Top 10 Predictions for B2B Loyalty Marketing Trends in 2018

By Ko de Ruyter and Debbie Keeling

1.       Transparency about privacy

2017 was the year of the privacy breach. Loyalty program members will still be willing to share their data, but only if they trust your program. Looking to 2018, prospective clients will favour programs that guarantee the safety of their data and the protection of their privacy. They will no longer be content with protection ‘running in the background’. Transparent use of member data will be an upfront USP. It is crucial that programs think and act on privacy regulations and that members are totally clear on how their data will be used.

2.       Influencer loyalty gets bigger and better

In the B2C sector ‘influencer loyalty’ tends to be driven by celebrities (anyone from A list to D list) and trend-setters posting on their Instagram feeds.  For B2B partner programs, however, influencer loyalty comes alive in online testimonials, video case studies, and referrals from proactive highly visible program members. Recruiting key market players as program members will boost your impact and sales potential. Getting them to review your program will ignite a collective of program enthusiasts, which in turn will expand your reach in industry target segments. Get ready for the new era of ‘celebrity’ program members.

3.       Member-to-Member live streaming will be an engagement changer

Members are getting tired of uniform messaging and glossy promotional posts; too many programs keep selling the illusion of the perfect rewarded life. There is a genuine quest for authenticity and members want videos to testify to this. Research has found that members watch live streams 3x longer than pre-recorded and edited video content. Members will be using live videos to accompany their personal stories, “capturing the moment” content that is raw but more engaging. There is accumulating proof that live streaming is twice as effective in driving sales engagement and program members have admitted that they would prefer to see more live testimonials of case studies and sales successes.

4.       Greater focus on strategies to prove ‘Return on Learning’

B2B loyalty programs will still evolve around re-engineering loyalty via enablement. In other words, driving participant engagement through completion of education and learning offerings that increase their product knowledge and capacity to sell your products and services. But in 2018 program managers will increasingly implement Partner Capacity Building (PCB) strategies to manage business partner enablement in a more systematic and cost-efficient way to prove Return-on-Learning (RoL). Three steps will be central to these strategies: (1) training requirements analysis; (2) customized education offerings and (3) curriculum development that encompasses capabilities related to steps to the sale as well as competencies that facilitate these steps, such as negotiation and story-telling skills.

5.       Augmented Reality will drive vertical channel integration

Advancing technologies, such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will allow for a more productive conversation between vertical channel partners. A manufacturer of tiles is now facilitating interactive sessions between architects, builders, financing institutions and end-customers to achieve joint and more optimal decisions with regards to the choice of their products. Supporting this with vertically organized incentive programs for a wide range of stakeholders will become a pertinent strategy for suppliers.

6.       Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) accelerate Attention & Interest (A&I)?

To increase the effectiveness of comms, SPIFFs and other promotional tactics, programs are exploring the potential of personalization. Feeding off big, bigger and biggest data, AI and machine-learning routines will have an unsurpassable impact on how firms communicate with their program members. Members can expect to receive more personalized content, based on demographic, behavioural and psychographic criteria. The true measure of success will be whether the deployment of these Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms will be able to achieve a level of Attention and Interest (A&I) that will entice the engagement of program members. Dynamic content will change based on member data. As member profiles start to match up with automated decision rules, they will be presented with program content that is personally relevant to them.

7.       Going local, not just in Acapulco, with ‘geofencing’

Many channel partner programs have gone mobile. This means that they go, wherever the program member goes. A recent class of technologies called ‘geofences’ can be used to target members on location. Think Minority Report! Promotional messaging could reach members at the right time and the right place. But not just these. It also means that specific sales and training information can be made available in specific areas for on-the-spot improved efficiency. Geofencing offers opportunities to stay in touch as members are on the go and visiting their clients. Smart applications of geofencing will be used to improve the member experience and stimulate on-the-parking-lot enablement.

 8.       More effective loyalty-cycle management

As members have different wants and needs depending, for example, on their program status level or the length of their membership, differences between members exist at each stage of the loyalty-cycle. These differences will define the level of program engagement and prevent program management from getting too complacent about longstanding program members. With the help of AI-based segmentation and targeting, programs will be better equipped to fine-tune their communications and rewards offerings based on members’ histories. This also enables programs to differentially reward rookie members for making their first sale vs. automatic contract renewals by program veterans.

9.       Loyalty hacking holds promise

Embracing the practices of start-ups, programs are no longer afraid to be in a state of continual experimentation. It is all about running iterative, small scale experiments that make clear what works and what doesn’t. Programs will be testing 5 different ways of wording a members’ call to action; they will be identifying 500 mid-tier program members that have a high likelihood of moving up the loyalty ladder; or they will be testing 5 sets of badges for a program’s social leaderboard. Loyalty hacking holds the promise of next-day delivery of results, clear-cut actionable results and the ability of providing an agile response to the needs and wants of members.

10.   Account-based Loyalty (ABL) will hammer home a sense of focus

ABL is all about shifting a program’s focus from lots of prospects to highly targeted, high-value non-members. We are talking about top-of-the-pyramid, strategic non-member accounts who really should be in the upper tiers of your program: prospects that possess all the signs of developing a highly profitable relationship. Taking this approach, each of these accounts will be treated like it is a KPI on its own, with an acquisition strategy that is completely tailored and executed through high-touch sales and marketing tactics. ABL relies on developing member personas, intelligent targeting technology and a sense of an ideal member profile, based on lots of research. It will make a business case out of each and every targeted non-member, as the ROI of a segment of one for these special clients will be a no-brainer.