I am once again compelled to write about Panera Bread’s awesome marketing strategy.
I have about 10 rewards cards hanging from my key chain, and I dutifully produce them at the appropriate times in order to save a few bucks or get a coupon I’ll never use.
But the myPanera card is my favorite. Why? Because it means free pastry.
Here’s how it works: every time you come into Panera Bread, you present your card before you order. Sometimes you get a free item, and sometimes you don’t.
It could be anything – a bagel, a pasty, or a drink. The thing is, you never know when the reward is coming, or what it will be.
Enter game theory
There’s a reason you can’t stop playing World of Warcraft or The Sims. Game theory is the science of keeping you playing. And the myPanera rewards program is a great example of game theory applied to marketing.
Consider how rewards are distributed in a hypothetical video game:
- The object of the game is to complete certain tasks and avoid or kill enemies.
- When you kill an enemy, sometimes you get a reward. (Sometimes not).
- The value of the rewards is not always the same. Usually you get a small reward. Occasionally you get a big reward.
- The reward you receive (or not) is determined by probabilities that are designed to keep you playing.
- If you never get rewarded, you will get bored and stop playing.
- If you get rewarded too often, you will get bored and stop playing.
- If you get small rewards periodically, with occasional big rewards, you will play forever.
This is exactly what the myPanera program does.
Not a loyalty card
Let’s compare the myPanera rewards program with your typical grocery store “loyalty” card.
Do you go to Giant because you have a card? I don’t. I use the card when I go to Giant. There’s a difference.
Frankly, grocery store loyalty cards annoy me. I am forced to use the card because there is a penalty (higher prices) when I don’t. As a result, I have a card for every grocery store I might go to.
That’s hardly a way to build loyalty.
Panera Bread has hit all the right notes with this program, which uses game theory to reward visitors for coming back.
I never know what I’m going to get when the cashier swipes my card, but I know it’s going to be tasty.
That’s a win for everyone.