The experiential differential: Loyalty at 180 miles per hour


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These days, I’m all about “experience.”

I’ve signed up for a “Mario Andretti Racing Experience,” in which I take some Indy-car driving lessons (not too different from local freeway driving, I think sometimes), and then I get to pilot an Indy car around a speedway (driving instructor/chaperone included, thank heavens) for eight minutes. They say we might be able to hit 180 mph (slightly less than local freeway driving, I think sometimes). I’m excited enough about the adventure that I’ve spent far more time than the anticipated eight minutes talking up what I’ll be experiencing to family, friends, colleagues, jealous enemies and strangers on the street.

Consider that I signed up for the experience in October 2011. I’ll do the driving in June 2012. And in the meantime, the Mario Andretti Racing Experience gets a ton of promotion from word-of-mouth . . . word of my excited mouth (not to mention an unsolicited mention in a marketing blog).

In sports terms: The thrill of victory (no agony of defeat). In marketing terms: the power of experience.

I’m led to blather once more about my automotive extracurricular activity in seeing the recent announcement that United Continental has launched MileagePlus Headliners, an auction-redemption option for members of its MileagePlus frequent-flyer program (now in the process of bringing Continental’s OnePass members into the fold). Like sweeps, auctions are hardly new to the loyalty-program-redemption world, and they make great sense. They encourage engagement at lower points/miles levels, and open up dreams for members.

What struck this dreaming-of-being-behind-the-wheel guy was one of the first auction items made available in the MileagePlus Headliners program: “an opportunity to train like a pilot in United’s flight simulator in Denver.” OK, I’m not going to actually pilot a plane (you can thank me later). But if I place a bid, I have a chance to slip behind the scenes and experience something none of my jealous enemies experience. While doing so, I’m offered the opportunity to engage with a brand in a way unique to the brand.

And that’s a significant point here. United could very well get me behind the wheel of an Indy car if they partnered with the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. And on the other hand, the Experience could very well team with United to land me (pun intended) some pilot experience. But the beauty in each case is that they instead offer engagement that’s absolutely true to their brands.

So, the ultimate messages: Offer experiential rewards. They’re unique, fun, and word-of-mouth-worthy. But then take next step: Offer experiences unique to your brand. Let members remember not just the experience, not just who offered the esperience, but how they became one with the brand through the experience.

Meantime, for further information about the United/Continental MileagePlus/OnePass merger, read our “Going to the Chapel” (which covers loyalty program mergers in general). And stay tuned for our inside look at the MileagePlus/OnePass merger in our next print issue.

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.


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