Loyalty programs, if executed correctly, have the power to elevate customer experience and drive customer lifetime value.

Rewarding frequent shoppers with points is a great start, but a good loyalty program should provide more than just access to coupons and freebies. Delivering amazing experiences is the best way to get first-time shoppers to stick around.

Fully 83% of customers say a loyalty programs makes them more likely to continue doing business with a company, according to brand loyalty firm Bond.

For delivering loyalty program content, email is a highly effective channel for brands in retail, travel, financial services, and other verticals to generate member renewals, reinstate lapsed members, and increase overall customer retention.

Here are five tips for creating loyalty program emails with content that will build lasting customer relationships and even encourage customers to spread the word to family and friends.

1. Tell a story with relationship history

People love a good story, and marketers know that storytelling is essential to building brand. But is the story you're telling in your loyalty program emails all about you—or is it focused on your customers?

There are many ways, beyond the standard loyalty points summary, to focus on your customers in your loyalty emails. Incorporating a personalized relationship history can remind your customers how they came to love your brand in the first place.

For example, a retailer could send customers an email with a detailed purchase history that starts with his or her very first purchase, recommendations based on favorite items purchased, and other personalized data to provide a narrative around her loyalty program awards.

Another fun and engaging option is a "Year in Review" email. A streaming music service might show subscribers their favorite artists and songs, most-played tracks, and music they can discover based on their listening habits.

Whatever story you tell, make it easy to share by incorporating deep links to all the most popular social platforms. The result is a viral email that uses customer data to tell a personalized, compelling story.

2. Provide accurate and up-to-the-minute loyalty program account data

Nearly three in four people (72%) prefer to receive brand content through email, according to MarketingSherpa. In the past, however, email hasn't been the most effective channel for providing up-to-date loyalty point information.

That's because of the challenges marketers face in accessing consumer data, which is often spread across numerous databases; moreover, automatically pulling that data into emails in real-time was once not easy. As a result, customers that open—or reopen—an email to look for loyalty status data are often left confused and frustrated trying to figure out their current balance.

However, by using API-driven account data, a bank for example can ensure that up-to-the minute credit card rewards information is automatically pulled into an email at the moment it's first opened. Each time it's subsequently reopened, the data is refreshed so card holders have an accurate balance and can make more informed decisions.

3. Keep your loyalty program emails simple with easy point redemption

Complicated rules and difficulty redeeming points can often be the downfall of any loyalty program. So, keeping it simple is important. In fact, according to a study by Colloquy, the No. 1 reason consumers give for continuing to participate in a loyalty program is that it's easy to understand.

Accordingly, your loyalty program emails should not only provide an up-to-date point balance but also feature products that qualify for redemption with the customer's point balance: There's little more frustrating to users than being shown gifts they cannot afford with their current points.

By using an API connection and Web cropping, you can display a live inventory of eligible products that is updated to stay relevant.

4. Make it easy to see the big picture with data visualization

The use of data visualization in marketing, such as infographics, has skyrocketed over the past few years. And it makes perfect sense: Graphics are more engaging, and visual data is easier to digest. The human brain can make sense of a visual in less than one-tenth of a second.

So, incorporating data visualization into your loyalty program emails is a no-brainer—and it's not as much work as you might think. Again, by using real-time APIs, marketers can render live data visualization at the moment of open to create a personalized, engaging overview of the customer's loyalty program.

A pet store, for example, could send out content in an email based on the customer's loyalty tier. Recent purchases, from food to treats to toys, could be displayed in customized and animated charts that also show when the recipient is close to the next tier, and so spur additional purchases.

5. Increase engagement by using interactive features in email

Engaged members are vital to the success of a loyalty program. Contextual marketing offers brands ways to keep customers excited about the program and boost engagement.

Studies show that adding gamification elements—such as polls and interactive games—to communications can lead to up to a 100-150% increase in engagement. Live and progressive polling is a form of gamification that allows email marketers to engage readers with surveys.

A coffee shop, for example. could send polling questions about favorite coffee style (e.g., latte, espresso, cappuccino) that can be answered right in the email. It also offers that opportunity to store data from responses to progressively build a profile that can be used to personalize future emails.

Another way to increase engagement is to incorporate social media into your email campaigns. Add a live social media feed to make your customers feel they're part of a larger community, all the while fueling your emails with content that's always fresh and timely.

* * *

Marketers who send loyalty program emails with simple, static text-based points summaries that are outdated as soon as they're sent are missing an important opportunity to build long-term relationships through superior experiences.

By telling personalized stories, reducing friction with real-time data, keeping things simple, using data visualization in creative ways, and providing interactive features, you'll be well on your way to a loyalty email program that boosts engagement and customer lifetime value.

More Resources on Loyalty Program Emails

Seven Tips for Using Email to Build Customer Loyalty

How to Promote Loyalty Rewards Programs [Infographic]

Top 10 Loyalty Reward Program Best-Practices

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image of Vivek Sharma

Vivek Sharma is CEO of Movable Ink, provider of contextual email technology that delivers dynamic content that changes in real-time, according to the context of each email recipient.

LinkedIn: Vivek Sharma