The strategy of creating incentives for consumers to use, buy, share and talk about your product is not new. Gifts with purchase at the cosmetics counter, trading stamps that can be redeemed for prizes, frequent shopper points, coupons and two-for-one specials have been tried by merchants for decades as a way to get customers to use and reuse their products.

In the age of social media, the latest iteration of reward programs, Klout Perks and Amex Rewards, are really just an extension of those same tactics.  And some are better then others.

A year ago, I was a really big fan of Klout and Klout Perks. I received $10 gift cards for Subway and $25 gift cards from Macy’s which I could use with no strings attached. To me, these were real rewards and incentives.

But lately the Perks have changed. What I have been receiving as “perks” are just discount coupons. I have received $10 gift cards to be applied to purchases which may cost $50 – $100. That isn’t a perk, it is a discount or sale, the same I would receive if I just watch the paper for your sales. And it wasn’t really rewarding me for using the product or service.

In contrast, the new Amex small business program in conjunction with Foursquare is brilliant. Instead of giving me coupons which have little or no value,, they partner with restaurants and retail venues. The redemption is easy. All I have to do is check in on Foursquare and then pay with my Amex card. $5, $10 or more will be automatically credited to my account. It doesn’t get much easier than that. And with this scenario, everyone wins!

  • I am  likely to return to the venue because I know I can get a discount just for checking in, so the venue wins
  • I am likely to use my Amex card, because I get $10 back, so Amex wins
  • I am happy because I save $10 on something I was going to buy anyway, so I win

In addition, the restaurant and Amex get an additional boost because I am checking in and sharing information about the venue and the discount. I might say something like “Hey, I am at Zest, and I saved $10 on a great meal, cause I paid with my Amex.”

To me, that is a great program, because it builds both brands, creating a happy customer who is likely to come back. So as you think about your reward programs, think about the Klout and Amex models. Keep your program simple to adminster, simple to participate and think about the  win, win win.