Social Gaming in Unpublished Loyalty Programs

Panera recently rolled out a new social game called Eat Smarts.  This is a great example of how game mechanics can be integrated into a loyalty program and brings to light several of the benefits of unpublished loyalty programs.  

Eat Smarts was built using Badgeville’s platform.  The Panera-gamer interacts through a series of games that promote healthier eating choices, reinforcing Panera’s branding as the alternative to unhealthy fast food chains.   The games are fun, engaging, and some are even a bit challenging (I may have spent a little too much  time trying to beat the Food Swap and Drop on the Hard setting…still haven’t done it).  

MyPanera, their loyalty program, is most known for using surprise-and-delight tactics to reward its guests.  As opposed to tracking points, guests of the restaurant may periodically get a free coffee or pastry the next time they make a purchase.  When and how you earn these rewards is unknown to the guest.  This unpublished model can be debated (we’ve done that here), but we believe that more and more programs should be heading in this direction.  Regardless, one of the benefits of keeping MyPanera largely unpublished is that it built a solid foundation that provides the flexibility to add platforms like Eat Smarts to the program without much confusion to the customer.  Eat Smarts promotes creating a relationship with the brand that goes beyond transactions.  Of course, there are benefits tied directly to the game – for example, everyone that gets past level 1 automatically gets a Panera e-magazine on healthy eating.  Although it remains to be seen if and how they are doing this, Panera would be smart to more directly link their unpublished My Panera surprise-and-delight rewards to the members that spend the most time on the web site playing these games.  And that highlights just one more benefit of unpublished programs...the competition doesn’t know what you’re up to!

So, will Eat Smarts work?  Grammatically, it's a stretch.  But as a program, it has significant potential.   Ultimately, its success will hinge on how well Panera executes beyond the games – namely through relationship marketing and how well it syncs up with My Panera.  Panera says that this is a test for them to see how much further along they want to go down the gaming path.  If done right, it feels like a good bet for the brand.