Virtual Rewards Become A Bigger Reality

Not to say that we called it but....we called it. 

A while back, we had a Merchandise Monday post about using elements from social games as incentives. We discussed how using virtual goods as redemption options would eventually be a viable option for many rewards programs. Our post focused mainly on usage in employee recognition programs, redeeming for virtual items on Farmville instead of other low-cost, low-point types of tangible items. 

According to a recent Mashable report, Zynga (creators of FarmVille and Mafia Wars) has embarked into this virtual rewards concept internally by offering players a new option called RewardVille. The concept is this: for playing in certain Zynga games, players earn zPoints. These zPoints help players hit certain zLevels. As players move up to new zLevels, they are rewarded with zCoins (a lot of zTerms isn't it?). 

So what's cool about zCoins? zCoins are redeemable for in-game items. So if someone needs an extra tractor for FarmVille, those zCoins would help reward their loyal play. 

Even gamification specialists like Zynga recongize the need to implement some sort of rewards system to drive loyalty. In addition to the new RewardVille plan (which is still in beta as of now), Zynga's social goods have drawn interest of other marketers. AmEx started letting their card users to redeem their rewards points for Zynga virtual goods. In addition, retailers like 7-eleven, Best Buy and Target sell gift cards to buy points used as virtual currency. 

Just because consumers can't tangibly hold the reward doesn't mean it won't be popular. What do you all think? Will we see an increase in virtual rewards?

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The Future of Incentives: Digital

In the early days of digital marketing and social media, brand advocacy online was more or less a volunteer effort. Early adopting tech users with good (and bad) consumer experiences with brands took the time to talk about that brand in their own social feeds. The early days were also exciting in the fact that social media opened up this new door for consumers to be able to interact with brands. Marketing was no longer (well in theory anyway) a one-sided conversation where the brands controlled all the messages. Consumers could now be part of that marketing conversation.

It was - and still is - an exciting time. The winds are changing though. The initial thrill of being able to talk to a brand is wearing off. Social media usage is growing exponentially and not all the users want to be part of brand advocacy for kicks. There has to be something in it for them. Companies now have to not just rely on the "yay social media" wave but come up with effective ways to keep the consumer base engaged in conversation about their brand.

That's where incentives and loyalty programs come in.

Incentive and loyalty companies (in theory anyway) are masters in modifying behavior. We typically see this in the form of employee motivation, helping company workers take the necessary to achieve and even excel certain goals. Incentive programs should be designed to drive a certain behavior from a group and reward them accordingly for participating in those behaviors.

Tapping into digital loyalty is a huge opportunity for our industry. Using our knowledge and capabilities to help drive consumer behavior will be huge in the digital space. So a company wants consumers to talk more about their brand about in what ways? Do they want more Twitter mentions? Foursquare or Facebook place checkins? Completed activities on SCVNGR? If they do these things, what's in it for them? How will they be motivated to take part in those behaviors desired by your company/brand.

Digital media and loyalty is going to be part of the incentive industry's future. Loyalty programs will play a much bigger role in successful digital marketing efforts.  What do you think? What other ways will incentives play a part in the future of digital marketing?

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Could Incentives Improve Facebook Engagement?

A recent article on Brandweek discussed how some brands (mainly food) are dangling incentives in front of people to encourage Facebook Fan Page growth. The article investigates coupon efforts on the part of Healthy Choice and a sweepstakes effort from Jack-in-the-Box that are rewarding people for becoming fans. Efforts made by these companies are certainly doing an effective job bringing people to the table but it's not enough to just get people there - it's just as important to keep them.

Engagement on brand Facebook pages is just as - if not more important - than just having fans. There has been several studies on the value of a fan but the results really can't be accurately justified as results. An organization with ten thousand "Likes" may not be generating as high of an ROI as a page with only one thousand. It's not the numbers that drives brand loyalty but the interaction and conversation around the brands. In other words, the focus of these brands shouldn't rest soley on gaining "Likes" but also encouraging the Likers to become content contributors toward the page.

So how do they go about influencing this behavoir?

Jay Baer recently posted about how our measurement of Facebook "Likes" is way off. Just having an arbitrary number doesn't do much to drive business. Facebook pages will have a much more significant impact on your business if you give people a reason to participate. Incentives are one method but should be used beyond simply rewarding a button click. Using rewards to influence people to engage on your page and take time to interact with your brand will reap the best long term business success.

We've talked before about adding a game layer to incentive programs - a concept that is definitely applicable here as well. You could have contests or award people points for interacting with your brand. These interactions could be starting up discussions on a message forum on the site, uploading viral video onto the page referencing one of your brand's products, or even contributing blog posts about your brand with the chance of being rewarded in some way. If a company is willing to incentivize their fan page, they might as well do it right, instead of stopping short at just "Likes."

What do you think? Would rewards have potential to increase engagement on Facebook pages?

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WeReward Puts Interaction into Location-Based Loyalty

WeReward is not only a location-based service but a rewards service as well. For checking into different places or completing different tasks, WeReward gives its participants points for completion. These aren't arbitrary points like Foursquare. Rather, they are points that are eventually redeemed for cash. That's right - cash. WeReward links up to users' PayPal accounts and are able to be cashed in once users generate a minimum of 1000 points.
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Employee Loyalty = Customer Loyalty

Proper use of incentive programs to increase engagement among an organization's employees should improve loyalty among those workers to the company. Increased loyalty typically results in increased productivity levels. This will also have a chain reaction to treatment of your consumer base. Employees that are treated well tend to pay it forward to their customers.
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Foursquare for Loyalty Programs

We've already discussed how mobile devices are going to be the next new loyalty card. Many companies have already utilized the "Specials Nearby" feature on Foursquare, which allows users to view sponsored messages by companies near where they've recently checked in. Foursquare already has a points-based system into their program where users earn points for their number of check-ins, first time visits etc. What if companies utilized those same systems?
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The New Loyalty Card

With mobile devices becoming virtually attached to most people, its role in loyalty programs will be on the rise as well. Already many companies are utilizing services like Yelp and Foursquare to attract new business. During a conversation I had last week, one person pulled out his smartphone and simply stated "This will be the new loyalty card."
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