7 Internet Marketing Loyalty Programs That Aren’t Coupons

Met a great prospective client last week who handles the marketing for a store chain who said ‘our company isn’t into couponing’. Boy, I can relate to that. As someone who has been in the same job trying to stimulate traffic but hold onto profit margin, I understood why someone wise said that coupons are like alcohol.

 “Coupons are like alcohol; originally a stimulant, than a depressant.”

Homer drunk

The biggest problem with coupons of course that nine times out of ten erode margin you end up subsidizing those who are already loyal without a demonstrable change in activity outside of them coming to expect the discount every time they show up. You’re effectively saying,

“Here. Go ahead. Reach into my pocket and take some profit margin.”

So what’s a poor internet marketing guru to do? Well, you’re better off identifying an activity that can grow your profits: such as rewarding your brand’s advocates for recommending you to their social network. Use Social Media Monitoring to identify those fans with the biggest networks and give them something to talk about. So here are 7 ways to provide non-monetary rewards to your biggest fans including specific examples from real-life marketers.

1. Invites Them To A Special Event

I love my local businesses that shut their doors after hours and have a party for their best customers. My local hockey shop does it annually for the men’s hockey league. It’s a great way for them to network and thank key decision-makers. It works for special company product launches as well.

2. Give Them Direct Access To Senior Staff


Executive Hotline Loyalty Program

While research into ‘why people follow brands online’ shows that the number one reason is couponing it also indicates how interested people were in potentially being able to directly access brand managers, thought-leaders and the other ‘business celebrities’ that walk your halls. It gives management a manageable way to directly connect with top customers and gives the customer bragging rights. Exclusive email addresses or hotlines are easy ways to implement this.

3. Break Your Own Rules

British Airways, rocked the airline world when it introduced Fast Track which allowed its first-class passengers a way to zip through customs. Do you have a key rule that you can waive for your best customers that gives them bragging rights?

4. Make Them Part of Product Planning

Recent research on why people follow a brand showed that beyond getting free stuff, people want to know about new products and give their opinion. Dick’s Drive-In let its customers choose between three sites for its sixth Seattle location and got 115,000 votes (and you can bet a lot of loyal fans for the new location not hesitant to tell their friends.)

A version of this is Beta Testing Invites. Google and Twitter are masters of this marketing technique. By inviting in a select few ‘lab rats’, it makes the product better and is so effective it created the ‘forever beta’ philosophy. Works offline too. When Starbucks first opened in our city the windows were covered with paper and only occasionally did the door open to let in lucky folks into the inner sanctum to test the results of their barista training.

5. Give Them Something They Value Which Costs Little (To You)

Starbucks Earth Day Promo

Starbucks is an amazing marketer. It showed particularly when they offered Free Coffee on Earth Day to anyone who owned a travel mug. Way back when I was helping Blockbuster we offered loyal renters free movies from the kid’s section. The inventory was already paid for and offered parents a welcome kid-distracter. Perceived Value High; Cost Low.

6. Solve Another Problem For Them

Is there a special service you can provide them that cost you little but helps them a lot?

  • The Financial Services company that washes your car while you attend their seminar?
  • Like a Florist who calls to ask you whether you want the same order this Valentine’s Day?
  • Or the shop that offers its best customers extra late hours during the Christmas rush?

7. Celebrate A Special Day

Social Media is such a godsend to this tactic it’s spawned a new expert: the birthday marketer. There’s virtual cakes, flowers and a while host of items that you can send your biggest Facebook fans but better yet, make sure there’s a natural fit between the day and your product. While birthdays are great for brands like Dairy Queen if you’re Victoria’s Secret, Valentine’s Day may make more sense or Tax-Free Day if you’re Intuit’s TurboTax.

Hope this helps.





There’s an 8th way to reward your fans that doesn’t cost a ton! You guessed it. Surprise Them! KLM detected when a passenger checked in with Foursquare at the Amsterdam airport. A quick monitor of their Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook revealed their interests and likes (and size of their social footprint). KLM then hunted them down and provided them with a personalized gift. Here’s a link to more.


  • Mark Orlan says:

    Great post, Bob. Seems that you’re suggesting we think about creating great experiences for our customers; those that evoke emotions and leave them with great memories. So true. Brands tend to jump so quickly into couponing and discounting…why, because old school marketing tells us that’s the tactic? It’s great if you want to keep eroding your profits. But if you’re serious about creating word-of-mouth advocates, it’s these kind of innovative experiences that you’re suggesting that beat couponing hands down and build true loyalty. Thanks for sharing some great ideas!

    • Bob Nunn says:

      Great comment Mark. I was discussing this very thing with a client yesterday in regards to a ‘abandoned shopping cart’ type situation and will forward your comment as you summarize it well.

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