Is The Anti-Loyalty Program A Fun Way To Get Competitor Intelligence?

A UK coffee retailer had an unusual idea, something he called a Dis-Loyalty Card. It was designed to take customers coming into his shop and to reward them for leaving and visiting that shop's direct rivals. Crazy? Brilliant? Perhaps both?

The idea was for the retailer to give customers an actual Dis-Loyalty Card, with the names, addresses and some of the logos of 10 rivals. The consumer would be sent to those 10 locations, where the rival would be expected to stamp the card and send the consumer back to the original shop and be rewarded with a free coffee. Setting aside the cheapness of it (You want me to travel all around London, paying for 10 cups of coffee, and my reward is that you'll give me a single cup of coffee for free?), there's a powerful element of confidence in the program. Why would a retailer launch such an effort if she wasn't remarkably certain that her product blew the others away?

This program provoked some insightful arguments on both sides over at RetailWire. Some of the comments focused on the practical aspects, such as the belief that few rivals would cooperate by stamping the disloyalty card. But that misses the point.

To break through the clutter of marketing messages today, a contrarian approach often works wonders. But if you add some mobile technology and a bit of fun to this idea, it has even more intriguing possibilities.

What if instead of a disloyalty cardboard card, this approach became a disloyalty mobile app? Perhaps an iPhone app? Instead of forcing the rival store to do anything, the phone's GPS (geolocation) kicks in and confirms that consumers are where they claim to be when they click an icon for that rival retailer.

To prove a purchase, the customer would use the app and take a photo of what was purchased, the current menu on the wall and of the receipt. The app then transmits those images, neatly time-stamped and associated with that rival. And in each rival location, the customer is told to shake his phone—another mobile-only feature—and it will display his reward for that visit. It would be chosen randomly, just as the iPod might do during a Shuffle.

Now sit back and look at what you have. Your customers—especially the younger ones—are actively engaged in a fun treasure hunt, one that always ends back at your shop. And you're getting a steady flow of intelligence reports about your rivals' pricing and product presentations.

Talk about engaging the customer. Yes, you certainly could take this approach and limit it to other parts of your own chain. But you'd lose the competitor intelligence aspects as well as the message underlying the program: We really know our product is superior.