by William Ng | January 18, 2011
There is no question that the social media and mobile technology revolutions have reinvented the ways marketers reach their audiences. Name any major retail brand and chances are it has a page on Facebook and a feed on Twitter, messaging and offering rewards to “friends” and “followers.” Chances are it also has developed a smartphone app in the guise of a useful tool or even a fun game. At the essence of Marketing 2.0 is technology, whether it’s Web-based, mobile, or social, and it is propelling consumer loyalty to new heights. 

Marketing as a Collaborative
In the consumer banking industry, the proliferation of airline-mile, points, and cash-back programs have commoditized loyalty. So in the last few years, banks and retailers have collaborated on so-called merchant-funded rewards programs, in which a bank’s credit and debit cardholders earn rewards (discounts, cash back, points, etc) from those retailers when they use that bank’s cards. The repeated use of the cards to earn rewards creates the “top of wallet” effect bank marketers covet. The stores get more buyer traffic.

In this partnership model, the merchants fund the loyalty program in exchange for access to the bank’s large customer base. The bank gets greater cardholder spend, activation, and retention. Retailers analyze card transaction data for spending habits and brand preferences and make their offers and rewards more relevant, building loyalty. 

Web-based technology is behind these effective collaborations, says Jonathan Silver, CEO of Affinity Solutions, a provider of loyalty solutions and technology to banks, financial institutions, and retailers, who also describes merchant-funded loyalty programs as partnership or coalition marketing. Affinity’s technology platform gives retailers a Web portal through which they can view customized cardholder data and manage their loyalty offers in bank partnership programs.

“We’re moving to scenarios where you can go to a Web site, turn on a radio button, and when you use your credit card at the Gap, for example, you automatically get a reward instead of having to find the offer and bring a paper scan code to the store,” says Silver.

Affinity is working on mobile-based and social-media-based loyalty technologies. Among them are geolocation apps for GPS-enabled smartphones, with which a member of a bank’s loyalty network checks in at a location, such as a mall, and receives all rewards offers from network retailers in the area. Another is a tool where a consumer makes a purchase and activates offers from other merchants in the network. “It’s about what a consumer can get out of her loyalty programs wherever she happens to be,” Silver notes. 

Silver says such “geosocial” incentives are effective when they stick to two philosophies: relevance and something called “you follow me around.” With Facebook, in particular, consumers naturally want to receive their loyalty rewards offers at the place where they hang out the most on the Internet. Silver explains, “Facebook is a great example of where people want their stuff to show up to avoid going to a second portal. As long as the stuff being delivered is what is asked for, then it’s welcomed. It has to be convenient to the consumer, appearing on a mobile device or on a computer when she logs in.” 

Marketing as a Game
Automaker Suzuki wanted to build momentum for its Kizashi midsize sports sedan going into 2011. It leveraged app technology and the enormous popularity of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, creating a downloadable racing game that showcases the Kizashi on four fantasy racetracks and launching the Ring of Fire app just before Christmas as a free download at Apple’s App Store. 

It claims to be the first automaker to debut a game of its own for the iPhone and iPad. The marketing vehicle fits hand in glove with the digitally savvy Generation X and Y buyers of Suzuki’s affordable, performance-oriented cars. The automaker’s associate director of public relations and social media, Jeff Holland, calls the app “an innovator in the digital space among automakers.” The single-player game ties into a larger, non-digital marketing platform for the Kizashi sports sedan, as over the past summer Suzuki promoted the car in an intercontinental road trip from Tokyo to Los Angeles, called “Tokyo to L.A.: The Hard Way.” 

Following upon the trail blazed by “The Hard Way” road show, the Ring of Fire app lets gamers—and potential buyers of the Kizashi—race the car in Tokyo, Siberia, Alaska, and Los Angeles, which were all “Hard Way” tour locations. Players drive the 2011 Kizashi SE on the first two tracks and the 2011 Kizashi Sport GTS on the more challenging third and fourth tracks. 

The app uses iPad and iPhone motion sensors for dynamic steering, and technology supplied by Boston-based developer Brass Monkey turns the iPad or iPhone into a virtual steering wheel when the tablet or smartphone is connected to a computer via Wi-Fi. 

“The Ring of Fire is fun on its own, but steering the car with your iPad or iPhone really makes it an immersive experience,” says Chris Allen, Brass Monkey’s president and chief technology officer. “It’s almost as if you are driving the actual Kizashi, because the mechanics are very similar to using a real steering wheel. We see games like this being the future of what brands will be doing.” 

The app will lead up to Suzuki’s marketing efforts at auto shows in the first half of this year. The carmaker will have Ring of Fire game kiosks at its booths at the Philadelphia International Auto Show (Jan. 29 to Feb. 6), Chicago Auto Show (Feb. 9 to 20), Denver Auto Show (March 30 to April 3), and New York International Auto Show (April 20 to May 1). 

Airline Marketing Targets Motherland
When Lufthansa wanted to improve its brand among U.S.-based Russian, Israeli, Polish, and Greek travelers, it developed a cross-cultural marketing campaign built around an online flight booking portal offering discounted fares to their home countries. Working with New York-based agency Global Advertising Strategies, which specializes in Russian and eastern European markets, the airline found that more than half of its passengers in the U.S. have ties overseas but it wasn’t successfully reaching them. The We Fly Home initiative was created to build brand loyalty from those ethnic markets. 

While developing the www.weflyhome.com portal, which made purchasing airline tickets easier and less costly for Russian, Greek, Polish, and Israeli travelers, Lufthansa produced ethnic TV spots to drive the portal. Its marketing agency aimed to position the airline as one that understood its culturally diverse customers and flew to eastern Europe and Russia from 17 U.S. gateways, with exclusive low fares waiting for them at the microsite.

Within three months of its launch, the We Fly Home portal had over 300,000 unique visitors, and Lufthansa surpassed its ticket sales targets for the Web site. The success convinced Lufthansa to expand We Fly Home to markets including Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, and India. 

Notably building the Indian market, Lufthansa conducted the Flavors of India recipe submission contest/promotional campaign for U.S. residents, with the grand prize winner receiving two roundtrip tickets to one of the carrier’s seven destinations in India plus a three-day, two-night stay at a Leela Palaces, Hotels, and Resorts property. 

Lufthansa again leveraged online technology, as well as viral marketing, creating a dedicated Web portal for the contest, which included a weekly raffle and prize giveaway. U.S. residents were encouraged to register at 
www.lhflavorsofindia.com, which automatically entered them into the raffle, and also to submit their personal Indian food recipes. Lufthansa urged them to tell their friends and family through Facebook and other social networking channels to sign up and vote for their recipes at the site. 

After putting its registrants’ social networking skills into action, the carrier awarded the person with the most sub-registrants roundtrip tickets to one of its destinations in India.