Since it launched the Rewards for Good loyalty program in February 2014, AARP has enjoyed considerable success accompanied by high customer engagement levels. The program isn’t your typical spend-and-get program, but focuses squarely on engagement.
 
It was a way for AARP to marry the act of rewarding customers with the company’s overarching social mission. For Nataki Edwards, Vice President of Digital Strategy and Operations at AARP, the nation’s largest membership organization for people age 50 and older, one of the challenges associated with the Rewards
for Good loyalty program is defining “meaningful” customer engagement via digital interactions.
 
She discussed that theme and several others during Thursday’s Loyalty360 March 2018 Brand Fireside Chat. These monthly roundtables, hosted by Loyalty360 CEO and CMO Mark Johnson, afford brand members an opportunity to come together regularly and talk about industry trends, issues, and other related topics.
 
Reconciling scale with meaningfulness is a challenge because asking a user to watch a video on preparing to be a caregiver is the not the same experience as asking a user to attend an in-person seminar on how to prepare for being a caregiver.
 
“Is an engagement a visit, a page view?” Edwards asked attendees. “We spent a lot of time making sure we define meaningful engagement as active participation in the completion of something. You’re not rewarded if you look at the retirement calculator. You have to complete these tasks. Meaningful for us definitely means active. That was really critical for us.”
 
One distinct and very important part of AARP is that it is an educational company.
 
“We’re an educational company where we have to have content worthy of someone saying they are learning from it,” Edwards explained. “It has to pass a bar for people to say I know more today than I did yesterday about this program.”
 
Edwards hopes that the Rewards for Good loyalty program, which rewards users of AARP.org for engaging with exclusive online tools and information that delivers meaningful impact to their lives, increases online customer engagement.
 
“Our goal is a social mission and the program is a way to marry a traditional loyalty construct with a social mission output,” she explained.
 
AARP focuses on three main pillars: Health, wealth, and self.
 
“Our data shows us people are most interested in these three things,” Edwards said. “The loyalty program supports those three pillars. We have activities across all three of them. We’re making sure that people are able to enjoy activities across those three things. And we feed the information and learnings back into our enterprise.”
 
Customer insights are AARP’s “bread and butter,” Edwards noted.
 
“What is working well for us is we can scale social mission,” she said. “Now we have the ability to scale for millions of people who come to AARP.org.”
 
Edwards, who has been with AARP since 2007, oversees the overarching marketing vision for AARP digital properties and platforms, including loyalty marketing and engagement. Under her leadership, AARP Digital has seen significant growth in size and impact and is rated as the No. 1 website for the 50+ audience, both on mobile and desktop.
 
What’s more, she is regularly featured in media outlets like the Today Show, Washington Post, and USA Today as a digital and social media expert.
 
“What is definitely a challenge is that offline component,” Edwards said. “There’s always this constant conversation that my team and I have, asking ourselves, ‘Are we scaling at number of engagements, and are we calculating on depth of knowledge and depth of interaction?’ It’s important for us to have a fulsome program that is both online and offline. Our social mission is such a noble cause. Our main goal is not to make money or sell you an insurance product. That’s not our primary goal and, because of it, I think it gives us some credibility.”
 
Identifying brand advocates can be a challenge, but Edwards said that social media is one of the best places to find them.
 
“We’re comfortable with the challenge piece of it,” she explained. “Our online community is a great place to identify brand advocates and find people who are also fighting to protect retirement and Social Security. We surprise and delight these folks all the time. Our online community is probably our richest tool for these types of conversations.”
 
Employee advocacy is another key for AARP as company officials want employees to use the Rewards for Good program.
 
“From a senior management standpoint, we have lots of data that show firm tangible causation of usage of non-transactional engagement tools and actually joining,” Edwards said. “People active in Rewards for Good are five times more likely to join.”
 
Where is the program headed?

“We continue to optimize the program that is focused on consumer outcomes,” Edwards added.
“Do they care about money saved, or is it truly about something else? There aren’t a lot of engagement-only loyalty programs, but as the industry becomes more comfortable rewarding for engagement, that will actually benefit us.”
 

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