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Loyalty marketing is an approach to marketing, based on strategic management, in which a company focuses on growing and retaining existing customers through incentives. Branding, product marketing, and loyalty marketing all form part of the customer proposition – the subjective assessment by the customer of whether to purchase a brand or not based on the integrated combination of the value they receive from each of these marketing disciplines.
The discipline of customer loyalty marketing has been around for many years, but expansions from it merely being a model for conducting business to becoming a vehicle for marketing and advertising have made it omnipresent in consumer marketing organizations since the mid- to late-1990s. Some of the newer loyalty marketing industry insiders, such as Fred Reichheld, have claimed a strong link between customer loyalty marketing and customer referral. In recent years, a new marketing discipline called "customer advocacy marketing" has been combined with or replaced by "customer loyalty marketing." To the general public, many airline miles programs, hotel frequent guest programs, and credit card incentive programs are the most visible customer loyalty marketing programs.
Beginning in 1793, a U.S. merchant started giving out copper tokens which could be collected by the consumer and exchanged for items in the store. This practice caught on and was used by many merchants throughout the 19th century. Sweet Home laundry soap, a product of the B. A. Babbit Company, came with certificates that could be collected and redeemed for color lithographs. Beginning in 1872, the Grand Union Tea Company gave tickets to customers that could be exchanged for merchandise in the company catalog of Grand Union stores.
The first trading stamps were introduced in 1891, the Blue Stamp Trading System, where stamps affixed to booklets could be redeemed for store products. The Sperry and Hutchinson Company, started in 1896 in Jackson, Michigan, was the first third-party provider of trading stamps for various companies, including dry goods dealers, gas stations and later supermarkets. S&H Green Stamps, as the company was commonly called, opened its first redemption center in 1897. Customers could take their filled booklets of "green stamps" and redeem them for household products, kitchen items, and personal items. When the G.I.s returned from World War II the trading stamps business took off when numerous third-party companies created their own trading stamp programs to offer to supermarkets and other retailers.
Marketers of retail products used programs targeted at children to sell to their parents through the use of premiums. Kellogg's Corn Flakes had the first cereal premium with The Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Book. The book was originally available as a prize that was given to the customer in the store with the purchase of two packages of the cereal. But in 1909, Kelloggs changed the book give-away to a premium mail-in offer for the cost of a dime. Over 2.5 million copies of the book were distributed in different editions over a period of 23 years.
At the beginning of the Second World War, radio was a big player in the promotion and distribution of premiums, usually toys that were closely related to the radio program. There were many radio shows that offered premiums to their listeners, but Captain Midnight was one of the best known. The early sponsor of Captain Midnight was Skelly Oil, and parents could get forms to mail-in for radio premiums at the gas stations. Later, Ovaltine became the sponsor of Captain Midnight, and it continued the premiums through advertising on the labels and foil tops of Ovaltine that could be collected to exchange for Captain Midnight premiums and offering membership to the "Secret Squadron".
In 1929, Betty Crocker issued coupons that could be used to redeem for premiums like free flatware. In 1937 the coupons were printed on the outside of packages, and later the Betty Crocker points program produced a popular reward catalog from which customers could pick rewards using their points. In 2006, it was announced that the Betty Crocker Catalog was going out of business and that all points needed to be redeemed by December 15, 2006. With it, one of the earliest loyalty programs ended a 77-year tradition.
Prizes are promotional items—small toys, games, trading cards, collectables, and other small items of nominal value—found in packages of brand-name retail products (or available from the retailer at the time of purchase) that are included in the price of the product (at no extra cost) with the intent to boost sales.
Some of the earliest prizes were cigarette cards — trade cards advertising the product (not to be confused with trading cards) that were inserted into paper packs of cigarettes as stiffeners to protect the contents. Allan and Ginter in the U.S. in 1886, and British company W.D. & H.O. Wills in 1888, were the first tobacco companies to print advertisements and, a couple years later, lithograph pictures on the cards with an encyclopedic variety of topics from nature to war to sports — subjects that appealed to men who smoked. By 1900, there were thousands of tobacco card sets manufactured by 300 different companies. Following the success of cigarette cards, trade cards were produced by manufacturers of other products and included in the product or handed to the customer by the store clerk at the time of purchase. World War II put an end to cigarette card production due to limited paper resources, and after the war cigarette cards never really made a comeback. After that collectors of prizes from retail products took to collecting tea cards in the UK and bubble gum cards in the US.
The first baseball cards were trade cards featuring the Brooklyn Atlantics produced in 1868 by Peck and Snyder, a sporting goods company that manufactured baseball equipment. In 1869, Peck and Snyder trade cards featured the first professional team, the Red Stockings. Most of the baseball cards around the beginning of the 20th century came in candy and tobacco products produced by such companies as Breisch-Williams confectionery company of Oxford, Pennsylvania, American Caramel Company, the Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada, and Cabañas, a Cuban cigar manufacturer. In fact it is a baseball set, known as the T-106 tobacco card set, distributed by the American Tobacco Company in 1909 that is considered by collectors to be the most popular set of cigarette cards. In 1933, Goudey Gum Company of Boston issued baseball cards with players biographies on the backs and was the first to put baseball cards in bubble gum. Bowman Gum of Philadelphia issued its first baseball cards in 1948 and became the biggest issuer of baseball cards from 1948 to 1952.
