GTE Airfone already had 85,000 members in its "Home & Office" frequent user club, most of whom are premier-status frequent fliers of such airlines as United, Continental and US Airways. They joined the club to get 25% off their sky-high calls.
But Airfone's frequent fliers haven't been frequent callers. Greg O'Neill, director of consumer marketing for GTE Airfone, said many people signed up, made one or two calls and then disappeared.
"We were seeing a lapsing usage among members because we weren't communicating with them," Mr. O'Neill said. "We weren't treating it like a program. We need to make sure we are stimulating usage."
So in June, GTE Airfone sent out "membership kits" to half the names in its "Home & Office" database, making the other half a control group. The kits reminded consumers of membership benefits and offered customized rewards determined by the intensity of past usage, such as "buy one, get one free" calls for the most inactive users.
Every eight weeks through the end of the year, members will receive reminder letters and e-mails directing them to www.airfone.com, where they can update their records at GTE Airfone.
Airfone hopes to see a 25% incremental increase in usage among 11 consumer segments, from inactive to highly active users, over the eight months of the campaign. Members who do use Airfone more will get additional rewards.
"This isn't just a short-term effort. We want to affect behavior for the long term," said Jason Wadler, VP-group account director at Townsend Agency, Rosemont, Ill., which created the program.
The plan seems to be working. Since June, call volume among inactive members, those who haven't made even one call in the past 18 months, has more than doubled. In fact, inactive members jumped to an average of 3.5 calls in July. And Web site traffic has increased 5% overall.
"All this in a month where business travel usually tapers off," Mr. O'Neill noted. This program "has been a lightning rod."
GTE Airfone expects to expand the program to its additional members early next