Thanks but no thanks: why Spark’s reward scheme has failed to deliver

A few weeks ago we saw the rebrand of New Zealand’s main telco from Telecom to Spark. By most standards the rebrand has been well managed, and the rationale for the rebrand clearly communicated. As a long term analyst of brands and brand relationships I think it’s a good thing. However, as part of their rebrand, Spark have launched a new rewards programme named ‘Thanks‘, and it’s here where the wheels appear to have come off.

Read the comments on social media regarding the ‘Thanks’ programme and it’s clear that it fails on one of the most important key factors that loyalty schemes have to deliver upon (with Ipsos NZ being heavily involved with the successful redesign of two of New Zealand’s most successful loyalty schemes, we’ve learnt a few things).

The most important factor is that loyalty rewards have to be attractive to and easily redeemable by all who earn them. Make it difficult and you appear like a reluctant giver or one who’s simply out of touch. This was the source of most of the customer criticism leveled at Spark’s new loyalty scheme, which was heavily based upon free and discounted movie tickets. However, if you live in Rotorua, Taupo, Invercargill, Napier, Queenstown, Wanganui, Greymouth and many other cities, you can’t redeem these tickets.

Add up the populations of the missed cities and over 330,000 people miss out. Given Spark’s role as a communications enabler, it’s somewhat ironic how out-of-touch their loyalty scheme is. It’s like Air New Zealand saying you can only use your Airpoints from certain airports. 

The focus on concert tickets (an alternative reward) also exacerbates this problem. Concerts have to be held near to customers for the ticket benefits to be much good. Given that we are increasingly seeing unusual tour schedules such as Bob Dylan playing Hamilton but not Auckland, and it’s clear that for every ticket benefit redeemed there will be dozens or hundreds more that are not. Assume that the “hottest concerts” are predominantly in the three main centres, and the 2,239,000 people who live outside these areas will find the benefits of their Spark usage somewhat diminished.

And that’s not even considering the fact that many people simply don’t wish to go out to the movies or go to “the hottest gigs in town”. Or that fact that there are 18 additional restrictions outlined in their Terms and Conditions. Or that fact that Spark’s mobile coverage is abysmal, exacerbating people’s irritation with the rewards scheme when even Spark’s basic telco services are substandard.

Of course, one might claim in Spark’s defence that it’s difficult to be all things to all people. But that’s where most rewards schemes have their back-up rewards: easily-redeemable gifts that can be used by virtually anybody. Classic examples are iTunes or Google Play vouchers, donations to charity, or even just discounts off one’s bill. Sure, they don’t pack the same punch as THE HOTTEST GIGS IN TOWN but at least they can be used by everyone.

In contrast, Spark’s ‘Thanks’ loyalty programme fails to deliver what it promises for thousands, potentially millions of customers. Their website says that their benefits are for “All their customers”, but real people, as evidenced by the social media buzz of the last few days, are singularly nonplussed. And when customers’ requests to Spark to have the cinemas in their local town included in the programme are replied to with suggestions that the customers themselves contact the cinemas and ask them to get involved, well that’s just laughable.

Spark is also using bus stop advertising to promote its cinema ticket giveaway in Rotorua, where the tickets cannot be used. I acknowledge that this is a major campaign on many elements, but surely it’s common sense to construct a media plan so it only focuses on those who can actually use the promoted products?

Note: I quite like Spark and apart from their mobile coverage I am quite a happy customer. Which is just as well, because I’m unlikely to be redeeming any of their rewards anytime soon. 

  • Jonathan Dodd is research director at Ipsos NZ.
  • This story was originally published on LinkedIn and people are welcome to follow his musings here

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