What better way to make the day of a grown adult than to tell them they have enough points to redeem for a free coffee? Not only that, tell them they can add a shot of flavor at no extra cost. Likely this is the result of many dollars and several purchases at the same retailer but nothing diminishes the complimentary coffee. The coffee puts a smile on the face of the customer and sends them on their way, feeling devoted and engaged in their experience.
Many brands are cashing in on customer loyalty to encourage spend on branded currency, a payment exchange unique to their brand, equipping consumers with spending power that earns them rewards or incentives, frequently tailored to preferences.
Branded currency, as part of a marketing campaign, strives to create deeper, long lasting and ultimately profitable relationships with consumers.
“Customers are acquiring branded currency through purchasing for self-use, budget reasons, through a promo, for additional incentive, or they were gifted or won a voucher,” explains Kristen Thiry, co-founder of K+H Connection. “There’s a plethora of ways consumers can acquire it, but once they have it in their hands and their wallet it’s about making sure you have a way to remind them it’s there.”
Thiry and her partner at K+H Connection, Holly Glowaty believe branded currency and loyalty programs are the future of the customer experience. The pair focus on payment technology with expertise in stored value and prepaid products and services.
Branded currency is a store of value and a medium of exchange for goods and services, giving consumers a value (like gift cards, payments, or loyalty points) to spend with a brand. It can be used to attract new customers and strengthen the loyalty of existing clientele. While the term is still gaining momentum, it was welcomed into the urban dictionary in 2018. We are all familiar with gift cards but viewing them as branded currency and investment in consumer/retailer relationships is a new way of thinking. Merchants are catching on quickly, understanding branded currency is a clincher for developing a strategy to encourage engagement.
“Put your brand in branded currency; give your customer a reason to be loyal to you instead of your competitor,” advises Thiry.
“That’s what makes branded currency so powerful. You can have that engagement with the customer and you can make that experience special and unique for them by doing something that your competitor isn’t doing,” she continues.
After identifying an under-serviced niche in 2015, K+H Connection began helping retailers sift through the many options for gift cards, payment, security and other fintech solutions. They now work alongside brands developing currency and loyalty programs. They’ve learned matching brands with seamless technology solutions is critical to customer experience.
“Maintain the relationship, keep them loyal. Don’t make any big changes without giving them a heads up,” shares Glowaty. “If consumers understand how to reach goals and they’re made clear and attainable, then there isn’t a lot you have to do. People don’t ask a lot of their loyalty programs they just want to be rewarded for consistent behaviors. Keep incentivizing consistent behavior.”
Thiry asks, "What more powerful tool do you have than a monetary value sitting in the customer’s wallet waiting to be spent at your location? It’s better than a coupon or a promo code. The value is there; it doesn’t expire and it’s a great way to encourage them to come back in and have another experience with you.”
“And branded currency doesn’t have to be dollars,” adds Glowaty. “As long as you pay attention to what your consumers consider valuable it doesn’t need to be plug and play. It can be something unique, something fun.”
Both Glowaty and Thiry emphasize that loyalty is about customer experience. They acknowledge retaining a customer does not ensure their loyalty, so developing an emotional connection to your brand is essential. Proving value to consumers, making them feel engaged and positive about continued purchases and allowing them to see rewards for their loyalty will ensure long-lasting, measurable relationships.
“It’s not just a monetary transaction, it’s not about earning points,” explains Glowaty. “It’s a more emotional connection with the consumer. Sometimes emotional feels like too strong a word but it really is. When it’s part of your routine and can be a happy experience and something that’s really easy and something you don’t have to think about anymore, that is emotional. That is a positive connotation.”
Glowaty explains that some merchants, when developing their loyalty programs to encompass a brand currency, don’t include this social transaction and she feels that’s a miss. She encourages brands to determine a customer’s value threshold first, understanding this will vary by product.
“It’s about meeting people where they are, making someone’s day or giving a little surprise. It’s that emotional connection,” Glowaty says.
When you have earned consumer loyalty and the intangible emotional connection, consumers will feel more secure sharing data and allowing a brand to build a customer profile. This data allows a retailer to personalize a consumers experience, tailoring offers and incentives to their past behavior and interests. Data is a key component to retailer’s managing the relationship and consumers adopting branded currency. The value of customer data is critical and can be influential in the way a retailer chooses to grow.
Whether a business is on or offline, the sale of branded currency must consider the buyer’s experience. It must be personal, comfortable and simple to encourage repeat business. Using incentives and rewards to encourage repeat business provides an opportunity to turn a loyal customer into a brand ambassador, sharing their experience and recruiting their friends and family into a brand’s loyalty program.
In 2013 the Harvard Business Review wrote, “Retailers who adopt and execute smart Branded Currency strategies will gain relative share of wallet and have deeper, more enduring relationships with consumers.” Five years later this sentiment holds true. Brands welcoming customers into loyalty programs and branding their currency are seeing those relationships deepen and develop.
K+H Connection will be exploring ideas around branded currency, new loyalty and rewards programs at their conference this April. Flourish: The Growth of Branded Currency is currently the only conference in the category.
“Understanding how best to reward your consumers is the most powerful tool in a merchant’s toolbox,” says Glowaty.
Despite being experts and pioneers in the branded currency space, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the full influence that Glowaty and Thiry’s personal customer experiences play in their own brand loyalties. As active consumers themselves, they know very well the joy of that free cup of coffee.