By Barry Kirk
When was the last time you truly had a “moment” with a brand that you love?
I was recently in Panera Bread, a fast casual restaurant chain where I’m both a frequent customer and loyalty program member. I had just finished ordering lunch and was trying to hand my money over to the cashier when I noticed her eyes were still fixed on her checkout screen, her face showing a perplexed expression. She leaned in to look more closely and then said. “You have a reward. It looks like you get … free daily coffee for the whole month?”
Now, I work in loyalty. Still, I was startled—I had never heard of a reward like that. After all, that’s a lot of free coffee. The employee’s manager, whom she called over to confirm her screen was correct, was as surprised as we were. “Yep, he gets free daily coffee for the entire month,” he confirmed, shaking his head in wonder. “We’ve never seen that come up before.”
Ever since then, I’ve been sharing that story of receiving that unique Panera reward with clients, friends, family. If I had simply earned a coupon, I wouldn’t have told anyone about it. And honestly, I didn’t even end up availing myself of my free coffee bonanza much that month. But the human connection I made with the Panera workers, as well as the surprising nature of the reward, made me want to tell everyone I knew.
I’ve come to regard these kinds of moments, which go beyond transactional value to true must-share connection, as having “selfie value.” Selfies, of course, are those ubiquitous, oftentimes narcissistic, smartphone self-portraits that now flood social networks such as Instagram and Facebook. Over 100 million Instagram photos include the hashtag #selfie, and an estimated 30% of all photos taken by Millennials are selfies. Hundreds of brands, from Axe and Dunkin Donuts to Sephora, have jumped on the selfie bandwagon with campaigns encouraging customers to document and share their personal brand experience.
But let me be clear: The idea of “selfie value” is more than just about photos. It’s about your customer experiencing a moment so compelling that they feel they just have to share it with others. These moments have their own intrinsic value—beyond cash, discounts or any other financial transaction. Think about it: People take selfies on vacation at places where they just have to share where they’ve been; or at events where they just have to share what they’ve done. They even pose with products they just bought (google “selfie Starbucks” and you’ll see what I mean).
The question for your brand is this: are you creating program elements that have “selfie value” –interactions or rewards that members will find so cool, unique or intriguing, that they take a photo of it and share it on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? Or tell everyone about it at work the next day? Or write about it on their blog? This could be a unique piece of brand swag, an upgraded VIP experience, a sneak preview of a higher status or even an awarding of bonus points presented in a unique way. Think about JetBlue’s complimentary Terra Blue chips. Or Ben & Jerry’s annual “Free Cone” day. Or Starbucks’ 2013 Tweet-a-Coffee campaign. These moments may even occur outside your formal loyalty program, but still have everything to do with loyalty.
If you are serious about boosting the “selfie value” of your program, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
1) Do a selfie value assessment of your current program. Walk through your entire member lifecycle and make an honest assessment of what interactions, if any, rise to the level where a member couldn’t help but share those moments with others. Focus especially on the experience of new members and of advocates as the first places to address deficits.
2) Develop relevant hashtags. Make it easy for program members to connect their sharing of these special moments back to your brand. You can even offer members perks for using the hashtag, as hoteliers such as Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott do.
3) Embrace surprise and delight. Selfie value goes way up if, like my Panera Bread example, the reward is unique and unexpected. It may not even be something that costs a lot in real terms (Panera, you got off easy on my free coffee reward!). It’s the dopamine rush of the surprise that counts.
4) Mine social intelligence for ideas. Having your ear to the social grid can help you find out what your top advocates and best members are already talking about when it comes to your brand or your category. Those insights can help you innovate towards new elements that will have the highest potential for “selfie value.”
“Selfie value” is about enabling your loyalty program members to talk to others in a positive way about brand experiences they consider valuable. By incorporating it as new success metric for your loyalty strategy, you will elevate your entire program beyond just mercenary loyalty towards one that truly balances the benefits of points and rewards with those of real human-to-human connections.