Ashes to Cash: Cemetery Points Program Enlivens Japan’s Graveside Visitations


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It sounds creepy and perhaps even a little predatory, a cemetery offering its recently bereaved customers a loyalty card. Dying for discounts? Points for perpetual care? Not quite. Makuhari Cemetery, on the outskirts of Tokyo, has rolled out its Mairi Point Card with the grace and tact appropriate to a Buddhist burial ground. The program emphasizes Japanese tradition via a very modern vehicle, which actually hits all of the critical points of a well-thought-out loyalty plan.

Owner Takashi Kobayashi includes the Mairi Point Card with every grave site purchase at his cemetery. It comes pre-loaded with 30,000 points, and subsequent purchases (maintenance, rites, flowers, incense) are eligible for 15% cash back. Points can be redeemed for the same graveside products and services that are available for purchase.

Until the IRS comes up with a loyalty program for taxes, death is the only inevitability that touches all of us, and that gives Makuhari Cemetery a guaranteed customer base. It’s growing. In Japan, 30% of the population is currently over age 60, and that will jump to more than 44% by 2050, according to a 2009 Population Aging and Development study from the United Nations. That’s a bigger aging boom than almost any other country (the US is currently at 18%, projected to reach 27% by 2050).

Combine that with a growing problem, which is that in Japan, graveside visits have decreased. More funerals are happening for shrinking families, who often find jobs and move far from a family grave site. This means that many Japanese tombs are being ignored, despite an ancient Japanese tradition of dutiful visits to ancestral burial sites.

Owner Takashi Kobayashi melded modernity and tradition to create the starting point for any successful loyalty program: a unique selling proposition. Kobayashi felt that it was his duty to find a creative way to encourage young Japanese to continue to honor the graves of their ancestors. Firmly driven by a strong “why,” he then created the “how,” or the value proposition to encourage customers to follow through.

Mairi perpetual points can be redeemed for some heavenly hard benefits. Families receive 15% cash back on purchases, and receive 30 “cemetery credits” for each graveside visit. Points can be used for purchases or discounts. Members too busy or distant to visit the tombs in person can purchase 1100 cemetery credits for ¥1000.

Soft benefits include an easy-to-use map that marks the exact location of the deceased’s final resting spot in the large cemetery, which is filled with look-alike marble tombs laid out in a grid pattern. Families can also earn pious pride by winning the Tomb of the Year award for most visits (currently the record is 70 annual visits). Buddhist tradition demands a minimum of four annual visits.

Mairi Point rewards are creatively designed to reinforce the core brand and USP. Both the hard and soft benefits keep the brand and the user experience in the forefront, not only providing every day discounts, but enhancing the customer’s interaction with the brand.

With a program this robust, Makuhari Cemetery will likely be alive and kicking well into the afterlife.

Phaedra Hise
As Senior Editor, COLLOQUY, Phaedra leads the creation of new editorial pieces for multiple distinct content platforms in the COLLOQUY media enterprise: COLLOQUY magazine, the Enterprise Loyalty in Practice journal, COLLOQUY web site, COLLOQUY social media blog, COLLOQUY Network Partner content commitments as well as other LoyaltyOne vehicles.


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