You might expect people who sign up for a loyalty program with a bank to be especially leery about how their data is used. But a recent study suggests that they are actually more open to personalized offers than other consumers.
Maritz Loyalty Marketing asked 6,000 people nationwide who belong to loyalty programs across all industries to classify different types of targeted marketing as "cool and exciting" or "creepy and weird."
On average the survey participants had enrolled in 7.4 loyalty programs, with 1.8 of those tied to a credit or debit card from a bank. The program categories included retail, grocery, airline, hotel, entertainment and financial services.
Age factored into the results, with those 50 and up getting creeped out by the use of their personal information more often than younger people. This held true even when they received special benefits in exchange for sharing details about themselves.
But the participants who say at least one of their loyalty programs is with a financial institution are more likely than other people to perceive the same marketing tactics as cool.
"It seems like FI program participants are less allergic to the uses of their personal information as a general sentiment," says Scott Robinson, senior director for loyalty consulting and solutions at Maritz.
Robinson theorizes that financial institutions benefit from a halo effect. He says people might have a greater level of trust in how banks handle their data over other types of loyalty program operators, lending greater latitude in how personal information can be used.
The tactic that got the highest "creepy" rating in the survey is reviewing the posts of Facebook friends to determine eligibility for rewards. An example of this is a customer getting surprised by an instant discount at the checkout because, the cashier informs her, she has friends who like the retailer on Facebook.
Overall, 52 percent of loyalty program participants think this would be creepy, and among those ages 50 and up, 65 percent think so. But of those who are in a financial services program, only 44 percent view this as creepy.
Another tactic that scored high for giving people the creeps is providing a credit card number to a retailer via its website to get money back (for example, customers could get a $20 reward on their credit card statement for spending $200 a month in the store).
This comes off as creepy to 43 percent of the survey participants overall and 53 percent of those ages 50 and up. But people in a loyalty program at a financial institution are far less likely to be bothered by this use of their personal information. Only one in three label it as creepy.
The trend holds across responses to other marketing tactics. "Of those who participate in FI programs, fewer tend to think of the top creepy and weird things as creepy and weird," Robinson says.
Along the same lines, the tactics that most people think of as cool and exciting score even higher with this subset. These include determining location via a smartphone to offer a deal at a nearby retail store and setting preferences on a smartphone so that, on arrival at a store, an order is paid for instantly.
"On average about half of program participants would find both things cool and exciting," Robinson says. "More than half of participants in FI programs would find those things cool and exciting."
The demographics of those in bank loyalty programs differ from the norm in several key ways. A larger proportion of them are affluent and male, and they generally carry more loyalty cards (8.8 on average). They are also more likely to use a smartphone or tablet. So it's possible having a bigger share of tech-oriented males with greater interest in loyalty programs in general could be a factor in this segment overindexing on the cool factor. Robinson says he can't confirm this hypothesis, as he hasn't investigated it.
Regardless, the survey results are counter to what he would have guessed. "I thought that FI program participants might have been more leery about how their personal information is being used, but in fact it is the opposite," he says.
Because the difference between cool and creepy varies from one customer to the next, Maritz says loyalty programs should not only be clear about how they use personal data, but ask permission to do so at regular intervals. And customer preferences change, so the set-it-and-forget-it approach is a risky one. Better to frequently take stock of what customers want, in order to maintain trust.