A merchant funded vendor had developed what seemed like the perfect loyalty trifecta — a debit/credit card rewards program that gave up to 20 percent cash back to members when they used their cards to shop at participating merchants, offered local businesses and financial institutions marketing support usually available only to larger companies, and provided funding support to local charities.

The only hitch? A considerable percentage of members were auto-enrolled by their financial institutions. Many of those members were understandably passive — they had little idea the program existed, much less that they could earn money (and support charities) by making purchases with their enrolled cards at participating merchants. This was a substantial problem since the merchant funded reward vendor recruited and retained businesses and credit unions with the promise of increased transactions and card usage.

The Chief Marketing Officer recognized it was time for a change.

Building the Team

The merchant funded rewards vendor needed a strategy that would not only tell members about the program, but also get them excited about it — and actively participating.

The CMO turned to CCG for help. “The click for us with CCG was the agency’s unique knowledge of both the financial and retail industries, which are our two core customer groups, and CCG’s ability to not just execute, but to lead,” says the CMO.

The merchant funded rewards vendor also needed a proven methodology that would help retain and grow its member base. And CCG could provide that — quickly.

“We were able to offer an established knowledge base of how to onboard a customer and speak to them as a customer, not a prospect,” explains Lane Ware, who was then CCG’s senior vice president of account services and consulting.

Putting the Pieces Into Place

To their advantage, they already had a large database of credit union members and a detailed list of participating merchants.

“Our challenge was to leverage that data into an integrated communications stream that would make the program relevant to members,” says Ware.

Strategically, she explains, the first step was to identify trigger events that marked prime points early in the relationship when they should communicate with their members. These behavior-based triggers included a member’s first transaction, achieving a $2 and a $15 cash-back balance, and reaching the $25 mark (when a member can redeem cash rewards).

Next, CCG had to determine which data was important to include in each communication. Personalization with member name and address was obvious. But each piece also needed a reference to the behavior-based trigger, such as showing the member’s current cash-back balance and the last merchant where that person earned rewards.

Geographic-based customization — primarily listing participating merchants near a particular member’s home — was also critical to achieving a high level of relevancy.

Finally, creative design and messaging had to explain members’ enrollment in the rewards program, make it clear what actions they had taken to achieve their current status and encourage future desired behavior. In addition, the creative had to support both the merchant’s brand and each member’s credit union brand.

Bringing It All Together

The data points and creative elements came together for the first time in a $2 trigger mailing.

Five steps were essential to leveraging the data for each laser-personalized letter:

  1. CCG maintained a list of vendor’s merchants, appending the latitude and longitude of each business.
  2. Each week, vendor sent CCG a list of members who had met the $2 cash-back threshold.
  3. CCG then appended both latitude and longitude codes to each member.
  4. The agency calculated how far each member lived from each merchant, assigned a distance in miles and sorted the merchants from closest to farthest from each member.
  5. A marquis merchant — one that’s nearby and offers 20 percent cash back on a member’s first visit — was identified for each member. Six other merchants that represented a variety of shopping categories like clothing and restaurants, all ideally within a 10-mile radius of the member’s home, were also listed.

Finding the Pot of Gold

Data and creative were merged in similar ways for other vendor direct mail projects. Together, the campaign components are already making a noticeable impact.

“The data is showing consistent and sustained increases in transactions,” says the CMO. “We’ve had consistent month-over-month transaction growth since we started. In fact, vendor plans to expand nationally based on the successes in the Denver market and is currently evaluating partnerships with national retailers and national card issuers.”

The vendor also began discussions with CCG to find more ways to utilize the program’s richening database.

“We’ve really just scratched the surface,” says Ware. “For example, they want to be smarter about which merchants to approach to participate, so we’ve talked about some mapping that would help them identify best merchants to recruit, based on member and merchant geography.”

In short, it looks like the start of a beautiful friendship between data and creative — a pair of opposites that just happen to work great together.

Ideas Into Action Into Results: It’s What We Do

Case in point: CCG’s stable of data analysis tools allows a major national pet supplies retailer to view its customer knowledge base in a new light. This sparks ideas that generate discussion between the company and the agency. From these brainstorm sessions, CCG builds recommendations for action, such as a communications matrix combined with response measurement and ongoing reviews, all tailored to segmented audiences based on that initial data analysis. And all culminating in notable results, including a lift in sales and increased profit per customer.