As you may have heard American Express is leading the charge in launching a US-based “coalition loyalty” program with AT&T, ExxonMobil, Macy’s, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy and Hulu. Branded “Plenti,” the program adopts the ‘more is more’ approach where consumers can earn and burn rewards across an array of brands, like those listed above.
While the concept of coalition loyalty has seen success elsewhere globally, these programs have traditionally had challenges gaining traction in the United States market for a variety of reasons.
Complexity: With an array of household brands involved, it will be interesting to see how the general program and even the basic terms and conditions are structured for Plenti. The more parties added, the greater the chance a program’s complexity increases with added guidelines, restrictions, caveats and limitations. Even the process of communicating newly added or departed coalition partners can be a complex undertaking.
Confusion: Related to the program’s complexity is consumer confusion. Having rewards span an array of brands can be puzzling and challenging for customers. The consistency of the rewards will also be critical to consumers’ understanding of the inherent immediate and long-term value of the program. It can be particularly difficult for consumers to understand and navigate even the basic understanding of where and how they earn and burn points across coalition partners.
Coverage: It’s challenging to find participating brands that have a full, genuine footprint with nationwide reach. For example with the Plenti program, while Exxon Mobile has a strong footprint in many regions, according to their ‘Fuel Finder’ tool, the brand has very few locations in states like Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma. Another Plenti coalition member, Direct Energy, according to their coverage tool, covers limited regions across 17 states. Along the same lines, Rite Aid has a strong presence across 30 of 50 states according to their ’Store Finder,’ it reportedly lacks a presence in much of the Southwest in states like Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico. This can result in significant program gaps, which can limit utility and the perceived value for consumers in those regions.
Commitment: Maintaining long-term commitments from brands to a coalition loyalty program can be challenging, particularly as the program progresses. Resulting benefits can start to become disproportionate across brands. Toss in the economics and shared costs of the program and things get even more challenging; certain brands can become ‘earn’ locations whereas others can become ‘redemption’ locations, driving revenue for some and costs for others.
Control: Joining a coalition program means your brand is sharing the stage with a lot of other companies. Aside from losing the spotlight, you also lose flexibility and control of the program. Changing up the structure or promotions of the program is no longer an easy task and likely requires a process involving buy-in from the other coalition members. Aside from this, if one of the brands happens to experience a crisis in the press or a market misstep, your brand is now tethered to them through the program and creating separation can be difficult.
It will be interesting to see how consumers react to the coalition loyalty approach given these challenges. American Express has a strong brand and footprint across the market, the question is how adept the brand will be at maintaining a complex coalition of fellow major brands.