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6 min read

How Quickly Can You Launch A Customer Loyalty Program?

How Quickly Can You Launch A Customer Loyalty Program?

Once companies decide to start pursuing a loyalty program, several questions begin to emerge: how much does it cost? What resources do we need? How do we decide what to offer for rewards or benefits? How do we budget for program operations and maintenance?

Most predominately, how long is all of this going to take? 

When it comes to determining how long exactly it takes to get a loyalty program up and running, the answer again depends on different factors: budget, resources, your brand and customer base, what your goals and objectives are for launching a program, etc. The build process and timeline for your loyalty program can vary depending on your answers to these topics. 


Understanding Low, Mid, and High-Complexity Loyalty Programs

It’s worth pausing here to specify that the typical loyalty program build process lasts from when program discovery & design starts, to launch day. While theoretically you could utilize out-of-the-box solutions to spin up a loyalty program in a day, realistically your teams will spend more time than that putting some actual thought into how your loyalty program will look, feel, and function. Or at least you should.

At the core though, the answer to how quickly you can launch a loyalty program lies in what kind of program you want to create:

A low-complexity program might take anywhere from 1 month to 3 months.

A mid-complexity program build timeline would likely take around 3 to 5 months

A high-complexity program build could take 5 months or more

The differences in timelines might seem dramatic, but make sense when you consider the varying levels of time, effort, and manpower different programs require to build.

Low-complexity loyalty programs are designed to be quick to launch and usually have a simple design and format, basic rewards offerings, and lower customer engagement opportunities. 

High-complexity loyalty programs take longer to launch but benefit from a more tailored and strategic loyalty program design customized to the brand. They can also offer members more extensive rewards offerings and features, along with personalized user experiences and interactions. 

This isn’t to say that low-complexity loyalty programs aren’t good options or worth building. Many businesses across different industries have great success with low-complexity loyalty programs precisely because of their ease of use and lower-cost options. The elements of a low-complexity loyalty program deliver exactly what those businesses need to provide their loyal customers with benefits and rewards without overwhelming their resources or budgets.

Again, it's all about choosing the loyalty program that best fits your brand. 

Here we’ve compared some of the ways low-complexity and high-complexity loyalty programs differ -- such as rules, integrations, and rewards -- and the pros and cons of each. To make it simple, we focus on comparing only low- and high-complexity loyalty programs.

However, if you’re curious about how a middle-complexity loyalty program would compare, keep in mind that that type of program would fall somewhere between the two – having a little more features and capabilities than low-complexity programs but not at the same level or extent as high-complexity programs.


1. Loyalty Program Rules


One difference between low- and high-complexity loyalty programs is how program rules operate. Loyalty program rules determine how customers can earn points and rewards, the payout amount, and what they can spend their points on. 

A low-complexity loyalty program would include basic point rules that allow users to earn and redeem points for purchases and maybe simple non-transactional actions like referring friends, following social media accounts, opting into SMS/MMS texts, etc. 

The downside is that a brand may struggle if it wants to reward customers for actions outside the standard transactional and non-transactional events. Low-complexity programs won't typically include the ability to create more sophisticated or complex earning rules that could benefit certain goals, like if a brand wanted to reward its customers for specific actions or behaviors. 

A high-complexity loyalty program can include more detailed and customized rules, such as point multiplier events for higher-tier members, or the ability to reward points for specific customer actions. If you wanted to drive sales of a particular product or product category, you could create unique earning rules that give members special bonuses for making an eligible purchase. 

Higher complexity programs also allow brands to use API integrations to capture and reward customer actions across third-party businesses or partner brands. The partnerships between credit card companies and different hotel or airline brands is a prime example of how this works: a customer earns points using their credit card to pay for a hotel stay, but they can earn even more points or special perks by choosing to stay at a specific hotel partner brand. 


2. Loyalty Program Integrations


Integrations are a key necessity for loyalty programs because loyalty programs work best when they are connected to the different parts of a business, not kept in a silo. 

Low-complexity loyalty programs will likely include basic integration capabilities. Many software tools and services offer API integrations that work alongside loyalty program software. 

