Alumni Author: Commonsense Loyalty Marketing – Mala Raj, PGP 1986

Mala Raj, an alumna of IIM B’s PGP batch of 1984-86, boasts over two decades of expertise in loyalty and customer relationship strategy, primarily in loyalty marketing and program design. Her journey began at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, leading her through various roles across renowned firms like Direxions, Cartesian Consulting, and Strategic Caravan.

Mala‘s book “Commonsense Loyalty Marketing” stemmed from her observation of the scarcity of documented knowledge in loyalty marketing, especially in India. Intending to bridge this gap, she penned her experiences and insights in a practical guide. The book serves as a valuable resource for marketing professionals, loyalty service providers, and executives seeking clarity in loyalty strategy. Raj’s narrative emphasizes simplicity and practicality, echoing her belief that loyalty marketing when approached with common sense and clarity, can yield significant results.

I am from the IIMB PGP batch of 1984-86. We were just 6 girls in our batch 😊 and were one of the early batches at the Bannerghatta campus. I joined Ogilvy & Mather Advertising from campus. I was with Ogilvy for close to 18 years – starting with Media Planning and then moving on to Direct Marketing and CRM. After leaving Ogilvy in 2004, I started focusing more on Loyalty Marketing and Loyalty Programs with stints at Direxions, Cartesian Consulting, Strategic Caravan and Collinson. My area of expertise is Loyalty and Customer Relationship strategy and program design –  which is what I’ve been doing over the last two decades or so.

On the personal front, my husband Raj is a batchmate of mine from IIMB and has himself, written and published two books 😊. Both of us are now semi-retired and just focus on assignments that interest us.

We have a son- Abhishek – who got married two years ago to a wonderful girl – Roshnee. Both of them are management consultants.

In our early years we travelled across Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata – for the last 20+ years we have been living in Mumbai

In all my years of experience in Loyalty, I came to realize that it is highly intensive discipline and requires specialised knowledge. For every client assignment we were reading up from various sources and building our knowledge base on best practices in the field. And the process of loyalty program design is something we built from scratch and refined with each assignment.

While we find Marketing books in plenty, there is very little documented knowledge on Loyalty Marketing – particularly so in India. Thanks to my husband’s encouragement, I was compelled to document my years of learning and experience in the form of this book – hopefully it will fill the gap.

Commonsense Loyalty Marketing is therefore an attempt to collate principles and practices in Loyalty Marketing to serve as a handy reference book and practical guide for those in the field. I have attempted to handhold the entire process from conception to strategy to planning to execution – and finally, monitoring and evaluation. I must make a mention here of The Loyalty Academy™ in the US – they do a fantastic job of collating knowledge and serving it up to the world of Loyalty marketers. I am an instructor for their CLMP (Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional) course –  and this, along with my own experience – has helped me build the content for my book.

All those in marketing –  especially those in customer relationship marketing, and customer strategy –  will find the book useful. Also Loyalty service providers and those in the Loyalty eco-system like Loyalty technology providers, reward services, etc. I think mid to senior-level executives will especially find it useful. For most points made, I have illustrated with examples from India and International markets.

Well, the book is full of insights and examples. I think the single highlight I wanted to convey is that – It’s not that hard. It’s Commonsense. And that’s the tone and style throughout the book. It is an easy read and takes one through the entire process systematically. Most importantly, it is practical – not theoretical. It comes from a practitioner who has actually worked with clients on this subject, so market-place realities are there in plenty.

In any day and age, any business landscape, there is no going away from the fact that you have to retain and grow your customers with you. And that is Loyalty Marketing. Peter Drucker said years ago –  “ The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”. What else is that but Loyalty? Yes, there are some businesses/verticals more conducive to Loyalty Marketing than others – but that just makes the process easier. For other businesses, it is more difficult to get it off the ground – but do it they must. And while it is an integral part of marketing, it has a far-reaching impact across the enterprise and must really be a C Suite responsibility.

I don’t want to be giving away the secrets in the book 😊. However, some top-of-mind things to keep in mind:

  1. Define your objectives with focus and clarity. Loyalty marketing cannot do everything.
  2. Adopt a loyalty business model that suits your organisation at the current time – and which can evolve in the future
  3. Craft a value proposition that is a combination of the rational and the emotional. This will be the core reasons why customers choose to become part of your loyalty initiative
  4. Data is the core of any loyalty marketing.

There are many – but here are three trends that we are likely to see over the next few years:

  1. Technology is getting so advanced, so quickly that it is going to enable and facilitate more and more personalisation and one-to-one marketing. Segment of 1 so to speak
  2. With most brands appealing to Gen Y and Gen Z, the larger cause and social responsibility is gaining more and more importance – and this will need to integrate into loyalty as well.
  3. Loyalty programs will continue to move beyond “rewards” (which will be hygiene) to experiences, privileges and recognition initiatives which is what will differentiate one brand’s program from another’s.

Well, I think the understanding of Loyalty as a discipline is as yet nascent in India. It is more seen as a marketing tool (like offers or promotions) rather than a strategic initiative which is what it should be. So I think education on the CONCEPT of loyalty is important.

There needs to be a recognition that Loyalty is long-term –  not a short-term tactic that will give immediate results. So there needs to be commitment and wherewithal – and faith – to stay in the game and wait for the pay-off.

Third, very often, technology dictates loyalty whereas it should be the other way around. Decide what you want to do and why – technology is the enabler.

I think it is all of the above points. Plus the fact that Loyalty is not some humungous monster with too much effort and investment required. The important thing is to take it step by step, baby steps if you will – and it’s really not that hard. It’s commonsense! I am hoping my book will help hand-hold the entire process from conceptualisation to execution.

There are so many 😊. Prospects who reach out to you and say “Let’s have a loyalty program – we must have points and rewards”. There is little or no consciousness of decisions beyond this. Or others who wonder why a loyalty initiative is not making money hand-over-fist in Year 1. And still others – delightful – who actually GET it – and follow due process, investing months in proper design before jumping into execution. Like any field, experiences are a mixed bag and that’s what makes it enjoyable.