In this day and age, when consumers have more choices on where to spend their money, and more economic incentive to be overly selective about those choices, having a throw-away benefit is risky. It leads customers to question where their dollars are going, and gives them no reason to continue engaging beyond an initial perusal.

Here's why member benefits are so important: unless an organization makes great smartphones, computers, televisions or automobiles, chances are their customers aren't interacting with the brand every day. There's a good chance they've totally forgotten the organization entirely. This makes for an awkward conversation when bills come due or the customer is asked to make another purchase.

An Example of How Not to Benefit Your Customers

A mid-sized company looking for a discount program benefit contacted us about a year ago. After a few meetings and demos, they were totally seeing the positives of a quality program. Then when the time to make the decision came, they went with a freebie solution - a compilation of affiliate deals that drive small amounts of transactional revenue back to the organization.

It didn't matter if people wouldn't actually use or benefit from the program, they explained, because the company just needed to check the "discount program" box so their benefits could match what their competitors offered.

Just 100 years ago the first cross-continental phone call was made. Now, you're reading a blog post while listening to music streaming from the cloud and texting with your spouse about dinner.

As remarkable as it seems, technological innovation and consumer adoption don't happen by accident. It's extremely rare that a technology debuts and immediately jumps from A (a concept) all the way to Z (finished product with mass consumer adoption) without some major bumps along the way. No, every item you use throughout your day is the result of years of learning, failure, feedback, trial and effort.

This conversation is relevant to mobile payments. The basic technology exists (A) but is far, far from mass adoption (Z). Whether it's five years or 100, there is quite a bit that needs to happen before society at large begins paying with their phones. And some companies are already getting in the game.

Not too long ago I stumbled upon an article wherein a loyalty guru was asked to weigh in on the future of rewards programs for credit cards. He opined that the long-term outlook for these types of programs, particularly those that dole out points, was heading for a sharp decline. The problem, he said, was that the convenience of mobile technology would inspire people to actually redeem their points, resulting in a revenue decrease from shrinking breakage.

Like Walter White from the popular AMC series BreakingBad, some loyalty programs are turning to the dark side. They've abandoned their purpose - loyalty, the very thing they're named for - and instead are just another quick trick to bring people in the door and shuffle them right back out.

A loyalty program that's dependent upon breakage to be deemed a success isn't a loyalty program at all. It's just a broken promise.

Pop Quiz!

Without consulting Google or your address book, name the following:


Your plumber


Your dentist.


The last membership organization you joined.


Your real estate agent.


The brand of cereal you ate this morning. Or the name of the farm your eggs came from, if you're the lucky type that gets to have a nicer breakfast.


The family vet.


The manufacturer of the ink pen next to your hand. Or the manufacturer of the case around your smartphone on which you're reading this.


Okay, quiz over. How did you do?

Just a guess, but you probably drew blanks on many of these. It's okay; you're just not engaged with these brands.

Try to count the methods companies use to generate customer loyalty, and you'll quickly run out of fingers. And toes. And the fingers and toes of your friends and family. A quick glance at our collection of loyalty statistics shows that companies are attempting a variety of tactics, and customers are lapping it up - if not necessarily always returning their loyalty.

Points and miles, punch cards, gamification, discount programs, insider clubs...brands have become incredibly creative in trying to capture the elusive hearts and minds of customers, with decent results most of the time. If a loyal customer is so much more valuable than trying to pull in new ones, then it's very much worthwhile to invest in any idea that can bring a customer back.

Which is why it's so mind-boggling that many companies are overlooking the small stuff that has a direct impact on a customer's perception of the brand. Specifically, there's one area where many brands are simply not doing enough.


Cookies from The Chocolate, a dessert cafe in Utah.

Running a business is tough. If it’s a brick-and-mortar, consumer-facing business, then it’s doubly tough. You have staff to manage and train, facilities to maintain, codes to abide by, books to keep, bills to pay and oh, somewhere in there you need to have a great product or service.

On top of all those things, you need to actually bring people in the doors to pay for it all.

Knowing this, merchant funded rewards and coupon marketers across the country have focused their attention on merchants. They understand that many businesses are desperate to do whatever is necessary to bring in traffic and keep the doors open for another week. They prey on these restaurants, retailers, health spas and service shops for deals, promising to bring in traffic in exchange for a cut of the revenue.

Some are legit, many aren’t. With so many other duties to handle, most business owners can’t take the time to vet every opportunity. It’s a recipe for disaster in many instances.