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Build a Winning Loyalty Program Strategy for Your Panel

The incentive program is an important aspect of successfully managing a panel. Having a strong loyalty program strategy can increase participant engagement and the lifetime value of the participant. Here are four key building blocks to a successful panel loyalty program.

Panel loyalty programs are the foundation for increasing a research company’s profitability and revenue by increasing panelist acquisition, survey frequency, and panelist retention programs. Panel incentive programs, when done correctly, build brand advocacy and increase panel engagement and the lifetime value of the participant. But to leverage the benefits of a loyalty program, you will need to have panelists to enroll, engage them in ways they are comfortable with, offer carefully selected rewards they are receptive to, and capture all the necessary data along the way to get critical insights into your panelists attitudes and attributes. Then and only then you can set the stage for the goldmine of profile information to manage the success of existing and future panel survey projects.

When considering setting up a winning loyalty strategy you need to look at the basic building blocks of creating a great panel loyalty program strategy. In this article we are going to take a look at four of key building blocks: objectives, gaining program support of key stakeholders, rewarding the participants, and measuring the program.


Before anything else, take a step back and don’t get ahead of yourself. Take time to plan and decide what you want to get out of your panel loyalty program and have a clear value proposition in mind. Do you want to improve panelist acquisition? Decrease panelist turnover? Increase number of surveys undertaken? One of the first steps in developing a panel loyalty incentive program is deciding who your audience is. Are you addressing consumers with surveys they are qualified for? Perhaps it’s a particular segment of the panel, and you are wanting to incentivize them to participate in a new client product survey or to encourage dormant panelists to update their core profiles.

If your primary goal of your panel loyalty program is to focus on a retention strategy, then you may want to rethink what you are currently doing and be honest with yourself what is really not working and make sure you don’t include any stale promotions. Obtaining a new panelist can cost up to ten times more than to retain your current ones, so this gives, even more reason for focusing your program on current clients and their loyalty. In the end, it doesn’t matter which track you decide to pursue; there is something you should never forget: your program should be about making your panelists happy and keeping them “your” panelists.

Every consumer has different needs to keep them faithful to your brand. To keep a panelist an advocate of your brand, it has been shown that implementing a loyalty incentive program will work wonders. You must deliver on your promise of reward panelists for surveys. Todays’ panelist tweet, and post on Facebook their survey experiences and in lots of cases refer friends.

By keeping them happy, they will let others know thus extending the lifetime value and contributing to your panelist acquisition. It’s a win/win scenario.

Regardless of how you develop your loyalty incentive program – based on currency or softer benefits such as special games, exclusive tiered benefits, and offers, you must make sure there is continuous alignment between your panelist and the program. You must have the program support the experience of the panelist and not the other way around.

Key Stakeholders

When preparing for a Panel incentive initiative, a panel manager can often have great frustrations when they come across a roadblock in the approval phase of their proposal. Upper management will always drill down on the potential costs and returns of any marketing proposal brought to them. The program review is part of their fiduciary responsibility of their respective positions and is no different with a loyalty program because it is a serious investment. For this reason, you must be prepared to show them a sound business case which includes measurable and accurate metrics.

In developing a Panel loyalty program, there is a sequence you need to follow. There are too many loyalty program designers that don’t want to take the time to plan properly and instead take shortcuts and jump to platform selection or program execution before doing the basics.

All across the globe Market Research companies are starting to grasp how important loyalty incentive programs are in cultivating and rewarding repeat panelists. However, just starting a loyalty program isn’t enough. You need to be sure it is valuable to the key stakeholders.

Who exactly has a piece of the pie when it comes to your loyalty program? If you get other departments to buy-in early, then you will get that much more support during the life of the program. Seeking out input from not only a loyalty provider, but executives in marketing, finance, operations, and IT will make your program a success. You must be sure that you address all concerns early on. By not bringing in the other divisions you will certainly flounder if not fail altogether.

Of course, the future cannot be predicted, but with a viable plan in place with a clear financial objective, you will help management to understand and quantify the risks and rewards associated with your program and continue to warrant support from them. Collaborate with finance folks early in the program design phase and be sure to show information in their language. Always take into consideration such complex variables as technology needs, booked liability, and reward costs.

You will also want to understand and communicate the likely sources of incremental income, including the program’s ability to drive more surveys completions, referrals, enrollment opportunities from more visits, and other beneficial behaviors. Be realistic about the possible return and whether it is driven by “softer” behaviors such as social interactions and “likes” on social media. Develop and explain a range of scenarios to test using your model; a well-constructed model should provide insight into a wide range of possible actions and likely outcomes.

How will Participants be Rewarded

You will want to be sure you implement the correct loyalty solution for your incentive payouts, and you’ve included the right reward mix. There are several types of incentives to select from, including cash payments, PayPal, digital rewards, merchandise, experiential rewards, and games. Carefully consider each type when making your selections to ensure your audience is motivated by the incentive you offer, and it fits into your budget. The last thing you would want is your reward management technology hit a snag, and or offer the wrong reward and create unhappy panelists.

