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Nuts & Bolts - Case Study : Personalization Rewards Professionals

February 2013 By Heather Fletcher
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Ask not what members can do for their trade associations. Ask members what their trade associations can do for them. Specifically, how loyalty program provider Affinity Center International (ACI) and the trade associations it partners with can present their members with rewards they want, says David Carrithers, president, managing director and founder of Reston, Va.-based ACI.

"I've worked on many, many, many loyalty card programs," Carrithers says. "Their model is they're trying to drive behavior to the card."

Instead, when Carrithers founded ACI in April 2011, he envisioned creating a rewards program that fit its users' behaviors and rewarded those behaviors with relevant perks.

To that end, he needed an automated marketing portal that could make AchieveLinks—ACI's rewards program—work smoothly despite all of its personalized options. The program is co-branded with each ACI partner association, and Carrithers says trying to do all of that personalization manually just wasn't cutting it.

In May 2012, ACI hired Prince Frederick, Md.-based direct marketing solution provider to automate the AchieveLinks marketing process.

ACI beta-tested the system until July 2012, and in early August was able to roll out the program nationally at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting & Exposition in Dallas.

Eighty associations have partnered with ACI since then. ACI gathered direct mail and email lists of their members, and Carrithers says the portal allowed him to place logos on all materials, personalize the welcome from each organization's executive director and ensure association names were on each communication. ACI could then individualize communications for associations with membership pools ranging from 300 members to 30,000 members or more.

Once the associations sign off, ACI markets to the members on their behalf. In the case of the first 80, ACI started contacting their 500,000 members between September and November. With 10 contacts in three months—including four versions of email messages and four variations of postcards—ACI is seeing a more than 30 percent response rate. Carrithers says thousands of members are now earning perks and some have already redeemed them.

Reward options are personalized for each program, too. For instance, The Dermatology Nurses' Association (DNA) chose shopping, golfing and traveling rewards, while Carrithers says a couple associations in the construction industry picked construction supplies and safety training prizes.

"Based on the demographics and the makeup of the member, we can change the imaging and message to fit them," says Carrithers. "So those that are of a certain age or group or area, maybe we're showing not just golf, but golf and resorts that they go to or are in their area that they'd be interested in vs. just a generic shot of somebody at a golf course somewhere. So that personalization of the rewards is very, very important for the long-term."

In the meantime, Carrithers plans to continue using the portal to allow him to ask what he can do, perhaps not for "the freedom of man" as President John F. Kennedy did in 1961, but for the free choice of today's ACI cardholders.


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