Loyalty Marketing

Shhhhh! How Secrets Build Brand Loyalty

Many companies use customer loyalty programs to generate repeat business and brand advocacy . . . but can brand secrets yield this kind of business value, as well?

Image courtesy of secrets in HR

What if your favorite restaurant had offerings only fans like you knew about— super-secret items an Average Joe off the street would never think to order? Or what if your local shop gave you access to items not stocked in-store –ones you couldn’t find anywhere else?
Savvy businesses are doing just that . . . and as their regular customers spread the word, these secrets are becoming a very un-secret sensation.

For example, California-based fast food chain, In-N-Out Burger, has had a secret menu for years now. (In case you’re curious, a few of the options have been published –perhaps in an attempt to keep all but the most fervent fans away from the more unorthodox picks?)

Likewise, you can get a “secret” smoothie made with Sour Patch Kids candy from another California-favorite-gone-international-sensation, Jamba Juice. Sure, the chain has built a reputation for blending healthy drinks, but those in-the-know can enjoy a sugar buzz along with their Vitamin C.

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Crave a caffeine jolt instead? Head over to Blue Bottle Coffee, and order yourself an off-the-menu java concoction, the Gibraltar.

Of course, different types of ethnic restaurants have long been known to have secret menus for those who want a more “authentic” dining experience, or for those who have grown up with the cuisine . . . and naturally, the secret phenomenon is not limited to the restaurant industry, either.

Video game developers have a penchant for hiding “Easter egg” objects and functions inside popular games. (Now there are entire websites devoted to “cheat codes”, “mods”, and secret game levels.) Even the fashion industry thrives on its “sample sale” culture, where shoppers can only learn about pop-up sales via word-of-mouth.

And that may be what lies at the heart of the “secret” strategy: word-of-mouth. Consumers love to feel like they have “underground” access to things that no one can get… and they love to share the “insider” action with friends. Not only do the loyal customers look in-the-know; they also deliver a whole new group of customers ready to be won over by “special treatment.”

So, what happens when these secrets spread so far they go mainstream? Do they lose their allure?

The answer? Well . . . That depends.

In-N-Out made the choice to out some of its “Not-So-Secret Menu” so more customers could tap into the quirky and custom aspects of the In-N-Out experience. The company hasn’t seen a decrease in business or in enthusiasm about the off-menu items. For In-N-Out, the “open secret” is working just fine!

Smaller brands, however, may benefit from keeping the circle tighter, since secret offerings could be core motivators for their most loyal customers. (Not to mention the resources required to scale special offers for an entire customer base.)

To sum it up, if you want to take advantage of the “secret menu” concept, keep these three key points top-of-mind before putting anything under wraps:

Nobody likes a boring secret. Make sure your secret offerings are more “hidden treasure” than “meh.” Customers should be excited to be in the inner circle, and they need to know they’re going to receive something special or unique as a result.

Too many hoops? No one will jump. In contrast to a traditional loyalty program, don’t require special memberships or points programs for a “secret” item or special. If customers know enough to ask, they’ve done enough to receive.

You won’t tell anyone, right? Okay, maybe ONE person. Encourage customers to keep your secret a secret… kind of. Make sure your customers know they’re part of a choice group—but that you’re happy to welcome their friends into that choice group, too.

Are there secrets your business could be keeping? Inject a little mystery into your customer experience—and you could be adding buzz and business value at the same time.

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