Christmas is a significant time for brands wanting to win over new customers and retain existing ones. With the Christmas season already well within the mind-set of brands, it is essential that the digital customer remains at the forefront of marketing activity. But whilst Christmas is a key point in the year to exhibit their assets and make customers aware of the value in their custom, brands need to remember that a year-round approach to omni-channel loyalty schemes is ultimately what will help optimise customer retention.

According to emarketer, 65% of marketing budgets are set to be spent on Instagram and Facebook, proving just how significant these platforms are in terms of directly reaching customers. Brands need to use these and other digital platforms tactically in line with their promotional schemes to best communicate with the customer and gain an insight into their behaviours.

With competition so rife at this time of the year, brands must recognise the value of an omni-channel approach, yet understand the balance between bombardment and an optimum level of communication. Although the digital customer demands a stream of tailored, relevant and personalised information to influence their shopping experience, it’s important that this level of communication is optimised throughout the year in order to develop the most effective loyalty schemes.

The year-round approach

A pre and post-Christmas approach is essential in terms of building the relationship between brands and customers and setting the foundations for long-term retention that will pay off when it comes to next Christmas. Following up and continuing the customer-centric focus after the holidays is crucial. Customers need to be offered incentives and promotions that they can accumulate throughout the year whilst receiving more short-term benefits in the interim. This is sure to sustain interest up to Christmas and beyond.

The digital customer’s demand for easily redeemable rewards and fast communications does not falter throughout the year, so the key is to give customers something they really value on various occasions. Alongside long-term loyalty schemes, experiential rewards are key to enhancing perceived value and benefit, playing a vital part in attracting the digital customer. Failing to accumulate customer interest and loyalty throughout the year may result in a more risky strategy come Christmas, with little to no underlying understanding of how customers will react to promotional activity.

Understanding the digital customer

Customers need to be immersed into a promotional culture, one that is continuously gaining momentum online and expanding with the evolution of technology and social media platforms. Customers want fast responses and rewards that they can benefit from with minimal effort. Therefore brands need to ensure that schemes, offers and rewards are simple to understand and easy to claim. Reward reminder emails, points statements and mitigating complaints quickly are proven ways of maintaining brand engagement, not only at Christmas, but throughout the year. This is all very well but, fundamentally, brands need to understand what could be stopping people from purchasing goods and address it with promotional activity. This is especially significant at Christmas, to stay ahead of competition and potentially sway fickle customers.

Cash vs Non-cash bonuses

Brands should consider extending beyond discounting in order to keep customers engaged and remember that rewards do not need to be contingent with financial gain. With customers facing an overabundance of offers, both online and in store, discounting doesn’t often hold the same value in the eyes of the customer. Christmas provides many opportunities to offer a variety of rewards, as shown by Ocado who recently revealed how loyal customers have been given a choice of food delivery times amidst the Christmas rush. Ultimately, they recognise the value customers place on efficiency and convenience and economise on this. It’s a working example of how non-cash bonuses can target customers more directly.

Additionally, customers want to be reached directly via social media platforms, especially when it comes to complaints regarding issues such as delivery mishaps and website crashes. Customers aren’t always looking for financial rewards, just reassurance that their queries are taken seriously and their experience with the brand is of utmost importance. With this in mind, brands should consider a 90 second result in terms of responding to customers. As well as a written response, offering a code which is immediately redeemable is an effective way of boosting reassurance. This enables an immediate benefit without having to go into stores and is tailored to what the customer really wants.

There is no set formula when it comes to developing an effective year-round promotions and incentives scheme. But when it comes to targeting the digital customer, brands need to recognise the benefit of non-cash rewards throughout the shopping experience whether that is online, in stores or in more long-term schemes. Rewards which offer more than just financial gain are effective when it comes to developing brand image and customer engagement, especially for brands that pride themselves on the value of their products.

By Ian Horsham, Divisional Director, Promotions and Incentives at The Grass Roots Group