The most famous use of prizes in the United States (and the word "prize" in this context) is Cracker Jack brand popcorn confection. Prizes have been inserted into every package of Cracker Jack continuously since 1912. W.K. Kellogg was the first to introduce prizes in boxes of cereal. The marketing strategy that he established has produced thousands of different cereal box prizes that have been distributed by the tens of billions. Frito-Lay is a world icon in the field of in-package prizes. Besides being the current owner of Cracker Jack, the U.S. popcorn confection brand known for the "Prize Inside", Frito-Lay also regularly includes tazos and tattoos in packages of Lay's chips worldwide. In parts of Latin America, Frito-Lay has even introduced a brand called Cheetos Sorpresa (English: Surprise), which includes a licensed prize (from movies, television, and video games) in every 29–gram bag.
Aaron Montgomery Ward's mail order catalog created a network that included mailing, mail order, telemarketing, and social media. Today, the mail order catalogue industry Montgomery founded is worth approximately 100 billions of dollars, and generates over 2 trillion only in [incremental] sales and supports till this day an estimated 10.9 million jobs either directly related to marketing industry or dependent upon it.
Mail order pioneer Aaron Montgomery Ward knew that by using the technique of selling product directly to the consumer at appealing prices could, if executed effectively and efficiently, revolutionize the market industry and therefore be used as an innovative model for marketing products and creating customer loyalty. The term "direct marketing" was coined long after Montgomery Ward's time. In 1967 Lester Wunderman identified, named, and defined "direct marketing". Wunderman — considered to be the father of contemporary direct marketing — is behind the creation of the toll-free 1-800 number and numerous mail order based loyalty marketing programs including the Columbia Record Club, the magazine subscription card, and the American Express Customer Rewards program.
On May 1, 1981 American Airlines launched the first full-scale loyalty marketing program of the modern era with the AAdvantage frequent flyer program. This revolutionary program was the first to reward "frequent fliers" with reward miles that could be accumulated and later redeemed for free travel. Many airlines and travel providers saw the incredible value in providing customers with an incentive to use a company exclusively and be rewarded for their loyalty. Within a few years, dozens of travel industry companies launched similar programs. The AAdvantage program now boasts over 100 million members.
Ahold Inc started the frequent-shopper rewards program in 4 of its US based grocery chains, Finast Friendly Markets, Maple Heights, Ohio. Stop & Shop Cos, and Bi-lo in the beginning of 1996  stemming from university research and senior thesis of Michael A. Raines, Tusculum University, under professor Robert Heoke. The early part of 2010 really saw the rise of Card Linked Offers (CLOs) as a new loyalty marketing technique for brands, retailers and financial institutions, stemming from a rise in popularity of both mobile payment and coupons. CLOs connect offers or discounts directly to a consumer's credit card or debit card, which can then be redeemed at the point of sale. CLOs have been implemented by American Express and Groupon and CLO technology has been developed by companies such as Strands, Meniga, Smart Engine, Cartera Commerce, Womply, Cardlytics, Linkable Networks, Birdback, Clovr Media, and Offermatic. In order to receive and use CLOs, consumers must willingly opt into a CLO program and provide their credit/debit card information. When consumers see relevant CLO-enabled advertisements and product offers while browsing online, using a mobile device, watching TV, reading a newspaper or magazine or listening to the radio they can click, text or scan a QR code to link the CLO-enabled ad directly to their credit/debit card. After consumers make a purchase at the designated retail location, the savings appeared are credited directly to their bank, credit card or PayPal account. As such, CLOs eliminate point-of-sale integration, mail-in rebates and paper coupons. Offers are typically based upon consumer preferences and previous purchase history.
Many loyalty programs have changed the way consumers interact with the companies from which they purchase products or services from and how much consumers spend. Many consumers in the US and Europe have become quite accustomed to the rewards and incentives they receive by being a "card carrying" member of an airline, hotel or car rental program. In addition, research from Chris X. Moloney shows that nearly half of all credit card users in the US utilize a points-based rewards program.
In recent years, the competition for high income customers has led many of these loyalty marketing program providers to provide significant perks that deliver value well beyond reward points or miles. Both American's AAdvantage program and Starwood Hotels' Preferred Guest program have received industry awards, called "Freddie Awards" by Inside Flyer Magazine and its publisher Randy Petersen for providing perks that customers value highly. These perks have become as important to many travelers as their reward miles according to research.
In his book, Loyalty Rules!, Fred Reichheld details the value to customer referral on the growth and financial performance of dozens of leading US firms. Reichheld purports that the measurement of company advocates, or promoters, is the strongest single measurable correlation between customers and corporate performance. Similarly, Chris X. Moloney has presented new findings (Loyalty World London 2006) that showed a magnetic value to a company to promote and measure customer referrals and advocacy via research and marketing.
The loyalty business model relies on training of employees to achieve a specific paradigm: quality of product or service leads to customer satisfaction, which leads to customer loyalty, which leads to profitability. Loyalty marketing is an extension of that effort, relying upon word-of-mouth and advertising to draw upon the positive experiences of those exposed to loyalty business model inspired ventures to attract new customers. Fred Reichheld makes the point in his books that one can leverage the "power of extension" to draw new customers.
The rapid expansion of frequent-flyer programs is due to the fact that loyalty marketing relies on the earned loyalty of current customers to attract new loyalty from future customers. Incentive programs that are exclusive must strike a balance between increasing benefits for new customers over any existing loyalty plan they are currently in and keeping existing customers from moving to new plans. Hallmark did this through devising a program that directly rewarded customers not only for buying merchandise and utilizing Hallmark.com, but gaining additional benefits through referring their friends.
The most recent loyalty marketing programs rely on viral marketing techniques to spread word of incentive and inducement programs through word of mouth.