Mobile loyalty programs will likely continue to boom as more people embrace mobile devices. They want to reap rewards and connect with the brands they like, and these programs enable them to do just that.

By Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa (Founder & Creative Director, PixInk)

With 172 million Americans owning mobile devices and the average household participating in 18 loyalty programs, there is certainly an audience for these programs. Marketers that meet these customers in the mobile arena can find sales and branding gold. Not only can they cultivate loyalty, but they can glean valuable customer data to drive business decisions and better tailor their products and services to their audience.

Paul Sanders, technical director at Apps4, calls mobile loyalty programs the “ideal way to achieve long-standing loyalty.” Let’s take a look at why he’s spot-on.

Advantages for customers and companies

Mobile loyalty programs offer benefits for consumers and companies. Consumers who use these programs not only gain financial perks; the technology delivers convenience. The app means that consumers never have to miss a deal because they forgot a membership card — it’s at their fingertips.

Brands can also reap some benefits because they can use the programs to identify and track customers. If the app works smoothly, that could also boost customer experiences and loyalty, bringing in even more revenue. Perhaps the biggest perk for companies is that these programs can provide critical insights into customers’ preferences, as well as what drives purchases.

That kind of data can be quite valuable, and the technology makes it fairly easy to collect this information.

“A well-designed loyalty program can provide not only demographic information on your customer, but quickly point out trends in new product roll-outs, associated purchases, and test which incentives will keep customers returning or purchasing more often,” said Kristen McRae, who heads up marketing for POSitive Technology, which develops technology solutions for retailers.

LevelUp, Pirq, m’loyal and PunchTab are just a few companies that specialize in formulating mobile loyalty programs for businesses. More are emerging, giving businesses a simple way to take advantage of what these programs have to offer.

Rewarding purchases – and chatter, too

Keith Smith, the CEO of BigDoor, which operates rewards programs for the National Football League’s website, says that these programs will evolve in 2013 to do more than simply reward customers for making purchases—they will offer incentives for customers that interact with them, too. Smith believes that the adoption of mobile smartphones and social media “feels like there is this convergence of loyalty programs, engagement and gamification that’s bringing it all together.”

A good example of this is Yumilicious, a frozen yogurt company that uses Mocopay to let customers participate in promotions via mobile phones. They are not just giving customers deals; data from the specials gives the chain important data on consumer behavior.

Bringing together loyalty programs

Aside from brand-specific programs, Apple has demonstrated that it realizes the value in mobile loyalty programs, too. Its Passbook app lets users combine their loyalty cards and offers from various retailers such as Target, McDonalds, Sears and other retailers. In doing so, maybe it formed even more loyalty to its brand without creating something for its brand.

Mobile loyalty programs will likely continue to boom as more people embrace mobile devices. They want to reap rewards and connect with the brands they like, and these programs enable them to do just that.

Women 2.0 readers: What are your favorite loyalty programs, traditional or mobile? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa is Founder and Creative Director of PixInk, a San Francisco-based digital design microagency serving a macro niche: businesses marketing to women, who drive over 80% of purchase decisions. She nurtures emerging brands and strengthens iconic ones through powerful design, insight and a deep understanding of the female consumer. PixInk’s microagency structure works extremely well for Apple and Facebook, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @ayeshamathews.