Rewarding vs bribing your users

Since I moved back to boston, my favorite place for coffee in the back bay is Cafe L’aroma. It has gone through a few ownership changes since then but i still love it.

Like many coffee places they give you a loyalty card like this. Every ten purchases you get an espresso drink for free

Some days I use it and many days I forget it. I don’t goto cafe l’aroma because of this card. I just like it better and the card is a reward or a nice bonus of sorts.

There are other places on the web or the physical world that take the opposite approach. They try to buy your love. I don’t want to pick on any specific company so I’ll share an example from the past.

Years ago there was a search engine that would pay users directly for using their product. The value proposition : most search engines are about the same so use ours and get paid.

What they really meant was : our product isn’t amazing so we are trying to buy you.

That search engine didnt work out. The better search engine did and continues to the leader. Back in web 1.0 there were other startups that tried to buy your love as well. 

I think it’s important for startups to consider as well. Reward your users, don’t bribe them.

On the other hand, some startups do this reward thing very well.

In the earliest days of Foursquare, i remember getting an email from the service that informed me that I had reached “superuser” status. That gave me some some special super powers like being able to clean up and edit the venue database. It was absolutely brilliant. Status and value are fantastic rewards. There are many others examples. 

So think about product first, rewards second and don’t try the bribes.