Loyalty Case Study: Marvel Insider

August 25, 2016
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In front of thousands of avid comic enthusiasts at San Diego Comic Con in July, Marvel announced the Marvel Insider program – a loyalty program designed to reward fans for interacting with the brand online.

marvel insider explainer

As a Marvel fan, the promise of being able to take my fan status to another level as a “True Believer” made my heart race in ways that I haven’t experienced since Tobey Maguire first put on the Spider-Man suit in 2002.  Additionally, the Insiders program is also one of the first examples of a loyalty strategy in the world of pop culture franchises.  With these thoughts in mind, I took a trip to the Marvel universe to discover the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens of Marvel Insider.

 

Heroic Attributes

There are a few aspects of the Marvel Insider program that deserve a hero’s accolades.

1. Oodles of Ways to Earn

One of the founding principles of Marvel Insider was the desire to reward fans for being fans.  In order to do that, Marvel had to consider what behaviours fans exhibit on a regular basis in order to determine what they’d be willing to do in order to participate.

marvel insider earn

Where other loyalty programs may require their customers to make a purchase or review a product, Marvel fans can be rewarded for following Marvel on social media, watching movie trailers on YouTube, or answering questions about Marvel characters.

This earning structure is what really sets the Marvel Insider program apart.  Instead of purchasing a product, customers are given the opportunity to engage with Marvel content and media the way they normally would, reaping rewards as they go.

marvel insider connect

With so many different avenues to engage, earning points is extremely easy.  As such Marvel is able to inject their Insider program with a heightened sense of value, upping the appeal and lowering the difficulty of convincing customers to buy in.  This not only increases participation but also boosts engagement, extending the longevity of the program significantly.

2. Niche-Specific Rewards

Many loyalty programs offer their customers the same types of rewards: discounts, free shipping, and free products (to name a few).  While these rewards are appealing they don’t necessarily tap into the customer’s motivations and interests.

marvel insider available rewards

Enter Marvel Insider, whose rewards menu is specifically catered to the comic reading, caped crusader enthusiast crowd.  From digital comics to exclusive desktop and mobile backgrounds, customers are treated to a wide array of rewards that supplement their growing memorabilia collections and knowledge of the Marvel universe.

marvel insider niche rewards

Marvel Insider has even taken it one step further by truly embracing the concept of experiential rewards.  For example, one of the more costly rewards available gives the customer the opportunity to be drawn into a Marvel comic book.  This attention to their customers’ priorities further enhances the program’s inherent value while also demonstrating a consistent branding strategy that is easily recognizable.

3. Clearly-Defined Tiers

Based on how often we here at Smile.io mention them, it should come as no surprise that Marvel Insider’s tier structure is an enticing selling feature.  Not only are tiered loyalty programs more engaging with the use of gamification strategies, but they also make programs easier to understand by clearly identifying the different stages.

marvel insider tiers

Marvel Insider is a premium example of this loyalty structure in action.  Based on the number of points they’ve earned, customers are placed into one of four levels: Insider, Agent, Elite, and True Believer.  As you can see, each tier has also been branded with a different colour and number of stars, further heightening the elite nature of each level.  

marvel insider profile

As soon as I log into my account, I’m informed of how many points I have to redeem and how close I am to upgrading to the next tier.  This is a great motivating tactic, because now that I see how close I am I’ll want to complete more actions that get me closer to the next level.  This is an excellent prompt to keep customers engaged, as they’re continuously reminded that additional value and elitism is only a couple thousand points away.

 

Villainous Elements

Like any good superhero, Marvel Insider has booth good and bad characteristics.  While this type of balance makes heroes more relatable, it can make a loyalty program more of a hassle than a benefit.

1. Arbitrary Tiers

I know I was just singing tiers’ praises, however I have some issues with them, too.  While I might get excited about being promoted from Insider to Agent…I have no idea why.  I scoured the Marvel Insider website in search of an answer, and was only able to find this information on their FAQ page:

marvel insider faq tiers

Tiers are most successful when the additional benefits of each level are clearly outlined for customers as a means of inspiring them to achieve a specific status.  Take Sephora’s VIB Rouge, for example.  Customers know that they’re treated to special events and promotions as members of the elite group.  In the case of Marvel Insider, I have no idea what I’m gaining by reaching different levels, and this lack of clarity de-motivates my participation in the program.

2. Participation Restrictions

The missing information trend continues in regards to customer restrictions.  Like many other things on the internet, Marvel Insider is advertised as only being open to residents of the United States.  

marvel insider US only

However, if this is the case why was I as a Canadian resident able to join?  After reading through the program’s terms and conditions, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete answer as to why Americans are the only eligible participants in the program.  

marvel insider open to us residents

As an internationally-recognized brand, Marvel is severely polarizing thousands (if not millions) of potential program members by placing this message on their homepage.  This lack of accommodation (for no apparent reason) is very off-putting for many customers, and could severely injure their long-term participation goals.

3. Rewards Discrepancy

When you visit the Marvel Insider home page, you’re greeted with the following image:

marvel insider cool stuff

When I first saw this banner, I got really excited because it seemed to promise a wide range of types of products I could redeem my points for.  After logging in, however, I was shown a very different range of products that consisted almost exclusively of digital comics.  This left me feeling very confused and somewhat cheated because what I had been promised is not what was delivered.

marvel insider not equivalent

This misrepresentation is a very big no-no because it diminishes the trust customers have put in your brand, and cheapens the relationship you’ve developed with them.  Personally, I’m left wondering how anyone is able to earn the rewards on the homepage and whether the program is even fully launched at this point.  This misinformation tarnishes my expectations and experience with the program.

 

The Inside Scoop on Marvel Insider

Even though I’m not overly impressed with Insider’s lack of information and the confusing state of promised rewards, I’m very impressed with what Marvel is trying to accomplish with their loyalty program.  With an emphasis on what their customers want and how they interact with the brand on a daily basis, Marvel Insider caters to the dedicated fans looking to expand their superhero experience and I think it meets many of its goals.