How SPC and Plastic Mobile cracked the code on loyalty and mobile

The Student Price Card (SPC) might be a throwback to your high school days, when you first started saving up money from your part-time job to get discounts on new clothes or to grab a burger after class.

Unless you’re still in high school or university, it’s probably been some time since you flashed an SPC card anywhere. But among the Canadian student population, the card is still alive and well, and it’s been available in mobile app form since 2010.

SPC boasts more than 1.1 million users across Canada, and it’s struck up partnerships with about 120 major brands like Aldo, American Apparel, Banana Republic, McDonald’s, Forever 21, Gap, and so on, typically offering users discounts of 10 to 15 per cent in exchange for showing their cards at the point-of-sale.

Its mobile app has been especially successful – since August 2014, the app has seen a 75 per cent increase in downloads compared to the year before, as well as more than 50 per cent of users reporting they’d used their SPC cards more often, thanks to the app. Plus, 85 per cent of users said they’d recommend the app to their friends.

However, SPC wasn’t always successful with its mobile marketing efforts. The third iteration of the app, launched in August 2013, was a “total disaster,” said Nicholas Bianchi, vice-president of sales and loyalty marketing at SPC, speaking from the Canadian Marketing Association Loyalty Conference on Tuesday. Users left scathing reviews, complaining of the app’s slowness and that it was prone to glitches.

So in 2014, SPC tapped Plastic Mobile, a Toronto-based mobile marketing agency, to help it build a better, simpler app. In building the new SPC app, here’s what the two companies learned.


1) Know who your customer is, and make sure your app or loyalty program will appeal to them.

It may seem like an obvious point, but sometimes loyalty marketers forget about serving the people they’re trying to reach because they’re too interested in using all the latest and greatest technology, Bianchi said. That’s what happened to SPC back in 2013, when it tried to create a mobile app that just didn’t work for their key customers.

“We tried to think of all the great features we were going to put into the app, and we got blinded by the new buzzwords and the new technology, and we lost total sight of our customer,” he said.

“We were talking about mobile wallet, we were talking about check-ins, we were talking about high performance in the app and all these things we weren’t going to be able to actually do at the end of the day.”

In an interview, Bianchi added SPC also made the mistake of just creating an app because the company wanted to have “something rather than nothing.” Now, SPC’s app focuses on just providing a good user experience for the company’s customers, allowing them to get discounts with retailers, just as they expect – and reviews have gotten a lot better, he said.

2) Ensure your app is quick and performs well.

For Parisa Durrani, lead strategist at Plastic Mobile, one of the keys to mobile marketing success is ensuring customers actually want to use your app. That won’t happen if the app is slow, she said.

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your app looks. It doesn’t matter how great your ideas are … especially in talking to these millennial audiences. They don’t know even know what 3G is – they had LTE coming out of the womb,” she said.

“So don’t give them something that is slow and buggy and crashes, something that might have been acceptable three years ago when apps were starting to up and come. They’re going to leave.”

So for Plastic Mobile, part of their task in designing the latest version of SPC’s app was to move the app from a platform to a more native solution, making sure the app would be faster and more seamless in its transitions, Durrani said.


3) This is a loyalty app, so give your customers some incentives to use it and engage with you.

As part of its redesign of the SPC app, Plastic Mobile helped the company create different levels of mobile perks. The idea was to add a level of gamification to what the app had to offer, Durrani said.

“It’s not about just handing [offers] out for fun. We want the users to work for it a little bit,” she said. For example, the app asks users to do small tasks to get offers, like listing their favourite brands or using the Deal Finder feature to find a location of a store or brand nearby.

“It’s an incentive to get members to download, and it’s a reward for those who actually download the app,” Durrani said. “The whole strategy, again, was connecting members with the best deals.”

4) Let your customers personalize their apps to fit their own needs and preferences, and use what you learn to guide you in building your product.

Personalization is nothing new, but Plastic Mobile and SPC took it a step further.

When users download the SPC app, they’re given the ability to tailor it to their own preferences and to indicate what kind of offers they’re interested in receiving. That kind of information can be helpful for SPC and Plastic Mobile as they decide how they want to update the app, Bianchi said.

“Always invite their opinions and their feedback on your app, not just at the beginning … Technology gets in the way, budgets get in the way, back end gets in the way, and all those great insights the customer has given you to make a better product, disappear, and the app is only there to serve the brand, not the customer,” he said.

He added if marketers want to succeed, they need to do their quantitative, qualitative, and third-party research to get a better understanding of who their users are.

“Don’t only know them as a consumer. Know them as a human being within a culture that possesses certain values.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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