Building A Global Rewards Program For The U.S. – 4 Essentials

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Loyalty program designers, there’s a big difference between promising your members the world and delivering a world experience. The trick is delivering the world experience as they know it – and walking in their shoes.

Nearly half of the U.S. population— 42%— consists of people of multiple nationalities, ethnicities and/or cultures, according to the Collage Group. By 2042, these multicultural residents are expected to represent a nationwide majority, and in some states they already do.

This matters to loyalty operators, a lot. Each of those 140 million culturally diverse residents likely belongs to several loyalty programs – U.S. consumers, on average, are enrolled in 16.6 programs, Statista reports.

How well-crafted are these programs to meaningfully connect with consumers who are Mandarin, Colombian, Thai or even British?

Packing A Culturally Diverse Program: The Essentials

The success of a globally diverse loyalty program depends on the planning. Like taking a tour around the world, creating a global experience through a U.S. product requires knowledgeable guides and interpretation. These are among the step-by-step necessities of a world-worthy loyalty program.

  1. Recruit a culturally hip team. Companies in the top quartile of ethnic diversity outperformed those of the bottom quartile in profitability by 36%, according to McKinsey & Co. There’s good reason: Employees from different cultures bring distinct behaviors, attitudes and etiquette to the work mix. These are valuable resources. If the people behind a loyalty initiative do not reflect the ethnicities of the consumer base, the product won’t either. And the program’s misinterpretations of what those consumers expect will grow (and become more embarrassing) over time.

Travel pack essential: Ensure your targeted cross-cultural loyalty members are amply reflected across all departments of your team, not just in a few, and from the top down.

  1. Learn to translate. Anyone who’s been unable to interpret the menu at a foreign restaurant can relate to the feeling of exclusion. This is why 4% of consumers are more likely to buy a product described in their native language, according to the global rewards platform Reward the World. But even if you are multilingual, you can misunderstand dialect and culture— a critical “tell” among global consumers. The word “rubber” means “eraser” in the UK, and in some countries, a reference to pants suggests underwear. It’s not just words. Cross-cultural conversation demands understanding the casual jargon of specific communities as well as knowing which images will resonate with members.

Travel pack essential: This task needs the technical infrastructure to support multiple languages and adapt them for various markets, which could entail a translation service and budgeting.

  1. Implement a “world”-class analytics system. More than half of Asians and 66% of Hispanic U.S. consumers are dissatisfied with how they’re portrayed in marketing. The above two steps will prepare an organization to build a data analytics system that accurately presents the program guidelines and messaging to engage specific cultures. Analytics can do this, in part, by determining which versions of language perform best, the features members use most often and areas of friction.

Travel pack essential: Accuracy requires sniffing out and eliminating potential ethnic biases, which can be introduced by the engineers, data scientists and marketers who collect and analyze data. An ethnically diverse analytics team can also help prevent this.

  1. Offer culturally relevant rewards. With a multilingual, multiethnic analytics system in place, companies should have the intel to create a portfolio of rewards and incentives that matter to differently cultured members. In Latin America, for example, nearly 59% of consumers participate in loyalty programs for discounts, while 46% want free stuff. In Asia, members prefer straight discounts, so loyalty programs that offer American-like conventions usually perform poorly.

Travel pack essential: Program accessibility is an essential part of the rewards structure, in terms of dialect and channels. For instance, language barriers can affect how members use loyalty apps on their phones. And in 2023, 85% of the U.S. Hispanic population owned smartphones, compared with 97% of Asian and 84% of Black adults, reports Statista.

Learning Along The Way: 3 Tips To Being Multiculturally Honest

The following handy tips can serve to ensure a multicultural loyalty program engages on a genuine level. Think of these as the universal adapters for fitting into any ethnic outlet.

Find the right test markets for immersion. Before launch, you should test a global program’s features in markets diverse enough to set a high bar. Note that cities and states can vary. California is the most culturally mixed state, according to WalletHub, yet Gaithersburg, Maryland ranks as the most culturally diverse city. (The U.S. Census Bureau offers an online tool that details ethnicities by state, metro areas and counties.) Companies also can test program features on their workforce, similar to how Cracker Barrel piloted its relaunched rewards program, in partnership with Dolly Parton, among its staff.  

Reward employees with relevant incentives. A loyalty team that reflects a global market will likely find value in culturally aligned performance rewards. Some may prefer cash; others might work harder for time off or bonus miles for a trip. Peer-to-peer systems, where employees give rewards to each other, encourage a sense of community while providing insights. Companies might be able to use the same data analytics that reveal member preferences – as well as internal A/B testing— to pinpoint the incentives to which employees will respond best.

Support the community. Roughly 60% of Hispanic and Asian American consumers and 76% of Black consumers will support brands that support them, the Collage Group reports. This requires more than simply hosting a multicultural event at a store or translating loyalty deals into various languages. A company can poll its workforce about proposed community efforts to tell if the ideas hold water. The stronger the above four essentials – such as understanding the nuances of language and accurately predicting preferences—the more credible the community effort.

Loyalty Is Better Through Global Goggles

Lastly, loyalty leaders could view their rewards programs the same way they experience countries and cultures that are new to them— as if they were strangers. Because the multicultural loyalty experience is cyclical – those 140 million diverse U.S. consumers are shaping local lifestyles and traditions as much as local lifestyles are influencing who they are. 

We are all, basically, guiding each other.

So wear comfortable shoes!

  • •••

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Jenn McMillen
Incendio Founder Jenn McMillen has been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. Her expertise includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. She's a retail contributor for Forbes.

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