How a pandemic reignited rewards
In times of crisis, people tend to look for more value. It becomes incumbent on brands to recognise these changing market behaviours and reassess how they engage with consumers – not only to offer the immediate value they seek but also to retain them as clients into the future.
Covid-19 hit like a thunderbolt in March 2020 and consumer spending clamped down overnight with the announcement of the National State of Disaster. It was this urgent need to deliver that acted as a catalyst for innovation in the rewards and loyalty landscape, as programmes were forced to reassess the role they played in their clients’ lives.
A 2019/20 Truth & BrandMapp Loyalty Landscape Whitepaper – compiled pre-Covid-19 – revealed that there was a downward curve in the number of South Africans using rewards programmes. Yet, while you might be forgiven for presuming their downfall, it was these uncertain times that resulted in consumers having to reconsider their options to sustain their finances and health. Hence, rewards programmes that adapted quickly to the effects of the pandemic, remained top of mind and at the forefront of their members’ lives.
When lockdown took effect in each of the various levels, rewards programmes, like just about every other industry, found themselves grappling with a series of challenges such as rapidly changing consumer behaviour, and the offerings of certain partners being less relevant to members at particular times during the different lockdown levels.
When under fire, it was fascinating to see which brands were able to rise to the occasion by quickly and cleverly adapting their loyalty and rewards programme offerings to accommodate this new context. Gyms closed? Homes became fitness studios thanks to digital apps and online classes. Grocery stores only selling essentials? Cashback rewards for essential items stretched consumers’ cents a little further. And regardless of where lockdown took us, members did not want to pay higher premiums or lose out on incentives such as cashbacks.
It goes without saying that in a time of crisis, speed is critical. Large organisations are at risk of responding to change at an all-too-glacial pace – which is something that businesses should avoid at all costs.
Most businesses immediately adopted a nimble mentality. The existing ‘agile squads’ allowed them to respond quickly, as independent smaller units with more autonomy. This was key to not only keeping abreast of developments as they unfolded, but also to help identify new areas where businesses could truly partner with their members as they grappled with their own challenges.
Numerous changes were made to show value to consumers, at a time when they were under more financial pressure. As but one example: in the early stages of lockdown, consumers could only buy essential goods, so businesses offered additional cashback rewards on these items.
The aim was not to let go of the value proposition, but simply to change how it was delivered. Multiply’s purpose is to help members live healthy, be safe, spend smarter and save more – a goal arguably now more relevant than ever – and so identifying new digital partners for both exercise and entertainment helped deliver on this mandate.
Rewards are not enough – it became critical for rewards programmes to focus on the holistic relationship with consumers. This was a tough time for everybody, so a transactional relationship was not going to cut it. Brands needed to be there for their clients. In line with this, it was imperative that businesses changed their entire marketing message to one of support and reassurance, helping their members feel supported in an uncertain and strange new environment.
Covid-19 and the future of rewards – what lies beyond?
But what will happen when life starts to return to normal and with it, the spare change in consumer’s wallets? Will rewards programmes become redundant?
As we settle into a new year, the lessons the pandemic has left us with include the ability to co-exist more comfortably with uncertainty, which has led to us becoming more resilient and thus better equipped for the road ahead.
Rewards programmes cannot become complacent within this current status quo. Programmes will need to support consumers in far more meaningful and personal ways. And this will not only be limited to individuals – this focus will be extended to the wellbeing of entire communities, as the world seeks to rebuild. Consumers will remember the brands that strove to make a difference.
We can also expect that the next year will see a new level of respect for the client with accelerated deployment of timesaving, smooth and seamless digital client experiences within the realm of rewards. Covid-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation – particularly across Africa – and rewards will quite literally need to get with the programme, or get left behind.
While no one can say with any degree of certainty (especially in uncertain times) what the future holds, Covid-19’s wake has created ripples of change throughout our industry – which may have been just what we needed.