Glen MacDonell, Managing Director, Best Western Rewards, couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm after Best Western earned the top honor−360-Degree Award, Platinum Winner−at the inaugural Loyalty360 Awards at the 7th Annual Loyalty Expo, presented by Loyalty360 – The Loyalty Marketer’s Association.

“We are thrilled,” MacDonell told Loyalty360. “Growing Best Western Rewards has been a central strategy for us for more than five years. Winning the 360-Degree Award signals to consumers that we’ve built one of the richest and most engaging rewards programs in the industry, and it’s a wonderful recognition for all of hard work our team has put in to make the program what is today.”

The 360-Degree Award is given to the company that earned the highest cumulative score across the five categories evaluated: Reward Program, Customer Experience & Engagement Strategy, Technology in Loyalty Marketing, Creative Campaign in Loyalty Marketing, and Customer Insight or Voice of the Customer in Loyalty Marketing.

MacDonell talked about how the measurement of the Best Western Rewards program has changed in the past five years.

“We’ve shifted from looking at overall growth of the program to focusing on growing targeted customer segments,” he explained. “When we are able to customize our promotions and messaging, we get stronger and more engaging outcomes, which makes using our investments more efficiently. New technologies have presented better ways to reach out to these segments, but it’s still the “Wild West” in social and other new media strategies. While this helps engagement, it doesn’t necessarily translate to ROI. Most industries probably see it this way. We’re also investing heavily in social media engagement strategies, which are less targeted. Although social media doesn’t always translate into the same ROI, we know it does increase enrollments and activation.”

MacDonell added that Best Western looks at overall revenue contributed to the brand by the loyalty program members and engagement metrics based on member stay trends, and on reactivation of members that may have not stayed at Best Western in some time.

He said Best Western doesn’t have all the resources to do exactly what it wants.

“So we constantly have to pick and choose the best priorities for our program,” he said. “As we do so, we’re able to look at integrating into other specific channels, whether that be social, online, or direct marketing, or a few of them together. Investments in areas don’t necessarily increase, but become more strategic.”

Best Western has been for being on the leading edge of marketing.

“We were the first brand to allow users to book directly from our Facebook page, so we’re often in uncharted territory,” MacDonell said. “We frequently use small test initiatives, review the data, and then expand or explore other areas based on the results.”

MacDonell said the loyalty program evolution is primarily based on leveraging the voice of the customer because it advances the company’s internal interests.

“Our loyalty program is our best opportunity to build brand loyalty and protect our market share from competitors,” he said. “We’re a results driven organization. In order for our program to grow, we need to ensure it’s meeting the needs of customers. We are certainly aware of what others are doing with their loyalty programs, but their actions don’t play a big part in our decisions.”

What one thing has led to the success of Best Western Rewards?

“Focus on the customer−Best Western’s mission statement of providing industry leading superior customer care extends throughout the customer experience,” MacDonell said. “Whether that be customizing the data we have and promoting a specific offer to them, responding to them in a timely manner through our call center, or simply providing them a good experience at the property.”

Personalization is essential, MacDonell said.

“One of the biggest requests from frequent travelers is simply being recognized by the hotel staff and being appreciated for all the business they bring to the hotel,” he explained. “Technology is desensitizing consumers, and Best Western’s entire organization is focused on personally caring about the experience of the guest standing in front of you. The other part of this is where big data comes in. When we’re able to look at customer segments, we’re able to customize messages to our members and engage them to a much better degree. It also makes the program more efficient and allows further resources to be placed in more developing parts of the program.”

MacDonell said Best Western has resisted the industry trend to devalue points.

“In fact, our redemption thresholds haven’t changed in 10 years, and this shows our customers that we put their needs first,” he said. “Our awarding-winning Status Match…No Catch program was another opportunity. It takes time to build elite status with a brand, and we’re willing to match the elite status of any other brand to give those travelers an opportunity to experience our brand without sacrificing their hard-earned status.”

But the bottom line for MacDonell is a crucial aspect of the ongoing success of Best Western Rewards.

“More than anything, we’re always listening to our customers,” he said. “We know that many business travelers feel guilty about being away from their families, so we created social media promotions to turn them into Travel Heroes–giving them the opportunity to engage with family online. Mom may be away on business, but the family can get involved to see how mom’s travel is going to help cover the costs of the family’s summer vacation.”

Any advice for a company creating its first-ever loyalty program?

“Focus relentlessly on one thing that you can do better than other brand programs to stand out,” MacDonell said. “Make sure you’re prepared to bring in the right data to measure the business results and customize promotional initiatives to your guests. Keep the program simple for consumers.”

A total of 187 entries was submitted across seven categories by a total of 58 brands for the Loyalty360 Awards.

Loyalty360 called on a group of 24 industry experts to apply their extensive knowledge of loyalty marketing to identify the brands that are true Loyalty leaders. Judges were asked to evaluate each entry by applying a score of 1-10 based on how well the brand performed against a number of quantitative and qualitative criteria. The result was an objective and unbiased ranking of loyalty leaders.

Loyalty Expo is being held March 17-19, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida.

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