For Union Plus, Referring Union Members to New Benefits is No Contest
Membership has its privileges, the saying goes. Although the benefits of union membership in the workplace are well documented, what are less obvious are the many benefits available to members when they’re at home. These benefits exist largely because of Union Privilege. Created in 1986 by the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of trade unions, the organization’s mission is to “extend the protection of unions from the workplace to the marketplace.” Union Privilege does just that through its Union Plus benefits and services.
“Our goal is to help members live better lives. One of the ways we do that is to help them realize everyday savings,” Collieth Clarke, Deputy Marketing Director, Union Privilege, says — and the first step toward making life better for over 13 million people is making them aware of all the benefits available to them.
Among those 40-plus benefits are credit cards designed to meet the needs of union members, a unique mortgage program, free legal services, health discounts, and travel savings. There is also a discount program with AT&T, the U.S.’s only unionized wireless service provider and the country’s largest union employer with over 120,000 represented workers. Members can take advantage of a 15% monthly discount on select AT&T wireless service through Union Plus, which works out to about $88 in yearly savings for individuals and $100 for a family of four. In addition, qualified members who are Union Plus Credit Card holders may be eligible for up to $250 in AT&T rebates from Union Privilege. Although the program is one of the three most popular among members, Union Plus wanted to further boost awareness to help members start saving on their wireless service with a company that supports union jobs. To do so, it decided to give members who took advantage of the benefit the ability to refer other members to it. As Clarke puts it, “What better way than to have current participants tell their friends and colleagues who don’t know about it?”
"What better way than to have current participants tell their friends and colleagues who don’t know about it?”
Union members typically belong to a family with an affinity for their union and solid relationships with fellow union members. So when a union brother or sister recommends something, their word carries real weight. However, turning someone’s willingness to act on a recommendation into a repeatable, scalable marketing channel requires more than just a base of people who like what you’re offering. There’s the testing of incentives to determine the optimal reward, along with determining the best placements for calls to action advertising the program, in addition to other promotions to ensure participation. And there’s the need to track and manage the referrals to make sure participants are properly credited and accounted for. Given all of that, Union Plus decided to look for a partner to help it set up and grow its referral program.
After evaluating vendors, the organization partnered with Extole because, as Clarke puts it, “Referral marketing is Extole’s core competency and it’s very good at it. We felt the team really understood what we needed around referrals and that the platform would provide the online tracking and other capabilities we were looking for.” Union Privilege knew it wanted to give members the ability to share referrals via email and Facebook, believing those would be the two most heavily used sharing channels. (That belief has been borne out. Email is the referral vehicle of choice for the majority of advocates. Email and Facebook combined account for over 90% of all shares. Twitter and personal URLs account for the remaining 10%.)
“ Referral marketing is Extole’s core competency and it’s very good at it. We felt the team really understood what we needed around referrals and that the platform would provide the online tracking and other capabilities we were looking for.” — Collieth Clarke, Deputy Marketing Director Union Privilege
Union Plus hoped referrals would increase the number of people participating in the Union Plus AT&T Discount program by 20% to 25%. To date, Union Plus has seen a 93% increase in monthly subscribers online, or a little less than four times its goal. It has also seen people sign up offline for the program after being referred. Offline signups are tracked using a discount code or “fan number” on printed and downloadable buckslips. When new members register for the AT&T program, they reference this number, which enables Union Plus to track referrals that occur offline as easily as it does those happening online.
Of course, referrals will only influence members if other members send them. There, too, Union Plus has seen success. Roughly four months into the referral program, more than 3,270 union members have shared close to 7,000 referrals. The key to reaching and sustaining these participation levels has been consistent and prominent promotion that alerts members to the opportunity to help fellow members save money. Union Plus promotes the referral program through its email channels twice per month. Each instance produces large spikes in web traffic. In fact, email promotions that include the referral opportunity are responsible for driving one fifth of the average daily traffic to the Union Plus website, UnionPlus.org. In addition to email, Union Plus promotes the program heavily on Facebook and on Twitter. Union leaders and members are personally told about the program at conventions and events, where the organization sets up booths with printed materials advertising the referral program and other benefits.
This referral program is unique in that advocates don’t necessarily earn a reward for referring members to the Union Plus AT&T Discount Program. Instead, members who spread the word about the program have the chance to win monthly prizes consisting of a tablet and smartphones. They also qualify to win the grand prize: four, four-day Magic Your Way tickets to Disney World®. Members also had the chance to win additional prizes through two one-day flash giveaway contests layered atop the monthly contest. These flash giveaways had the greatest short-term impact on referrals. In July, members could enter to win one of three 10-ticket movie packages by sharing referrals. That single-day contest drove 1,281 shares, a staggering increase of more than 2500% from the program’s average daily share total. Just before Labor Day, Union Plus ran another contest for the chance at a Weber grill. It drove 1,460% more shares than an average day.
The fact that they may not win a prize for sharing referrals with their fellow members hasn’t deterred union members from doing so. After all, sometimes helping a friend is a reward in itself.