Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card with its too-good-to-be-true sign-up bonus—100,000 points—now has a cult-like following. But beyond the obvious physical rewards, what exactly is making people flock like moths to a flame—and keeping them there? Despite its relatively high $450 annual fee, consumers still seem eager to evangelize this card? While the loyalty around the Chase credit cards—and others offering enticing benefits—is largely driven by emotion over logic, let’s take a look at how and why so many stars aligned for Chase loyalty and how to tap into its loyalty playbook.
Know your audience
Chase knows its audience—young, Millennials who are still early in their careers and want to feel financially savvy. Now, the everyday Millennial can “save up” for an extravagant trip using just their points. The card comes with benefits that allow cardholders to feel like VIPs by skipping security lines, relaxing in swanky airport lounges, and getting free upgrades when they rent a car. What’s more, the $450 annual fee is basically erased when combined with the $300 travel credit, including reimbursements for Uber, tolls and general transit. Consumers feel they can get the chance to have the lifestyle they want, without feeling like they’re spending beyond their means. It’s a unique way of building brand loyalty.
One of the benefits of the card and the most appealing for Millennials is the flexibility that Ultimate Rewards points afford. With travel, for example, Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed directly with 50% more value through the travel portal or transferred to partners at a 1:1 ratio, rather than collecting points that can only be used on one airline or hotel chain. This all-encompassing approach allows card holders maximum convenience, relevance, and most importantly, choice. Therefore, the points (and the card) are more likely to be used by cardholders who aren’t loyal to any particular airline, hotel chain, or restaurant, which opens up a larger, more varied customer base as well.
Chase took the money that would typically be spent on marketing, and instead put it toward the attractive sign-up bonus in the hopes of breaking through the luxury segment and driving viral buzz. While this wasn’t something that Chase could necessarily control, or maybe even expect would blow up to this level, there’s a reason why in the first few months of rolling out this card, Chase didn’t need to spend any dollars on advertising it. It’s true that Chase already had the credibility from being a well-known establishment, which goes a long way in building trust with the customer. But because this specific bonus was so much larger than anything that’s ever been done before, Chase got a barrage of even more free advertising, press and word-of-mouth referrals. Word-of-mouth referrals especially can offer consumers an overwhelming sense of relief that yes, they can trust this brand. Chase’s marketing program for the Reserve card was essentially self-sustaining.
Even with the crazy amount of new card members and the “free” marketing, the Times reports that the sign-up bonus caused a $200 to $300 million hit to Chase’s earnings, and the bank has since cut their sign-up bonus in half, from 100,000 bonus points to 50,000. In general, brands often spend an exorbitant amount of money promising these types of rewards to customers, not to mention the advertising dollars on top of that. It was as if Chase was too good for their own good when they sacrificed overall profit to put the wants of their consumers first and foremost. But in this case, they made their ROI through a tidal wave of awareness and positive feedback, right down to the ooh’s and ahh’s over the metal weight of the card.
Ultimately, customers are willing to pay for rewards that are truly rewarding. Chase invested in their cardholders up front, and drove viral buzz by offering the huge sign-up bonus, but the retention and advocacy comes from the benefits and rewards that enrich their lives.
So what’s next? Now, the slightly less premium Chase Sapphire Preferred card has the same sign-up bonus, a lower annual fee, a lower approval threshold, but many of the same benefits. Interestingly, all the buzz around the Reserve card has also led to an increase in Preferred cards. It’s likely that card aficionados are not choosing between Chase Sapphire Reserve and a competitor’s card, but instead weighing the pros and cons of a Preferred vs. Reserve card. Regardless, Chase has gotten the job done by creating a rewarding platform with both Chase Sapphire products, which highlights the importance of building loyalty to the brand as a whole as opposed to a single product.
Gina Fleck is director of loyalty at HelloWorld.