As seen on the Brand Establishment blog.
Nowadays, consumers are exposed to so many more brands than in the past. They find niche brands on the Internet designed just for them. Grocery shelves are stocked with dozens of brands of the same product. They drive down the street and have choices of restaurant after restaurant featuring foods of all kinds. Creating a VIP experience has been an increasingly popular way to make your brand stand out from the competition, and there are countless ways to do it. Some may work better for your particular brand than others, and it's important to give careful consideration to which type of VIP program, if any, make sense for your brand and aligns with your brand promise:
The Consumer Upcharge
Brands such as theme parks, ski-resorts, and other destinations thrive within the environmental and interactive spaces of brand experience. By offering an amped up experience that comes at an additional cost, patrons are funding their own positive brand interaction. During a recent visit to Universal Studios, I could have paid an extra $279 per ticket to "enhance" my customer experience. While the regular admission tickets are priced at $110 per person, the "VIP Tour" ticket package is sold for $389 per person and includes front of line access, exclusive studio tour destinations and features, access to a VIP lounge, and a gourmet lunch. This pricing option seamlessly bypasses all of the drawbacks that patrons typically take into consideration when visiting a theme park, and adding these incentives to an up-sell certainly up the odds of a better brand experience for both parties.
Pro: Increased odds for better consumer brand experience while simultaneously driving in additional revenue.
Con: The improved brand experience is purchased for more money, thereby eliminating the exclusivity of it. Since the consumers are only reaping the rewards based on additional costs to them, it may be difficult to build stronger, everlasting consumer relationships.
The Loyalty Program
If you take a look at any single person's set of keys, I’m sure you’ll find at least five different keyring-sized loyalty cards. Companies ranging from restaurants to clothing retailers to airlines have capitalized on loyalty programs for frequent customers, typically offering programs that reward regular patrons with discounts or free products or services — the more money spent, the more significant the reward. Sephora, the popular beauty brand, utilizes a tiered "Beauty Insider" program that allows patrons to earn points for each dollar spent on their products. These points can be used immediately or can gradually build over time in order to redeem free beauty items, eventually reaching more exclusive levels that qualify patrons for free services, such as shipping, and exclusive savings on products and services. Airlines and hotels often use points for extra travel, pre-boarding, upgrades, and free rooms – helping loyal customers earn more and feel exclusive during travel.
Pro: Incentive for consumers to repeatedly invest in your company, rather than "shopping the deals" across competitors.
Con: Other than lacking the "instant gratification" factor, loyalty rewards may also become stale and hard for the consumer to keep track of, especially if competitors are offering loyalty programs, as well.
The Personalized Experience
From Birchbox to Nike to Chipotle, brands everywhere are making the customization process their bread and butter for consumer engagement. It seems like anyone or anywhere imaginable are offering customizable products, services, or experiences that allow consumers to feel that their experience with those brands are all about them. Take a look at Disney's MagicBands. These wearable devices are synced to their 'My Disney Experience' portal, which allows users to preload their wristbands with funds for food and merchandise, act as a 'Fast Pass' and make reservations at preferred attractions, rides, or restaurants, and unlock their hotel rooms. What's more is that users are able to customize these bands during the order process to show off their favorite colors, name or nickname, or even pay extra for a Swarovski crystal embellished band. The ability to personalize any sort of interaction allows consumers to create the experience that fits them best, creating a brand experience that seems more special than standard.
Pro: Customization provides opportunities for consumer-tailored brand experiences.
Con: With specification comes more layers of options and details, and those can be hard to manage across large volumes of consumers or product/service options. The capability of customization that your brand offers can also potentially create a rabbit hole of expectations from your consumers.
The ability to create meaningful connections with your consumers relies heavily on your ability to ensure them that you're capable of meeting and exceeding all of their needs. Brands that develop appropriate VIP programs that align with their position and deliver on their brand promise are the ones that make the greatest impact with their stakeholders.
As a Brand Establishment agency, it is our job to help brands uncover claim of distinction and put together programs that help deliver on the overall brand promise. It's no longer just about advertising and the proper messaging and media placement. Today's brands need deeper consumer connections which are born out of thoughtful delivery of the brand experience at all touch points. A well-developed and well-run VIP program is just one of the many ways to engage, delight, and reward your customers such that they become solid brand ambassadors.
Christine Tieri is President of Idea Agency in Sturbridge, MA and certified member of the Brand Establishment. With a passion for problem solving and a quest for continuous improvement, Christine works with businesses, brands, communities, and individuals to help build their path to success. As the only Certified Brand Strategist in New England, Christine is driven to discover her clients’ unique position, help them put a stake in the ground, and build programs to support their company goals. Contact Christine for brand development, speaking engagements, guest blogging, panel participation and judging at email@example.com.