Carlson brings loyalty program to the Internet

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Carlson Cos. is expanding online with 24K Gold Points, a loyalty rewards program launching today at 24k.com.

The lifestyle site allows consumers to shop at more than 100 online merchants and to book travel and entertainment packages while earning and redeeming points.

The effort is an expansion of the company's 3-year-old offline Gold Points program, with 4 million users and 1,500 participating bricks-and-mortar retailers, said 24K Gold Points Exec VP and Chief Operating Officer Murad Velani.

The new program leverages the global subsidiaries of Carlson, a $31 billion, privately held travel, hospitality and loyalty marketing company that owns No. 1 marketing services agency Carlson Marketing Group. Other Carlson brands such as Radisson Hotels & Suites Worldwide and T.G.I. Fridays -- as well as outside merchants such as MCI Worldcom and National Car Rental -- were the backbone of the offline program and will continue to be part of the new effort.

In addition, online merchants including LandsEnd.com and Shar

-perImage.com will be added to the network via 24k.com.

PUSHING PERSONAL OFFERS

The 24K Gold Points program goes beyond earning points to cash in on discounts; 24k.com is designed to create personalized offers for consumers, who opt to receive them via e-mail or direct mail based on personal profiles they submit. Using these preferences, the company -- through partnerships with BroadVision, Net Perceptions and Order Trust -- can create targeted bundles of products and services for users in real time.

If a consumer books a flight to New York on 24k.com, for example, the company could suggest places to eat and shop in the city, Mr. Velani said. The goal is to provide "suggestive offers that are meaningful and relevant" to users, he added.

A print ad supporting the new program, from Martin/Williams, Minneapolis, breaks in September magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens, People and Time. The tagline -- "Experience life, experience rewards" -- demonstrates how the program "gives consumers the opportunity to earn points for the things that they do already in everyday life," said Rachael Marret, VP-marketing for 24K Gold Points. The ad's "diary concept" uses first-person accounts to show how people earn points on 24k.com or from offline merchants.

PROOF IS IN THE PARTNER

Rick Barlow, CEO of Cincinnati-based Frequency Marketing, which designs and runs loyalty programs, said "no purely offline program is complete these days without the online link." But signing a large, land-based retail partner will be the real proof of 24K Gold Points' success, he said, since the majority of consumers still do most of their shopping offline.

"If I sign up LandsEnd.com but I don't sign Lands End catalog, then I've got almost nothing; it's irrelevant," Mr. Barlow said."If they ever hope to have an effective network or coalition program to attract significant non-Carlson sponsors, they will have to bring a seamless clicks and bricks" program to fruition, he said.

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