How to Use Gift Cards to Give an Experience This Holiday Season

It was my birthday recently (why thank you kindly for the well wishes!) and the night before official festivities were to take place my wife received a text from my sister asking for gift advice. Without looking up from her phone, she turned to me and asked for ideas to relay back. I rattled off a few of my favorite beers and ended with the caveat: “and if they don’t have those in stock you know I enjoy a good browse through the aisles.” What I didn’t put together until the next day when I opened my present to reveal a sleek little gift card (thanks sis!) was that what I had actually asked for was an experience.

With the overwhelming focus on millennials over the past few years, the term “experiences” has gotten a lot of play within the marketing and loyalty space. Numerous studies show that this key demographic holds an affinity for experiences, and often articles – like these from Forbes and Business.com – position this as a clash between the preference of material goods vs experiences, but that is not the full story. When reports quote that younger consumers “prefer” or “would rather spend money on” experiences it is misleading as this often paints the picture that these generations are primarily focused on accumulating cultural wealth instead of monetary wealth, flocking towards wildly unique happenings in an act of rebellion against consumerism.

This is false.

This type of presentation fails to acknowledge that you don’t need to mark your calendar and buy tickets to an event in order to have an “experience”.

Life is a constant experience.

And the goods we interact with in our daily lives have the potential to elevate each and every moment.  And that is what younger generations care about – creating memorable moments.

Yes, sometimes that means checking an item off the bucket list. Other times it could be hosting a backyard bonfire where laughs are shared a bit too loud and a bit too late into the night. Or simply capturing an image and sharing it with friends and family who will appreciate its contents. All are experiences.

And as I have been reminded recently by the gift card from my sister, merely the hunt for material goods can be a very enjoyable experience in of itself. A big reason for this is because when we purchase things, we imagine ourselves enjoying them in the most ideal of situations. It’s a similar phenomena as to why playing the lottery is actually worth it, even if you don’t win. We garner enjoyment from the thought of the experiences we will have in the future, allowing us to take greater pleasure in the now. So

So with the gift giving season nearly upon us, how do you ensure that the gift cards that you are giving will result in an experience not once, but twice for the end recipient? To take a deeper dive into the concept of having an experience, while prepping for an experience (where are Leo and Joseph Gordon-Levitt when you need them?) I want you to imagine yourself in 2 scenarios:

Scenario 1:

You open a birthday card with a decently funny punchline courtesy of Hallmark with a generically uplifting sentiment scribbled below from the sender, along with a $50 Target gift card.

Useful no doubt, but not very exciting or memorable. A likely scenario is that you slide the gift card into your wallet and forget about it until you are at the checkout aisle a month or two later (and let’s be honest, this isn’t even the first time you have been to Target since you received it – just the first time you actually remembered you had a gift card). It covers about half of your purchase and moves out of mind as soon as you pull out a credit card to cover the balance. There is no specific item that the gift card bought, it was essentially a great coupon. Furthermore – by the time it’s used you might not even remember who gave it to you (guilty).

Scenario 2:

You open a birthday card with a decently funny punchline courtesy of Hallmark, a $50 Target gift card, but this time a specifically tailored message from the gifter stating that they want you to use these funds to ‘revamp your board game collection’ for the next game night. Suddenly you aren’t just given a $50 catch-all, you are given a passport to adventure. (I realize not everyone will consider picking out a couple new board games as a “passport to adventure” but I do, so if you disagree simply replace the scenario with something you are passionate about.)

The key difference is that in Scenario 2 the presenter framed their gift in a particular manner, which in the case of a gift card causes 3 things to happen:

1. Clarity of focus. The focus has been shifted from the monetary value of the gift to the potential items that will be purchased which allows for a vision of the ideal state where those goods will be used. (i.e. the specific framing has created anticipation – one of the keys to a great experience).

2. Permission to spend irrationally. ‘Irrational’ might be a stretch but certainly the gifter has empowered the giftee to make a non-utilitarian decision. Let that sit. The delivery of the gift, not the gift itself, is what is impacts the end user’s ability to justify their spending behavior.

Scenarios 1 & 2 impart the same financial benefit, but because the second narrative includes commentary from the gifter stating: “I am giving a green light, nay a directive, to spend this on an activity of pleasure” there is an instant switch in the mental accounting of the recipient, stating that they can (and should) treat this pile of money differently than their usual expense budget. This is a vital piece of the puzzle.

3. Evoking a deeper emotional response. Gift cards are notorious for doing the opposite. But adding the personal touch of how the recipient could use the card improves the overall memory halo of the gift. No more forgetting who made your shopping adventure possible.

The bottom line? It is all about how the gift card is framed in the mind of the end user.

Prime the mind to pay attention to the experience that the gift card allows.

So this holiday season when you are checking names off the list, don’t feel bad by settling on a gift card. Quite the contrary! Know that based on how you present them, you have the potential to be giving millennials the thing they value most – an experience – regardless of the brand on the card.

 

Loyalty Through a Millennial Lens, Part 3

Welcome to the final installment of the series Loyalty Through a Millennial Lens in partnership with The Wise Marketer. 

Part 1 was all about Evan’s favorite brands and why he has an affinity to those brands. Part 2 was all about loyalty program’s biggest turn-offs. And now, Part 3 is all about customer data. 

Is there a threshold that brands can cross for the kind of data its collecting and asking customers for? 

