In the March 23, 2009 issue of Advertising Age, Jonathan Salem Baskin triggered an interesting concept in my mind. He talked about a Glendale, CA mall that turned marketing on its head by focusing on customer needs to bring customers to the mall instead of using the traditional discount coupons and promotional events of push marketing.

Rather than just focus on hosting the retail stores within the mall, they created a guest loyalty program as the pillar of their marketing strategy, allowing shoppers to accrue points and “gain elite status levels for visiting the mall”, regardless of the stores they visited.

Talking to customers and focusing on their needs makes it possible for them to design cross-retailer promotions targeting specific consumers. According to Baskin, “the mall can analyze visit frequency and shopping behavior, reach out to wayward members, and encourage their return.” Recently, for example, they polled customers on what type of restaurant should be added to the mall, rather than just go after what they thought would work. This ensured that the restaurant they added would be well-received and frequented by mall shoppers.

As a volunteer for a professional strategic planning organization for many years, the Association for Strategic Planning, I coordinated the venue logistics for the local chapter’s bi-monthly meetings. Most of the meetings were held at a Courtyard by Marriott hotel which offers meeting planners rewards points for meetings held there.

Similar to the Courtyard by Marriott rewards program, the Holiday Inn also has a special rewards program for meeting planners. They accrue points redeemable for savings on future meetings or for personal rewards. What a great incentive to hold more meetings there… provided the service and catering also meet your expectations!

My thought is, how can these ideas be applied to other businesses? Go beyond just a rewards program and ask your customers what would encourage them to continue to do business with you? You might be surprised at the answers.

Our auto mechanic offers incentives to his customers. He has free WiFi available for customers who are waiting to have their car serviced so they can get their work done as they wait. If servicing your car will take more than a day, he has a relationship with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and if the service fee is over a certain amount, he picks up the cost of the car rental! We’ve been customers for more than 20 years, and have referred many friends because of the quality of service we receive.

Another automotive repair shop sends his customers movie tickets and restaurant coupons at Christmas time as a way of thanking them for their business. Rather than charge exorbitant fees, he chooses to offer incentives for referrals and to build long term relationships.

Could newspapers, I wonder, utilize similar tactics? Many have tried loyalty programs that reward subscribers with restaurant discounts, coupons and free ads, but what about incentives to reward readership?

Here’s a novel idea: let readers earn rewards points every time they forward a newspaper article to a friend or blog about a story they read in the paper. The points could be redeemed for a panoply of things beyond newspaper subscriptions and free ads, such as to cover eBay seller listing fees, travel incentives, or website design and hosting… the ideas are endless.

Newspapers shouldn’t think about doing it all themselves. Rather, they might form alliances with non-competing service providers to deliver the rewards. Seems like a win-win-win all around.

Taking that a step further, they could form allegiances with non-profits their readers and subscribers care about, and find creative ways to generate revenue for the non-profits while building customer loyalty and readership.

Ideas should go beyond sponsorships to finding ways to help the non-profits fill their voids in areas such as volunteers, budget management, and promotional fulfillment (newspapers that survive the economic downturn are in the distribution business after all). Those are just a few examples that come to mind.

The point is to think beyond the traditional concept of building customer loyalty and communicate with your customers. Find out what they’re doing, what they’re interested in, and what organizations they support. Then find ways to deliver services to them as incentives for their continued loyalty. That’s smart, strategic marketing.

Jeri Denniston is a marketing, management and social media strategist with Denner Group International. She helps business owners and leaders develop and implement the right marketing strategies to grow their business and thrive. She has worked with financial, publishing, personal products, technology and non-profit organizations during her more than 30 years in strategic marketing. Contact her at 858-357-9600. Follow her on Twitter: (jdenniston) or connect with her on LinkedIn. Website: http://www.ennergroup.com.

Source: Jeri Denniston

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