The downside is that out-of-the-box integrations might not be enough to provide you with the type of data sharing or features you need. Rather than a seamless integration, you might find yourself creating workarounds or fixes to get the results you’re looking for from your integrations. This can negatively affect the data quality of your program, or hinder your plans to upgrade your program with new features or capabilities. 

A high-complexity loyalty program is built to easily share and accept data. Because higher-complexity programs are designed to have more functionalities, features, and tools than lower-complexity programs, their integration capabilities are much more extensive. The provider of a high-complexity loyalty program should be capable of building custom integrations for specific objectives to ensure the loyalty program works the way you need.

The downside of using a high-complexity loyalty program with more customized integrations is the time and effort that will go into setting them up and testing them to ensure they work as intended. You’d likely need to loop in your IT team to work with your loyalty program provider and help determine the exact integrations you need and how the integration process will happen. The more bespoke the integrations are, the longer it will take to build. 


3. Loyalty Program Rewards


Low-complexity loyalty programs utilize basic customer rewards or simple redemption options, such as allowing users to redeem points for free products or cash. The upside is that this is a simple universal format that almost any business can utilize. A simple redemption process also makes it easier for customers to use the program, which helps boost loyalty program participation rates.  

The downside is that the limited reward options might not appeal to every customer; some customers might want more variety or be able to personalize their rewards. Another downside is this format typically doesn’t always allow brands to incorporate more high-value or exclusive reward options for their higher-spending VIP-type members, which can negatively impact participation among this customer segment. 

High-complexity loyalty programs can utilize more in-depth customer rewards options, such as a full rewards catalog with a variety of digital and physical items, gift cards, experiences, and more. The upside of more robust rewards offerings is that users can redeem their loyalty points on rewards they find valuable and relevant to them. More valuable rewards also increase the value customers receive from your program, which makes them more likely to continue engaging in your loyalty program long-term. 


Best Practices For Launching A Loyalty Program: Simple Yet Scalable


While the different options we’ve presented here might seem like all-or-nothing choices, in reality deciding on a program build and type doesn’t have to be so black and white. Successful loyalty programs aren’t meant to be static and unchanging. It’s better from both a design perspective and a financial perspective for them to grow and evolve over time. 

One loyalty program trend that's growing in popularity is the use of soft launches for newly built or newly redesigned loyalty programs. Soft launches allow brands to release their program to a limited audience, and test different loyalty program elements before opening the program to the wider public. 

Another best practice for building a successful loyalty program is designing the program to be scalable from the start. Rather than waiting to launch a loyalty program until all the desired bells and whistles are included (which can cause delays or setbacks in the build process), there's an established design plan to grow and add to the loyalty program in phases. The loyalty program launches with core features and functionalities, and then the brand continues to roll out new program updates in a planned schedule.

Each phase expands the loyalty program’s offerings and features in a structured and sustainable way. Not only does this allow for faster to-launch timelines, but it dramatically increases the likelihood the loyalty program will continue to perform and deliver on ROI long-term; not fail and have to be shut down (a common fear among businesses about loyalty programs).


What To Consider When Evaluating The Right Loyalty Program Build For Your Brand


Ultimately what’s most important about building a loyalty program is that brands choose the right program type and build for their business. Like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, brands need to determine what program type and complexity is ideal for themselves and also for their customers (who will be using the program). Other factors brands need to consider are their budget, resources or staffing, and also their industry competition.

More companies are creating loyalty programs, which means customers have more options. If your loyalty program provides less value, benefits, or personalization than your competitors, then you'll struggle to differentiate your program as the better choice. 

For example: if you’re an enterprise brand with hundreds of thousands of customers, then you’ll likely need a higher complexity program that offers more customized tools and features for data analysis, integration, and user customization. You might like the low-complexity option because of its faster-to-market timeline, but you’d likely soon run into issues due to your business needs outweighing the program’s limited design and functionalities.


Wrapping It All Up

So how quickly can you launch a customer loyalty program?

The answer to the riddle is: it depends!

However, now that you know the potential timelines for low-, mid-, and high-complexity loyalty programs, you can start planning out the foundations for your future loyalty program. 

At Brandmovers we have years of experience in designing, building, and launching loyalty programs of every scale and size. If you're looking for more information on how to create and launch a loyalty program for your brand, we can help! Reach out to us today.