Loyalty schemes aren’t a licence to spam

When you join a loyalty programme, you expect to receive certain kinds of marketing from the brand – requests to lobby government on its behalf aren’t among them. Yet that’s what Virgin Atlantic seems to think its Flying Club is for.


On Friday I received an email from Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway, encouraging me to “make my voice heard” in support of the airline’s Fair Tax on Flying campaign. I have to assume everyone else in the club was treated to the same personal address.

I understand the premise: lower taxes mean lower costs for the airline to pass on to passengers, thus lower prices. But to my mind – and if this is unfair, please correct me in the comments below – this is a matter for the industry. It is not for customers to do a business’s political dirty work.

If that were the only irritating email entreaty from Virgin Atlantic, I might be disposed to wave it through without so much as gentle frisking. But going back through the airline’s messages from the past few months, there’s a marked trend.

Virtually all of them tell me that I should come back and spend more money to get more miles. The weekly updates might be useful if I were a transatlantic commuter, but my flight history should be able to show the marketing department that I am not.

Worst of all are the messages that urge me to sign up for a Virgin Atlantic credit card at 18.9% APR. That’s the kind of marketing that, when it comes in the post, gets torn up unopened and dumped straight in the bin.

In fact, a full cavity search of every email Virgin Atlantic has sent me since joining the Flying Club in March turns up barely any offers that are exclusive to me as a member. That’s a huge missed opportunity, considering how many partner brands customers can buy from in order to earn and spend miles.

It is a constant refrain of this column that brands with loyalty schemes can’t just think of them as another mailing database. Consumers join them because of the rewards they can earn by being a loyal customer, not because they want to be spammed with notices of sales or services that are available to everyone else as well.

Yes, they provide valuable marketing data, but that value is unlikely to be realised if the business can’t use the programme to engage emotionally with customers, giving them an idea of what rewards and experiences they’re aiming for when collecting points or miles.

When a brand looks at its loyalty scheme and just sees email addresses, the only thing it will inspire customers to do is click ‘unsubscribe’.

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