Loyalty Expo recap: Going beyond points

Although rewards (points) remain an integral component of loyalty programs, customer expectations are changing. As marketers, we need to fulfill these expectations.

Loyalty marketing is complex. But when you keep the customer’s voice front and center and bring them into your conversations, it helps you simplify your strategy to enable quick and broad adoption.

The conversations at last week’s Loyalty Expo were focused on how loyalty marketers are going beyond points with their programs. Here we recap some themes for achieving loyalty beyond points that were discussed throughout the event: experiential reward fulfillment, personalization, brand advocacy and a supportive organizational culture. 

Creating experiences to drive emotional commitment

We’ve talked about the shift from transactional to experiential reward fulfillment for years, but what’s different today?

We are able to implement these unique experiences by leveraging technology, data and insights. And these experiences help us as marketers to stay emotionally connected with our customers.

  • Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Jennifer Leitman, Executive VP of Marketing, shared in her presentation, “We inspire and connect all generations with authentic and innovative experiences." She also mentioned how their products (wine, food, cinema, resorts and adventures) are focused on ‘lifestyle components’, and naturally, when paired together, the experience is enhanced. As part of their reward fulfillment, members can earn trips to events such as the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, or participate in a virtual food and wine festival in which they’re able to connect live with popular chefs, gain access to authentic Italian food and recipes, ‘meet’ their award-winning wine makers, and so much more. Additionally Jennifer shared how they’re always thinking about what’s next and how they can further drive emotional commitment. She shared a sneak peek into their aspirational rewards in which they’re just beginning to implement.


  • During a general session, “Customer loyalty …. Where is it going? Top imperatives for today’s marketers," Eliot Hamlisch, Senior VP of Worldwide Loyalty and Partnerships of Wyndham Hotel Group, shared how Wyndham Rewards members are now able to earn and redeem points beyond their hotel brands. A few of these redemption options include tour and activity bookings globally, and more than 5,600 Marathon brand gas stations across the United States. As Mark Johnson, Loyalty 360’s CEO, said, “Brands are broadening their reach to customers beyond their main services and products in an effort to embed their brand into the customer’s lifestyle.”

If you’re not there yet, that is with fulfilling on experiences, it’s okay and please know that you’re not alone. As Morgan McLaughlin of Johnson & Johnson Vision stated, “For us, it’s truly a transactional conversation right now. Getting to the experience is not in our wheel house.”

Remember, loyalty marketing is an evolving journey. It’s a crawl-walk-run approach. And if you don’t have the capabilities in-house, consider how partners like us can help.

Understanding individualized loyalty and what that means for your customers

Personalization certainly was a popular topic of discussion at Loyalty Expo. And the shift from mass to individualized personalization is here.

During the event, many spoke about personalizing on a one-to-one level as ‘individualized loyalty’ which was explained as individualizing the loyalty structure to incorporate each member’s behaviors within this structure and communicating to them in the moments that matter – the moments that will give the marketer great wins. We define this as 1:You.

Let’s further explore.

  • Our own Brad MacDonald, alongside AutoZone’s Darin Smith and Dunkin’s Saad Khalid shared their insights on a panel presented in the general session, “Forget 1:1, 1:You is the new reality when it comes to personalization.” 
    I moderated the panel and explained the difference of 1:1 versus 1:You  as this: “ 1:1 is a messaging strategy that’s ‘generically personalized’ with promotional offers, while 1:You is a holistic customer experience strategy that’s personalized with the best choice for individuals across all points on interactions." The panelists shared their key insights as to how they are achieving 1:You. Saad said, “It all starts from within – make sure to listen to your employees and when applicable, incorporate their feedback into your program." Darin added, “To get to 1:You requires buy in from your C-Suite as the IT investment to support 1:You is no small amount." Finally, Brad said, “People are yearning for the human experience – it’s the next evolution of personalization." 


As you continue to advance your personalization strategy, think of it as building blocks. To learn more, read my recent blog series on the building blocks of personalization: Block one: achieving a 360-degree customer view through data capture, Block two: making data useful and Block three: the role of content. It’s an exciting time for marketers in the era of personalization where 1:You messages are achievable.

