5 VIP Programs That Drive Exceptional Customer Experiences

Today’s customers are more difficult to please than ever before, and brands have a lot to lose if they can’t deliver an exceptional experience. 61 percent of consumers are willing to switch brands purely based on receiving a better customer experience, and average, satisfactory experiences are simply not enough. Thankfully, brands also have more opportunities than ever before to meet these expectations. Many do so by creating VIP programs that make customers feel special and valued. 

VIP programs are very difficult to execute and come in a number of manifestations, ranging from first class seating that has been around for decades, to more creative takes that have appeared to address the modern consumer’s thoughts and behaviour. Some brands opt for VIP programs that are ‘earned’, meaning that customers are expected to complete a range of ‘challenges’ to move up to the next level. These levels or ‘tiers’ correspond to additional special perks. Another type of program allows users to pay for access to special perks. These programs  may skip the notion of customers completing challenges entirely and focus on providing exceptional value.

If you are currently looking to purchase a platform to run your VIP effort, we have created a detailed buyers guide for both types of programs mentioned above, which you can find here.

While all programs differ in their execution, they share the same principles. All VIP programs provide tangible value to customers and attempt to enrich the experience around their core offerings. All programs also inherently create the sense of an exclusive community, even if the barriers for joining are quite low. In this way, a good VIP program makes it clear who will benefit from their program and why, then works tirelessly to deliver on that promise.

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Adidas' Creator’s Club

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The Creator’s Club is innovative because it allows users to win "points" for completing challenges, as well as for purchasing. This is an extremely modern approach to VIP membership programs, only now made possible by the rapid evolution of smartphones and the processing of data by technologies like artificial intelligence.

The inclusion of challenges, in addition to purchasing, highlights Adidas’ insightful view of the customer in the 21st century: it is about a relationship with those customers, as well as their direct purchasing. This is not only to increase retention, but also because of the important role Brand Advocacy plays within the brand’s strategy.

Therefore, Creator’s Club is incredibly diverse. Customers get points for leaving reviews, sharing their outfits, joining running events and even completing runs and workouts (all tracked through Adidas’ various mobile apps). 

Rewarding behaviour like workouts and running makes customers feel like they have shared interests with the brand and are recognized for their lifestyles, instead of just their wallets. This also has the added effect of redefining who a VIP really is. A Creator’s Club VIP doesn’t have to be the one who buys the most, they can be the one that promotes the brand and community alongside their own lifestyle.

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The other side of this VIP experience is what Adidas provides in exchange. If discounts and products were the only rewards available, we would categorise this as a loyalty program but not a VIP program. What makes the difference is the opportunity for Creator’s Club members to earn exclusive perks in each tier that they progress into. Early access to sales, invite-only events, exclusive opportunities to purchase limited edition products, priority customer service, free personalisation and promoting charitable causes are just a few of the exclusive rewards on display.

This is one of the best VIP programs our team has analysed. It is a well thought out balance of promoting the brand and the lifestyle while rewarding customers with perks that make them stand out.

You can read more about the Adidas Creator’s Club in our recent article "5 Excellent Examples of Brand Advocacy Programs in 2020". Please also use the "request a demo" button at the top of the page to book a conversation with one of our Brand Advocacy or Brand Community consultants, where we can share more of our research.

Freshly Picked’s "The Fringe" Membership

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While Adidas opted for a free, but earned VIP program, many choose to go the paid route instead. In the paid route, customers pay an upfront or monthly cost to be included in the VIP Program. Customers that pay for VIP membership are self-selecting themselves as brand advocates, even if there aren’t direct incentives in the program for them to help promote the brand. Paid VIP programs come with even higher expectations since customers have paid for access. The focus on these programs is to provide their customers and superfans with exceptional value and experiences. 

Freshly Picked is a great example of a paid program that does it right. The brand offers designer shoewear and apparel for children, and the “The Fringe” membership is designed to boost the relationship between customers and the brand. What makes The Fringe special is the membership’s offerings and how the benefit of the program is expressed. 

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For $10 per month, members of The Fringe receive 20% off all purchases, early access to products, free shipping on all orders and -importantly- a monthly $10 store credit. The monthly store credit being the same amount as the monthly membership cost makes this more like a savings plan for Freshly Picked products, especially since unused credit rolls over and does not expire. The value in this program is outstanding and makes it easy for customers to see the appeal. For them, they get major savings on Freshly Picked products while the brand gets the chance to provide a great experience and maintain a consistent touchpoint with their most valued customers. 

