Many Happy Returns

Birthday gifts have become a common element of loyalty programs. Sometimes this specific benefit is clearly stated upfront.  Other times, it is deliberately not – thus leaving an element of surprise (as well as allowing flexibility for delivery and / or fulfillment of the gift).

There aren’t many people who would object to receiving a little something extra in honor of their birthday.  Therefore, well-designed postcards or emails do tend to get noticed. It’s a nice reason for brands to “thank you” and grab your attention at a time when you might even have a new gift card from that particular brand in your wallet. In fact, birthdays are a great springboard for generating sales and yielding above average email response rates. Experian published The Birthday and Anniversary Report in 2010 based on email activity for 53 Experian Marketing Services’ CheetahMail clients. A key finding of the report was that loyalty program birthday email campaigns generated 250 percent more revenue than standard promotional mailings for the same set of clients during the same time period.

While some brands elect to only lavish their best customers with birthday treats, a well-executed loyalty program birthday offer to all program members can go a long way toward reinforcing brand preference across-the-board.  While I am not a high value customer of the magnitude that Tom Stuker is of United Airlines, like many other consumers, I do have well-established preferences for a broad range of products and services. I’ve also recently realized there’s even an echo effect of my loyalty to particular brands, since often my two teenaged daughters adopt and embrace the brands that I choose.

I recently had an exceptional loyalty program birthday experience, not as an elite tier program member, but as an undistinguished member of Friend of Tom’s, the loyalty program of the Here to Serve Restaurant Group. Approximately one week before my birthday, I received an loyalty program birthday email offering a $25 food credit for dining at one of their restaurants on my birthday or one of the following several days. I had been to several of their ten restaurants scattered around Atlanta and thought that Tw!st would be a suitable birthday dinner choice given the wide array of tapas they serve and my family’s love of small plates.

We were treated like frequent diners and both the manager and our waitress could not have been nicer or more attentive (without being annoying or overly solicitous).  The meal was very delicious and they even gave me the choice of any of their desserts “on-the-house”. When the check was presented, I almost couldn’t believe how reasonable it was because they had not only given us the two aforementioned credits, but had applied the 10 percent “FOT” discount off the top of the bill!

It seems clear that Tw!st (and Here to Serve Restaurants) are operationally committed to creating a positive customer experience that goes well beyond the free birthday dessert that many restaurants offer. Yes, it was nice to get three separate discounts (especially since I was the person paying for our meal), but the extra attention and service went a long way toward how I and my almost adult offspring now feel about Tw!st and the rest of Tom Catherall’s restaurants. Now, I really feel like I truly am a genuine friend of Tom’s and I tipped generously to reflect our appreciation.

Birthday gifts don’t necessarily need to be an expensive item or a deep discount to have impact.  Ideally, they should be something that cannot easily be obtained or a simple gesture of thoughtfulness. If the birthday gift is the same offer over and over again, it runs the chance of becoming stale and losing value (not that I could imagine it would be so in the previous example).  

Sephora does a good job with keeping their loyalty program birthday offer "fresh" for members of their Beauty Insider Program. The Birthday Gift is standard for all female members (there is an alternative for men), but it changes each year and always offer something that cannot be purchased in exactly the same size or set / configuration.  They also offer the same gift in-store as they do online, but in both cases the offer must be redeemed within your birthday month or it expires.

Though lacking in creativity and originality, loyalty program birthday discounts are still an appealing way to lure most customers into the store or restaurant to purchase.  Those who do it best do not recycle a standard offer or attach a large minimum purchase in order to receive it. However, the brands that offer them do have the proper measures in place to protect against fraud and abuse – the technology and tracking systems  to ensure that it is used within 60 days, is non-transferable, and can only be used once.

In addition to my Tw!st meal, I did also happily cash in my $15 Ann Taylor Perfect Rewards gift and World Market Explorer $10 gift (both of which required only a minimum purchase greater than or equal to the amount of the credit).  Sadly, I did miss out on receiving my Sephora gift because I did not plan a store visit before the deadline.

Make all of your customers, not just the top spenders, feel special on their birthday in some way.  It is a simple, yet effective, way to nurture loyalty and yield incremental sales.