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How strong loyalty programs take fan engagement to the next level

Rewards programs have long been synonymous with retailers and brand manufacturers, but over the past couple of years, entertainment and media companies have started getting in on the action. Given the increased competition from streaming applications, OTT content providers and other media services, it's only natural that players in the entertainment industry would look for new ways to differentiate themselves and better engage fanbases.

While navigating the increasingly fractured media landscape, many companies have discovered that launching strong rewards programs helps reinforce customer loyalty. According to a recent MarketsandMarkets study, the loyalty management market is on pace to expand at a 22 percent compound annual growth rate through 2022, when it will be worth nearly $4.6 billion.

Embracing customer loyalty programs is a good first step toward stronger fan engagement, but entertainment companies will need to further refine their rewards platforms to provide users with the kind of value that drives true brand loyalty.

Support and enhance the fan experience

Savvy retail brands have understood for some time now that customer loyalty programs need to act as more than just an avenue to distribute rewards points and strictly monetary perks. Customers want experiential benefits that make them feel valued and, for lack of a better term, special. You can grab someone's attention by offering them discounts and deals, but to convert them into a lifelong customer and brand advocate, you need to give them more.

A 2018 MIT Sloan study revealed that in addition to the opportunity to accumulate and spend rewards points, loyalty program members prioritize experiential perks such as exclusive benefits, VIP treatment and status recognition. Such benefits appeal to users on an emotional level, driving stronger engagement. Brands that excelled at imbuing their loyalty programs with these kinds of emotionally charged offerings had rewards members who were more willing to pay higher prices and recommend that company to others.

Why are experiential rewards so compelling to loyalty program members? It's all in the psychology. Consider the fact that nearly all rewards programs offer cost-savings benefits. It's difficult to for any one brand to leave a mark simply by sending users promotional offers when everyone else is doing the exact same thing.

As ITA Group's Christina Zurek pointed out, a unique brand experience is far more memorable than simply an opportunity to save money, leaving a better impression with rewards program users. The more exclusive those experiences are, the more they will appeal to customers who have a wide variety of options to choose from.

Cultivate social engagement

Zurek also highlighted the importance of social signaling to customer loyalty programs, noting that people are predisposed to want to share their experiences with others. There are certainly opportunities to integrate rewards programs with social media platforms, but entertainment groups are uniquely situated to create environments where their fans can interact with each other in a brand-driven setting.

AMC Networks, for instance, launched "The Walking Dead Fan Rewards Club" in 2017, a customer loyalty platform that provides exclusive access to a rabid fan community. Fans of the popular show can upload user-generated content like custom artwork while having access to perks like personal messages from cast members. Members accumulate rewards points by watching either "The Walking Dead" or its companion show, "The Talking Dead" on AMC's different platforms. They can also receive points every time they submit a post on the platform or share content, which can be redeemed to purchase memorabilia, additional digital content, limited-edition collectibles or even unique experiences like a private tour or lunch with the cast.

As AMC Networks rewards program shows, entertainment companies have plenty of opportunities to engage fans in ways that simply weren't possible a decade ago. In the right hands, customer loyalty programs provide experiential benefits that will drive brand engagement for years to come.