UFC, Nestlé Purina Want to Retain Loyal Customers, Build Brand Advocates

There is an inherent element of passion at the core of any brand customer base. That’s where brands can go and begin their customer loyalty journeys.

“Find at the core what the passion is of your customers,” Deborah Cook, Director of CRM for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), said during Thursday’s Loyalty360 webinar titled, “How Two Diverse Brands Green Lighted Their Loyalty Program Initiatives,” which was presented by CrowdTwist. “There’s always a passion there. Finding that passion and being able to incent and reward based on that passion is where you start.”

Vincent Biroscak, Director of Marketing at Nestlé Purina, offered webinar attendees some advice if their companies are considering launching loyalty programs.

“If you’re going to commit, go all in and give people a reason to keep coming back,” he said. “Think about your consumers’ needs and likes and find a way to meet them through the program. Right now, we’re rewarding for a lot of different activities.”

Dennis Tze, SVP, Client Success, CrowdTwist served as the webinar moderator.

UFC and Nestlé Purina are at different junctures in their loyalty programs. UFC will launch its program in a month while Nestlé Purina’s launched about a year ago.

Both Cook and Biroscak believe retaining customers is a key goal in having a loyalty program, along with creating brand advocates by offering customers/fans rewards to drive engagement. Tze noted a statistic that says 61% of retailers cited customer retention as their greatest obstacle in 2013, up from 51% in 2012.

When Cook began at UFC about a year ago, she realized things “weren’t adding up” from a data perspective.

“We have millions of fans in the U.S and around the world,” she said. “We had so many fans engaged with us on Facebook, Twitter, or by visiting our site. We had to create this funnel of rich, robust data so we could learn more about our fans, have better offerings for them, and speak to them more on a 1-to-1 level. We wanted to capture data and reward and engage our fans who are so passionate about us.”

Biroscak talked about the factors that drove consideration for creating a loyalty program.

“We felt it was absolutely critical to maintain the people we had and keep them buying as much as possible,” he said. “The recession of 2008-09 put us in a very dark place. The business climate deteriorated and we started to see the category shrink.”

Multichannel loyalty versus “spend and get” made sense for UFC and Nestlé Purina. Driving customer engagement is a critical part of multichannel loyalty because brands are reaching customers where they are interacting. Educating customers is also a component of multichannel loyalty as it provides education around products and services across channels and helps brands reach more consumers.

Social media is a dominant channel and serves any multichannel loyalty program as well.

“A category like pet care is really hugely emotional,” Biroscak said. “We took a step back to really think about how we can leverage something like this to really see if you’re meeting your consumer needs. We have a lot of information we can provide them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. As they become advocates for your brand, they can spread our message share with their network and friends. It goes beyond spend and get, truly adding value for the consumer.”

Cook said that “spend and get” didn’t make sense for UFC.

“Because our fans have so many ways to consume UFC, whether it’s through ordering Pay-Per-View, attending, or watching from a sports bar,” she said. “We have so many advocates on Facebook and Twitter that promote the brand, and we wanted to reward those types of actions. We want to build robust profiles, capture and leverage data with advanced analytics to move the fans through the funnel from moderate fans all the way up to avid fans. It’s really about the data, but it’s us wanting to give back to our fans. The UFC is as big as it is because of its fans. We want every one of them to feel very special and valued. We really wanted to be able to reward and surprise and delight them with some of the rewards we’re going to be able to offer.”

Biroscak said his company is fortunate to have considerable customer data.

“Driving product loyalty is the key objective,” he said. “It really involves driving advocacy. We had an opportunity to reward our consumers with points involving activities and sharing our message. We wanted to make the program easy and simple. The rewards our consumers are most interested in are for their cats such as toys, food, pillows, and blankets.”

Cook said UFC’s loyalty program will launch in mid-October with rewards that, for the most part, “you cannot buy. They have a very high perceived value from a fan standpoint.”

UFC will offer point-earning opportunities for completing a profile and social activities such as retweeting, sharing on Facebook, purchasing a pay-per-view event, or watching a UFC video.

UFC Rewards will include a free month at a UFC gym, exclusive autographed collectibles, the opportunity to ask a question at a post-fight press conference, train with a UFC fighter, and dinner with UFC President Dana White.

“The average person would never have that opportunity,” Cook said. “Our rewards will be limited only by our imagination.”

Gaining internal buy-in and support is crucial to moving a multichannel and engagement program forward.

“Have a champion at a senior executive level,” Cook said. “They get it. They see the value of data capture, of rewarding loyalty, of having engagement and building that customer base and protecting it. It really was an easy sell to get a program like this in place. Be clear about the program, what it will involve, and the metrics of success.”

Biroscak said his company encourages the test and learn process.

“With the digital environment, you can test and learn quickly,” he said. “Driving product loyalty is first and foremost the focus for us, and driving advocacy, for customers to amplify brand messages.”

Program structure and design are pivotal pieces to the loyalty puzzle. Implementing the right structure and an effective design for a loyalty program is critical. Companies must carefully assess how to position themselves, how to engage customers with incentives, and what points system makes the most sense.

“For us, it was about simplicity,” Biroscak said. “From the login process, and the flow of the site itself was of utmost importance to us. We didn’t want people to get lost, frustrated, or confused. We wanted people to come back often. We wanted to make sure the look, tone, and feel was consistent with the brand, making sure that was shining through in terms of customer experience.”

Cook said UFC will invite 5,000-10,000 fans to participate in a beta soft launch to ensure that the user experience is smooth and easy.

“We will constantly be adding new ways to earn,” she said. “We want to engage with fans and capture robust profile data. That’s the key and core to what we’re doing.”

Cook offered two keys for launching a loyalty program:

1. Hire key players early. Find dedicated people to support your loyalty program early in the process.

2. Clearly define your program. Understand what it is and what it isn’t.

Likewise, Biroscak offered two of his own.

1. Plan ahead. While the digital age allows us to get things done quickly, other touch points, like packaging, require a much longer lead time

2. Think hard about your rewards. Consider what you want to offer and the associated point values.

“We see it as an investment very clearly tied to building a database,” Cook said. “A funnel that you can’t buy.”

It’s important for brands to amplify their programs in every single communications channel. To keep loyalty programs fresh, brands need to evolve them. Companies should keep a running list of new ideas and ways to incentivize and engage customers.

Brands must explore new concepts, whether it’s a new reward or a creative way, to drive engagement to propel their offerings. Once a loyalty program is finally launched, that doesn’t mean the hard work is over.

Quite the opposite, according to Cook.

“When we launch, our program will never be done,” she explained. “It’s an ongoing, living, breathing child that myself and my team has to raise, watch it grow, and watch it develop. We still have a lot of work ahead of us after we launch.”

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