If you are looking for a platform to create your own program, you can access our buyers guide free here.

The Body Shop’s "Love Your Body" VIP Program

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The Body Shop’s “Love Your Body” program is a free and straightforward membership program that rewards customers mostly for repurchasing, but with added gifts for other tasks like leaving reviews and promoting the brand. These added gifts are not simple discounts, but exclusive offers like event invites and gifts. For the most part, the Love Your Body Club operates as a loyalty program, however it was worth mentioning on this list because of a very unique trait that matches the spirit of its club name and company values: customers can donate their loyalty rewards to charity. 

Every reward voucher a customer receives can be directly donated to one of four charities directly through The Body Shop’s program. The charities are diverse, covering issues like domestic abuse, sustainability, emergency aid and wildlife conservation. Most VIP programs deliver that sense of heightened status through exclusivity, providing perks that are not accessible to the general public. What makes The Body Shop unique is the opportunity for customers to achieve that status and sense of belonging in a community by contributing to a cause that is larger than themselves. The experience is only heightened by the fact that customers have a choice, making them feel like their decisions truly matter.

The Body Shop’s alternative approach to making people feel special and valued represents a widening definition on what it means to be a VIP. Combining the ability for customers to contribute to social causes while providing more traditional, exclusivity-driven VIP rewards is a promising idea that can help elevate how customers feel about a brand and how they feel about themselves. Moreover, "mission-based" brands often have the most passionate community base. Read the case study of high passion point brand "Frugi" here, to understand how forward thinking brands are leveraging their passionate customers.

Nike’s "NikePlus" Program

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How does a brand worth over $100 billion dollars with millions of customers develop a membership program that appeals to refined athletes, sneakerheads and the average gym goer under a single roof? That is a question that Nike is answering with it’s "NikePlus" program, a free membership that combines a structured reward system with access to quality content and communities. 

Firstly, the membership comes with a number of perks that appeal to all customers, like free deliveries, a 60 day wear test on products and receiptless returns, but where Nike really excels in their program is when they appeal to specific types of people and communities within their customer base. 

Nike’s membership opens up access to content and opportunities that are clearly marked into four categories: shopping, running, training and sneakers. Each category has its own mobile app that delivers value for Nike members. Shoppers receive benefits like exclusive access to sales through the Nike App, while sneakerheads can reserve shoes on launch day or attend unique events through the SNEAKRS app.

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For Nike’s key segment of athletes, they have the Nike Training Club and the Nike Run Club. These apps give Nike members access to carefully curated workouts and progression tracking as well as rewards for accomplishments. The Nike Run Club app even comes with an automated coaching feature that can help guide runners to improve performance.

The applications aren’t the end of Nike’s segmented offering. There is also a major community aspect at play—members can host their own run clubs for example, and Nike hosts a number of different events that customers can attend to meet each other and build bonds.

This program is exemplary because it is brimming with valuable perks that are easy to grasp and accessible without the need to pay. 

REI's Co-op Membership

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Outdoor equipment retailer REI’s take on membership directly embeds customers into the heart of the company and its values. The perks of the membership aren’t limited to REI’s products, they are centred around the lifestyle that REI promotes, much like the programs of Nike and Adidas. REI members get access to tourism-related discounts and deals like discounted lift passes or stays at particular resorts. Members also get access to curated adventure trips that can be purchased, and exclusive classes, events and tours. 

The lifestyle rewards are a great inclusion for this program, as they present the opportunity for customers to use their REI products in conjunction with these experiences. However, what really sets REI’s program apart from many others is the co-op business model. REI’s members receive an annual dividend based on the company’s profits, which can be put forth towards REI products, making members feel a very direct sense of ownership in the company. This program is an excellent example of a triple bottom-line company embedding people, profit and planet directly into a membership program that reflects those values clearly.

What VIP Programs Say About a Brand

Successful VIP programs are a testament to a brand’s ability to express their appreciation for a customer and provide the type of experience that suits them. Great programs require a deep-seated understanding of what a customer values and how they want it to be deliveredwhich can be an organic and ever-changing proposition. However, brands that get this right will be able to stand a cut above their competitors and foster a base of passionate advocates that will help drive growth, awareness and stronger customer relationships.

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