Turning your customers into brand advocates

Creating lifetime advocates for your brand is no easy task. It’s a natural tendency for consumers to switch brands. In a recent study, 87% of consumers reported that they shop around.

As loyalty marketers, we need to focus our efforts on transforming our most engaged customers into brand advocates. This means transitioning them from a loyalist into an organic spokesperson for your brand. An advocate communicates the value proposition of your brand’s product or service through word-of-mouth conversations, email, and comments/reviews on websites and social media. Additionally, an advocate shares his/her positive opinions, which creates a feedback-loop between customers.

  • Sugarfina’s Zainub Naqvi, Senior Manager of CRM and Loyalty, stated in her presentation, “Brand ambassadorship is not just opening your wallet. For us, it’s engaging with us." Zainub shared the many ways in which members can engage with Sugarfina including their social channels, referral program, sweet elite concierge services both in-store and virtually and their clienteling program. Clearly the retailer has achieved success with their brand advocacy program and beyond. These metrics speak success.


  • AutoZone’s Darin Smith, Director of Loyalty, shared, “Your team members (employees) have to be your best advocates. And if they’re not utilizing your program, how can they explain the benefits to customers?” Darin brings up a good point here. Testing is essential. To help with the testing of your loyalty program, ask your employees to join your program and incentivize them for enrolling.

As you’re focused on turning your customers into brand advocates, evaluate your program to determine if you’re program-centric or customer-centric loyalty, or what we like to call Little l Loyalty (program-centric) and Big L Loyalty (customer-centric).

Little l loyalty is focused on the tactical elements of the loyalty program, while Big L Loyalty is the passion, dedication, feelings, emotional connection and trust consumers establish with your brand that motivates them to continue their purchases and move through the customer lifecycle towards lifetime brand loyalty. And once you’ve achieved Big L Loyalty, your customers will be brand advocates.


Establishing a culture that enables loyalty to be a mindset, or a way of doing business for your brand

Before success can be realized outside your four walls, loyalty and the support for a program must be built internally via the core of your organization, your people. For your loyalty marketing initiatives to be effective, it’s important to have support from the top, buy in across the organization and a change agent who is willing to challenge the status quo.

  • Lenovo’s Ajit Sivadasan, VP/GM of Global e-Commerce & Digital Marketing, shared in his presentation, “You need to understand culture to drive transformation. If you want adoption to happen fast in a deep routed way, you have to determine from a cultural standpoint what the issues are. It’s the culture initiatives that are moving the needle.”

Incorporating culture as a primary focus within your organization’s leadership goals is essential for achieving loyalty marketing success.


  • Footlocker’s Hope Tannenbaum, Senior Director of CRM Loyalty & Research, shared in her presentation how they’ve embraced the culture of their brand to achieve success with their loyalty program. “We inspire and empower youth culture as part of our FLX loyalty reward program. Additionally, we’ve created a community for them to interact with each other.” And the program messaging speaks to this ‘culture’ they’ve created. For example, the first message members receive is a notification, a welcome to ‘the team’.

As you continue to evaluate and improve your loyalty marketing initiatives, think of ways in which you can reward beyond points (or purchases).

To achieve this requires enhancing your program with experiences, focusing on advanced personalization strategies to achieve 1:You communications, ensuring your customers (members) are advocating for your brand and establishing a culture within your organization in which everyone is on the same page and the leadership team is aligned and supportive of your goals.

Here are some concluding thoughts from the event:

  • Never dismiss the role of technology; an integrated technology stack has proven results. Don’t think of technology in silos.
  • Artificial intelligence is an eco-system.
  • Define loyalty with an objective perspective – loyalty is not an acquisition tactic.
  • We must be unafraid to change – transformation is a constant evolution.
  • Don’t be data rich but insights poor.
  • Always know and understand each segment (target) in which you’re marketing to.
  • Always have fun with your loyalty marketing initiatives.