Admittedly, the marketing strategy of offering a rewards program is nothing new. But as with the success or failure of many tactics, it’s all in the execution.  You will likely get some benefit from a generic ‘refer a friend’ or ‘spend more, save more’ type of program, but to really maximize your rewards program ROI, think about offering something that really resonates with your target market and reinforces your brand’s role in their life.

Take, for example, Sweetgreen restaurants. They will be our case study today not only because everyone in the Webs office is loving that they just opened a franchise across the street, but mostly because Sweetgreen started out as a small business, possibly much like your own.

It all began when three students at Georgetown University in Washington, DC got fed up (no pun intended) with the local restaurants available to them. While there are many great establishments in the area, the healthful options that fit a student budget were few and far between in 2007. The friends opened the first location on Georgetown’s M Street with the mission to make healthy, sustainable foods accessible for everyone. They have since opened about 20 locations in major East Coast cities, and attribute their success — in large part — to their focus on community values.

Sweetgreen has a number of programs involving farms and schools that support their sustainability mission. You can read more about those here. Today we’re going to focus on their rewards program, Sweetgreen Rewards. This programs centers around their iPhone and Android apps and offers a number of perks for the holder:

– Give $3, Get $3 (Rewards for sharing the app with friends)
– Spend $99, get $9 (A trackable credit stash that rewards more purchases)
– Birthday Salad (Free salad…on your birthday)
– 3-Tiered VIP Status System (Invite-only events, charitable giving program)

If the first 3 rewards don’t really resonate with the Sweetgreen audience, this last program is certain to. The goodies for each status level (Green, Gold, Black) are different as they’re based on your spending habits, but all three come with the perk of 1% of all your purchases going to support programs that encourage healthy eating in schools. This dovetails nicely with Sweetgreen’s mission, and with the values of their target customers.

In addition to helping break down people’s objections to parting with their money by adding an aspect of charity, a program like this makes people feel like they are part of a community. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that people love bandwagons. By joining a community of people who are all giving 1% of their $8 salad purchase to charity, people can’t help but estimate how much that whole group has donated as a whole.

The lesson here is simple. This kind of values-based marketing is so much more powerful than a generic rewards program that only has benefits for the individual. Of course, you need to offer those as well, but consider how you can offer a benefit that really fosters community among your target audience and helps them feel a part of something special. I know that for me personally, I find it much easier to justify going out for lunch when the return on my purchase benefits not only me, but a larger cause that I care about. It’s a win-win, and that’s what a rewards program should always try to be.

Do you offer a rewards program to your customers? Do you participate in another business’s program that you find particularly effective? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Online Content Specialist and resident blogger at Webs. Loves branding, marketing, whales. Get more from Sarah on Webs’ Blog and Google+.

2 Responses

  1. Reply
    Aug 08, 2013 - 03:20 PM

    We started our reward scheme this year – it has taken off very well. It isn’t an online scheme but it is advertised well on our website!

  2. Reply
    Sep 21, 2013 - 11:13 AM

    You have a very interesting website Calum!
    We have three websites as there are three strands to our business. We haven’t yet launched a ‘rewards’ programme except for the fact that we do offer J9Dance students 10% discount from ‘|The Dressing Room Shop’ thus linking two of our business strands.

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