According to Evan, as long as a brand is transparent about what they’re going to use the data for and use it to benefit the customers, then he has no hesitations about a brand using his information. Spotify makes it clear that their use of his data is to create something beneficial to him. This isn’t the case for all brands, however. 

To see the full video, click below to learn more about best practices brands can follow to get more data from their customers(and use it for good!) 

Loyalty Through a Millennial Lens, Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of the Loyalty Through a Millennial Lens video series in partnership with The Wise Marketer.  

This week, Evan Snively speaks with seasoned loyalty expert, Bill Hanifin. In this video, Evan expands on his favorite brands and whether or not any of these brands have a loyalty program. While none of the brands have a traditional loyalty program, Evan’s Spotify Premium membership provides him with an elevated listening experience. Spotify generates custom playlists for Evan each week, and some of them are nostalgic, or throwbacks to previous times in his life. This allows Spotify to create an emotional connection with Evan. Spotify Premium is a good example of how well-executed data personalization can become a loyalty program. 

Spotify Premium is exhibiting both aspects of Inertia & True loyalty to keep Evan engaged in the program. For more information on the four types of loyalty, click here. 

Finally, Evan shares what turns him off from participating in a loyalty program: 

1. When the employees don’t know how the program works. 

If the employees don’t care about their employer’s loyalty program, why should consumers? Employees are key in executing the brand’s loyalty experience. 

2. When it’s not clear how to master the program. 

When the consumer has little influence on how they perform in the program, it can be a turn-off. If the rule structure is difficult to follow, and the element of excitement is always something random, the program will fail to change the consumers’ behavior. 

For the full video, watch below: 

What are your major loyalty program turn-offs? Share in the comments below! 

Loyalty Through a Millennial Lens, Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of a series titled Loyalty Through a Millennial Lens in partnership with the Wise Marketer. This series features three videos of Maritz Loyalty Strategist Evan Snively, as he shares his millennial perspective on loyalty programs that have a lasting impact on a brand’s relationship with their best customers.

For the first installment, Evan spends a few minutes chatting with the Wise Marketer’s Mike Giambattista (Editor in Chief)  about his brand affinities. They explore why he feels bonded to those brands over others in those spaces.

Some of Evan’s favorite brands include: Patagonia, Spotify, and the NFL. He shares his perspective on these brands and how they deliver a superior experience to him as a customer.

Watch the video below to hear Mike Giambattista and Evan talk about brands creating emotional connections, loyalty, and brand affinity from a millennial perspective.

 

Rewarding Customer Feedback: Build Loyalty While Gaining Consumer Insights

Consumers have opinions on just about everything. So, what if a company’s loyalty program rewarded customers for the opinions that matter most to the business?

Loyalty programs have traditionally focused on rewards and points for purchasing behavior. As a consumer, I try my best to be savvy about participating in loyalty programs of brands I consistently buy from.

A program I am highly engaged with is the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. I have a Southwest credit card, and like most millennials, I typically prefer being rewarded with experiences.

Because I do my best to get the most out of the loyalty programs I participate in, I pay close attention to the communications I receive from brands I’m subscribed to. That’s why this recent communication from Southwest caught my attention:

The email invited me to be part of a select group asked to participate in Southwest’s Rewards for Opinions panel. This offer gives the opportunity to take surveys on your own time and — this is the key part — receive Rapids Rewards points for completing each survey.

Rewarding customers with points in exchange for their feedback can be an effective strategy for keeping already loyal customers increasingly engaged for a few reasons:

  1. Rewarding for feedback makes customers and program members feel valued and special.

The language in the Southwest email presents the Rewards for Opinions panel as an exclusive group. When I saw that the panel was “by invitation only” I got the sense that I’m a valued customer because I was selected and invited to participate in this program. Likewise, the phrase “your opinions are worth thousands of points” tells the customer that their feedback on the brand experience literally has a dollar value.

To add to that sense of value, brands could consider ramping up the element of status by inviting top point earners to a “most valued customers” opinion panel, including formal invitations and a surprise gift for participating.

  1. Member surveys provide insights about consumers and their demographics that companies and brands can use to shape future business initiatives.  

Many of the surveys in the Rewards for Opinions portal asked about my demographics, spending habits, and much more.

A brand can leverage these surveys to collect new kinds of customer data that loyalty programs do not usually collect.  That information can, in turn, be used to make the loyalty program even more personal. The survey information can also be used by brands to further segment their customers and provide more insight into their spending habits and purchasing decisions. And by positioning the surveys as a tool to provide them with a better brand experience, it’ll be much easier to get a high level of engagement and candid response.

  1. Points for surveys help members increase their earn velocity.

While I am active in my Southwest Rapid Rewards account, I don’t travel often enough to accumulate as many points as I’d like. The Rewards for Opinions panel makes it easier for me to quickly earn points without a huge time commitment.

Based on new consumer research data from Maritz, the most common reason for disengaging from a loyalty program is rewards/benefits being too hard to earn or taking too long to earn — 44% of consumers rank it as their top reason for quitting a program. Member surveys provide an additional, quick way for members to earn points. If a consumer doesn’t travel frequently like myself, it might be hard for them to earn points. If they were given the option to take surveys to earn points, they could earn and redeem more frequently.

Adding a survey element to a loyalty program is a great way to diversify loyalty program offerings, gather information about your customers, and increase engagement within your loyalty program. Brands should consider this in their program design to further drive engagement and loyalty.

Do you receive rewards for providing customer feedback? If so, which programs do you participate in?