Disruptive (adjective) – ​new and original, in a way that causes major changes to how something is done

Prior to joining Oracle, I founded a start-up in the loyalty sector that didn’t quite “start-up”, but we got pretty far with just a great idea and a little bit of investment.  During that time, the term “disruptive” was second only to “Blockchain” in every elevator pitch I heard from my fellow founders who were also chasing investment in the fundraising circuit! writes Andy Kulina, consumer engagement & retention strategy director, Oracle EMEA

I wanted to share that piece of information to make the point that I don’t use the word “disruptive” freely;  something truly has to be an improvement (or new perspective) on an established process to earn disrupter status in my eyes. Uber, for example, disrupted how we call a cab;  NetFlix disrupted how we watch TV.
So, on the back of Oracle’s headline sponsorship of the International Loyalty Awards, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some brands that are disrupting how they go about achieving customer loyalty.
Andy Kulina

I wanted to share that piece of information to make the point that I don’t use the word “disruptive” freely;  something truly has to be an improvement (or new perspective) on an established process to earn disrupter status in my eyes. Uber, for example, disrupted how we call a cab;  NetFlix disrupted how we watch TV.

So, on the back of Oracle’s headline sponsorship of the International Loyalty Awards, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some brands that are disrupting how they go about achieving customer loyalty.  

(Author’s note:  See how I said “achieving customer loyalty” and not “creating” it?  That was on purpose.  Loyalty is an outcome, not a tactic.  Loyalty is an emotional response, generated when a consumer has one or hopefully many positive interactions and experiences with a brand or a brand’s community of enthusiasts)

Disrupter 1:  Sleep Number

Sleep Number sell smart beds and bedding accessories, but they describe themselves as a health and wellness company.   And they aren’t wrong – it’s hard to name anything else you do for 6-10 hours a day, every day of your life!   Sleep Number’s smart beds and linked technology like their SleepIQ app help users monitor and improve their sleep wellness, which has a positive impact on pretty much everything else their customers do during their waking hours.

There are actually quite a few things that are disruptive about Sleep Number’s Inner Circle Rewards programme.  First, you literally can earn rewards for just using their product, which finally gives proof to that old saying “so easy I could do that in my sleep”!   But for the audience of this article (mostly loyalty strategy nerds like myself), the disruptor is that this programme’s raison d’etre is not one of the legacy loyalty programme goals like driving cross-sell, upsell or frequency, but instead to really enable Sleep Number’s customers to get the most out of their investment in the Smart Sleep products by having a fantastic customer & product experience.  This is super important, because if you spend thousands of dollars on a mattress or bed, the most important emotional driver is that you feel that was money well spent! Sleep Number uses engagement “hooks” such as sleep achievements (like badging) for completing sleep-related tasks, how-to content from both experts and other Inner Circle members that helps to keep their customers informed and constantly improving their SleepIQ score (a number on how well your personal sleep was).   Informed, happy and well rested customers are loyal.  Not only that, they become brand evangelists!

Disrupter 2: e.l.f.

e.l.f. cosmetics (Eyes, Lips, Face) has a programme called Beauty Squad which does a fantastic job of mixing a few of the familiar loyalty programme mechanics (e.g earn points for spend) with some really leading edge, fun and dare I say it again, disruptive ways to earn rewards.   My favourites are these two:

  • Up to two times a month, members can earn points by visiting the e.l.f. cares section of e.l.f.’s website where they can discover anything from (SCREEN?) wallpapers to help members brighten their day with positivity to strong messages of support addressing social issues important to their customers and of course the wider world.  Why is this a disrupter? Besides its uniqueness in terms of how most loyalty programmes offer point earning opportunities, what I found impactful was e.l.f. creating that little nudge for their members, who all have too much to do and not enough time to do it, to take a few minutes and consume content that they want to read, just would typically say they don’t have the time to do so. That little nudge can go a long way to change our World.  
  • Beauty Squad members can also earn points twice a month when they use e.l.f.’s Virtual Try On technology.  All members need is a smart phone or computer with a camera and thanks to AI, VR and probably a few other initials, they can try products virtually for their eyes, lips and face.   The disruptive element of this Beauty Squad feature is this:  trying on make-up is at least a very personal experience and for some that might not be as confident in their looks, potentially embarrassing or terrifying.  Imagine how many people have build enormous emotional capital in their relationship with e.l.f. by simply being incentivised to try this amazing piece of technology, then earning further rewards when they select products, buy online and get them delivered directly to their home.

Disrupter 3: Disney & Marvel

The fact that two of the most well known content creators in the world would even have a loyalty programme is pretty disruptive, but what caught my eye when reviewing both Disney Movie Insiders and Marvel Insider was how the rewards get “smarter” the more the members engage with these programmes.  Using gamification, ML and most importantly, fun, these programmes provide incentives for members to engage frequently with the programmes app/website and very targeted, relevant rewards when they do.   Gone are the days of a reward catalogue with gift cards and stuffed animals.   We are talking exclusive content about superheroes and princesses (depending which one floats your boat more!)

Disrupter 4: Thermo Fisher Aspire

The last Disrupter I’d like to highlight is Thermo Fisher Scientific.  Yes, a company that makes everything from beakers to antibodies has actually disrupted B2B loyalty by creating a programme that builds the loyalty of Thermo Fisher’s most important customers – the scientists themselves.   Aspire is a programme designed to support and inspire scientists across their career journey.   Need some poster printing to make your dissertation presentation jump?  Aspire offers that as a Reward.  Aspire members can get free, full size product trials.  Aspire helps to develop brand loyalty by creating educational activities that build brand affinity and knowledge of product catalog.  Aspire encourages and rewards for colleague referrals

Thermo Fischer’s Aspire Program is designed to support scientists at every stage of their career, providing expert help for a young scientist’s professional development and tools for career advancement.

International Loyalty Awards

I have the great honour to be one of the Judges at the 2022 International Loyalty Awards.  I am looking forward to see who else is being disruptive in their approach to engage, grow and retain their customer relationships!   Be on the lookout for the announcement coming soon of what amazing brands have made the shortlist, with winners announced June 14th at the gala awards ceremony.  Hopefully see you there!

Oracle is prime sponsor of the International Loyalty Awards 2022. Andy Kulina is Consumer Engagement & Retention Strategy Director, Oracle EMEA.