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Hey, Look Me Over: Visuals Add Color to ‘Explainer’ and FAQs

$html.esc($author.firstName) Bells By Karen Bells on August 19, 2015

Loyalty operators seem to have gotten the message to “show, don’t tell” – a message backed up by plenty of studies concluding that people absorb information faster and engage more often when it’s conveyed with a visual component.

From in-store or in-restaurant messaging to advertising to social media, more loyalty programs use photos, videos, games and other visual components to great effect. But many of them routinely fall short in a critical area – their online descriptions of how to actually use the program.

In that area of their websites, they often have nothing but a lengthy word-dump, big chunks of unwieldy text with no visual relief. Yet these explanatory pages and “frequently asked questions” sections contain the essential nuts and bolts that members need to know: How do they earn loyalty rewards? How do they spend them? What if they have a problem? When will they achieve a new tier? What if they hate the prize catalog?

“The element of visual storytelling is becoming a much more important part of the dialogue among marketers,” said Buddy Scalera, a longtime marketing and publishing executive and senior director of content strategy at pharmaceutical firm The Medicines Co. in Parsippany, N.J. Even with dry, lots-of-facts material – or perhaps especially with it – it’s important to think about how the end user will view the content, and make that experience as effective and enjoyable as possible, he said.

A lifelong comic book fan who has written five books on the genre, Scalera often uses comics as a teaching tool at marketing conferences. That’s not to say that loyalty programs need to deploy a caped hero on their FAQ pages – although who’s to say it wouldn’t help? – but studying comics, movie posters and other graphic forms can teach marketers the basic principles of how the eye travels across the page and educate them about the importance of creating a visual cadence, he said.

Credit: Marvel Comics, Captain America 

Even a buttoned-up website can learn something about visual storytelling through comic books.

Canadian coalition loyalty program AIR MILES, with 10 million members, has been simplifying and freshening its FAQ pages as part of an overall rebranding effort launched last year.

“We’ve looked really long and hard at our language, color palette, photography” for the AIR MILES brand within all of its channels as well as related materials used by its partner companies, said Raymond Ludwin, assistant vice president of brand activation and collector experience.

For the FAQ section of the AIR MILES website, the rebranding team worked closely with the customer contact center to address callers’ top concerns. Finding, for example, that many callers were confused about how to reset their PIN and couldn’t easily fix it using the written FAQ explanation, AIR MILES created a simple how-to video for its website and YouTube channel.

Source: YouTube, AIR MILES Reward Program

That and other new videos are getting thousands of hits, Ludwin said. Most of the videos are shot simply on iPhones and have been put through “the BBQ test” – employees practice explaining program concepts and rules just as they would tell a friend at a barbecue, and then they record the videos for customers in just the same relatable way.

The need for relevance is clear. Pinterest and Instagram have trained consumers to expect great photos, for example, and more than a billion users watch videos on YouTube. Millennials – those 18 to 35 – are especially demanding when it comes to creating visually stimulating loyalty-marketing materials, said Alex McEachern, a loyalty specialist at Sweet Tooth Marketing, which creates loyalty programs for ecommerce companies.

They don’t want to wade through blocks of text to understand how to use the program, he said. In addition to photos and videos, loyalty operators should consider redesigning their explanatory and FAQ pages with thoughtfully used infographics, icons, charts, slide shows and more.

One high-profile example is the My Coke Rewards website, recently revamped as part of a program relaunch that relies more heavily on social media actions and reward tiers. The site is teeming with games, trivia contests, slide shows, experiential videos, recipes and more. Big gray chunks of text are nonexistent. The answer to every member question – from how to enter product codes to sweepstakes rules to increasing status – is addressed with a video or graphic or other visual.

Source: MyCokeRewards 

Here are more tips on jazzing up the explanatory portion of a loyalty website, courtesy of Scalera, Ludwin and McEachern:

  • Visuals should be simple and easy to understand, free from “loyalty-ese” jargon in infographics and icons (not to mention in copy).  
  • There must be a clear call to action, whether it’s encouraging people to enroll, cash in points, move to a higher tier or other actions.
  • Graphic designers must be involved early in a redesign process. Often, companies create a plan for written content but don’t bring designers in until much later. If you bolt the designers on at the tail end, it shows, Scalera said.
  • Why the drudgery? Many loyalty programs “sound like so much work,” Ludwin said. Participating should look and feel like an enjoyable process.  
  • All visual content should be formatted to render properly with multiple devices. An infographic that looks great on a desktop computer can turn into a compressed mess on a tablet or smartphone.
  • Shoddy visuals can be worse than none at all.

Done right, those “dull but important” explanation pages can be transformed from formidable slabs of text to enjoyable showcases for all that the program offers.  

Meet The Author

Karen Bells

As senior editor, Karen helps guide the tone and direction of COLLOQUY and maintain its position as a leading authority on loyalty rewards and customer experience. She creates crisp and relevant content for the magazine, website and e-newsletter and serves as a liaison for contributors and subject-matter experts. In addition to editorial content, Karen writes case studies and special reports – including the benchmark 2015 COLLOQUY Loyalty Census – and attends educational conferences to stay up on industry trends.

With 20-plus years of newspaper experience as her guide, Karen distills complex information and data into useful stories and finds the interesting details behind the research. She has held reporter and editor positions at the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press and the Cincinnati Enquirer, focusing on everything from pop music to national news to local breaking news. During a nine-year stint at the Cincinnati Business Courier, Karen wrote about businesses ranging from mom-and-pop operations to Fortune 500 corporations, with a primary focus on businesses’ growth strategies.

Most recently, Karen served as copy desk chief and print production editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer, supervising a team of 12 editors. Karen earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University. She has been active in the Society of Professional Journalists and Women in Communications and has judged national writing contests for the American Press Institute.

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