You might be considering the cash option for your panelists, which is desirable in many cases because it can meet corporate objectives efficiently, and is deliverable worldwide via checks, prepaid cards, PayPal and digital reward cards. PayPal is entirely digital, mobile, and can deliver in multiple currencies. Check used as an incentive payout is helpful when there are no other options. But, its use can create a mindset of a paycheck, and may not necessarily build loyalty. Digital prepaid rewards delivered via email reduce card inventories on hand, streamline fulfillment and though prepaid rewards put the burden of redemption on the user, it also gives them instant gratification with the sense of having cash in hand.

You can also recognize and reward your top panelists with more rewards through a tiered approach. Reward tiers may add an extra layer of cost to your program but shows your survey community you care and that your willing to thank them with, for example, double points since they are often your most loyal panelists. Panelists who regularly complete surveys are your VIPs, but how much do you know about them? Is this segment of panelists engaged in a way that they understand they are special? They are staunch advocates of your brand, and by them delivering surveys on a consistent basis you are meeting your client project initiatives, so it’s important to keep these panelists engaged and satisfied.

If you are a small panel, consider hosting focus events a few times a year that are only for your VIPs. Inviting your ‘regulars’ to provide valuable input is an excellent way to show them how much you appreciate them. This personalized treatment adds stickiness to their lifecycle and will also increase the satisfaction of your loyalty program participants.

The points-based reward program model is a panelist favorite. They understand the approach and how it works. If leveraged correctly by your company, this type of loyalty program can provide significant savings to your program versus the cash-based incentive program model. A points program allows a panelist to self-select their preferred incentive using the concept of “Reverse Preference.” By conveniently offering the featured incentive (check, PayPal,) used to reward the panelist, along with a wide variety of other high perceived rewards, a percentage of the panelist will naturally “self-select” a different reward type based on their interests. The reward for this purpose should be carefully selected and motivate the demographics that you are engaging. You should consider incentives such as digital rewards, Visa prepaid rewards, brand name merchandise, gift cards and instant win games in your marketplace. Applying the concept of reverse preference provides a loyalty program with 18+ percent in savings off your incentive cash spend. Companies like this type of loyalty program because it can easily be designed with customized specifications and combined with proper planning, will allow for real-time changes, reporting & analytics and promotion overlays. Points-based reward programs also allow for more diverse demographics to be addressed and considered.

How will the Program be Measured

To gauge a program’s success, you must consider what your ROI measurements goals are. Even if you’ve just rolled out your program outline, it’s never too early to start thinking about your ROI goals and benchmarks. The best practice is to begin the build-out of your loyalty reward technology with measurable goals in mind and structure it to be ROI positive from the onset. It’s here that a great loyalty management software program comes into play to provide the data for the major performance metrics and you want to make sure you have selected the right loyalty technology provider.

Understanding, and agreeing on, how the loyalty program will be measured and evaluated is critical; achieve alignment from all the key stakeholders on metrics in advance. Getting alignment early in the design process can help avoid surprises or misunderstandings. Articulate the program’s key point indicators and lay out expectations, complete with anticipated milestones on the road to success.

You will want to answer any questions that arise with solutions that are as measurable and accurate as possible. Without creating measurable goals with due dates, you will not be able to stay on track. For example, you may have a goal to decrease panelist turnover by 20 percent in the next 18 months. You should attach a project timeframe to each desired goal to make sure that you complete all steps in the particular manner you planned.

Having the right loyalty program software solution can help you gather and use much of the information you need all in one place. In today’s world of remote employees, it is more important than ever to consolidate costs and remove duplication of efforts by streamlining productivity. To quickly take advantage of emerging low-cost technologies and microservices, you will want to implement a SaaS reward management technology, which includes agile APIs, allowing all your existing system assets to connect effectively and efficiently. Instant access to the analytics helps you adjust to real-time information that contributes to decisions on what is working and adjustments you may need to make in regards to the quantifiable data that you gather.

The system selected should instantly connect your panelists to an extensive offering of incentive reward products for instant engagement and provides you with a straightforward and easy way to change the reward mix as needed. You should be able to run multiple panel projects and programs with different demographics simultaneously, each with its incentive scheme tailored to your needs.

You may think you covered all the basics in your loyalty strategy, but, you must reduce to the simplest aspect of loyalty and need to focus on one question throughout the planning process: Is this going to make our customers happy? Whether it is the objectives you strive toward, the decision makers involved, rewards offered, technologies used, or how it is measured, when creating your loyalty program, if you satisfy this goal; then loyal panelists will drive more survey completions, word-of-mouth and social proof for your brand. Additionally, your current panelists can help you turn valuable prospects into loyal members of your panel community.

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