Voyeurism in Loyalty Programs.
By Vijay Dandapani
Thursday, 10th January 2013
Phocuswright in a recent article singles out a rapidly growing trend among travelers, particularly within the US: a limitless desire for one and all to see their travel experiences by posting them in the public domain. While most of these posts are innocuous if inane some border on unbridled exhibitionism. 

Phocuswright's latest report notes another aspect to the desire to be seen and recognized by others: sharing their experiences, whether exciting or banal, in real time. Per the research firm,  "Thirty-one percent of U.S. travelers who are active users of online social networks have posted comments/photos on a social network while traveling in the past twelve months. A smaller share (27%) report sharing travel-related comments/photos at home or work."

Further, "the convergence of mobile devices and social media is having a significant impact on traveler behavior, and sharing travel experiences as they happen is becoming the new norm."  And "with cameras nearly ubiquitous in mobile devices, much of the content shared is imagery, making image-based offerings like Pinterest and Instagram particularly relevant."

The foregoing trends coupled with a budding quasi-voyeuristic desire among travelers and wanna-be itinerants is also increasingly the focus of loyalty programs. BtoB a webzine for "marketing strategists" has a post on how loyalty programs are "keying in on soft social recognition". 

The article points out that loyalty programs are "no longer confined to a "do this, get that" model—with an accrual, for example, of points, travel miles or free hotel stays in exchange for repeat business—today's loyalty programs increasingly are incorporating such social elements as badging, recognition and status." Further, "customers are looking for 'soft' social benefits [or] effective emotional rewards that provide status and recognition."

Recognition and status can have different connotations to different people but folding that craving for approval in a wider universe into a loyalty program is the new holy grail. Amazon was eons ahead of others in that sphere in according "Hall of Fame" status to a select few reviewers (all voluntary) based on, among other things, the number of reviews.

Loyalty players in a mumber of industries are capitalizing on these developing consumer traits by egging on their customers to express themselves on social media sites; in the hope that such commentary will accrue to their benefit in return for rewards to their patrons in a variety of areas. A leading and successful example of it was Starbucks' It's Fall campaign where customers were urged to use Instagram to post warm fuzzy images of themselves (and others) while imbibing a Starbucks product.

Vijay is Chief Operating Officer and part-founder of Apple Core Hotels- a chain of 5 midtown Manhattan hotels offering value and comfort in the heart of the city. Member of the board of Directors - Hotel Association of New York.

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