmas, but hear me out.
If my network provider started to send me personalised content which was rich and relevant and gave me ideas on how to do new things or do more of the things I love during my evenings, weekend and holidays then the right content alone would motivate me to do those things. That alone would push up NPS scores and keep me engaged.
However, if you wanted to combine that rich content with a relevant discount offer than that's even better. But the right content, to me would probably far outweigh a free coffee or a cinema ticket discount. Although I appreciate with some demographics rewards would be more important and that's fine too.
It has never been easier to get rich content on pretty much every type of leisure and lifestyle interest you can imagine and if the goal is personalisation then that's achievable too - just imagine a program where content is matched to your interests ( a bit like putting Pintrest at the core of your program) and sent down the network for you to watch on your mobile phone. Once you have the content, then you can build the rest of the program elements out from there.
Of course you can still layer on the type of rewards programs are currently offering on top of this rich relevant and personalised content - but your program now won't be "as good as your last treat or offer" - nor will it be completely reliant on them.
Lastly, network providers have a unique advantage in the ease of connectivity with their consumers - approaching programs from a rich and personal desirable "content first" will only add value to screen time and engagement.