Marketing idea: The Disloyalty Card

Umair Haque’s New Capitalist Manifesto inspired me to think of a little idea for a restaurant loyalty card. The idea would probably work in other industries too.

It uses Google-inspired logic. For example, Google make it very easy to take your data out of GoogleDocs and import it elsewhere. Unlike Microsoft with its archaic proprietary formats, Google never try to keep anyone as a customer by locking them in. Clearly this benefits the customer, but it’s also to Google’s advantage too. It forces them to focus on product innovation and customer satisfaction since users can easily move to a competitor at any time. This internal focus on constant improvement keeps the product at the sharp end, and they have a very direct feedback loop with customers because they know that if they´re retaining them then they must be doing a good job. Compare this to MS Word which has barely evolved in years and survives only because of its ubiquity, all the while being threatened by the rapidly improving Googledocs.

So I was wondering how you could apply this to a cafe/restaurant. One of the ideas I’d previously been thinking about is a monthly subscription so that customers can eat a certain number of daily specials for lunch each month or have the same amount taken off other meals.

This would be convenient and good value for regulars. But it kind of locks people in, which of course is the goal of most loyalty schemes. Perhaps people would use the subscription because it’s good value for price but it wouldn’t force quality and innovation to continually improve and it could make the place lazy and boring, at risk of disruption by a new competitor.

So I thought, how about allowing customers to use their credit at ANY cafe in the city for exactly the same value (the most basic way to do this would be to refund receipts from other cafes although that´s a bit clunky – I’m sure there would be a smoother way.)

Allowing your hard-won subscription revenue to go to competitors flies in the face of conventional logic, but I love the feedback loop it would create: Every month I could measure the percentage of the subscription that was being used in MY cafe to see if we’re doing a good job. We’d never take a subscriber’s business for granted and only make money by ensuring we were the place they come back to the most often, voluntarily. It would send a strong and different message to customers that we don’t just appreciate that they have a choice about coming to us, we actually give them MORE choice by promoting disloyalty.

What do you think?