“Scheme” is one of the most used words in the loyalty industry and one that we want to remove from your lexicon. When we hear business and marketing leaders use this word when launching their customer loyalty efforts, it makes our skin crawl.

Why? Firstly, “scheme” doesn’t do justice to the hard-won, sincere efforts companies make to earn a customer’s trust. It also doesn’t do justice to the customer: Who wants to be part of a scheme, when they can become part of a genuinely rewarding programme?

Remove the Word ‘Scheme’ from Your Vocab

1. It sounds underhanded

What image does the word “scheme” conjure? For us, it inspires thoughts of all manner of unsavoury things: Mr Burns drumming his fingers while purring “excellent”; or an underhanded grifter hoping to dupe his next rube; or a misguided would-be entrepreneur working on their latest get-rich-quick (you’re way ahead of us) scheme.

2. Its neighbouring words aren’t too hot either

The word “scheme” is rarely seen on its own, but instead, it drags in other, equally sinister descriptors along with it. Schemes are “hare-brained,” “cockamamie,” “devious” and “clandestine”. The word is rarely, if ever, used in a sweet or noble context: Superheroes, fairytale princess and biblical saints have no documented cases of scheming.

3. It’s not a word associated with trust

Hey, don’t take our word for it. The Webster Dictionary is on our side too, describing a scheme as “a clever and often dishonest plan to do or get something”. That doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of one’s heart.

4. People don’t like being schemed (especially more than once!)

If the word “scheme” is off-putting and unsavoury in daily life, what do you think it means to customers when they hear it?

Any customer initiative or loyalty programme should be welcoming, mutually beneficial and hugely enticing, both to newcomers and existing customers. It should not make customers imagine the business in black masks carrying a bag marked “swag”.

5. There are other, better words!

Thankfully, as reprehensible as the word “scheme” is, we marketers are under no obligation to use it. There are literally millions of words that could be used in its place, and arguably dozens that could replace it in a loyalty context.

For a start, there’s “programme” followed by “plan,” “strategy,” “experience” and just about any other word besides the venal, sleazy, underhanded, unwelcome and unappealing “scheme”.

Words and Power

Handled the right way, a customer loyalty programme can blossom into a long, fruitful relationship, and in the shorter-term, turn a company’s fortune around. It should deepen the connection and level of communication with the customer, justifying its cost many times over, not just financially, but in the good will it generates: In other words, the opposite of a scheme.

Whether it’s in business or day-to-day life, getting off on the right foot is key to a good relationship. And as this academic article says, language has power: “Words cannot change reality,” says Dr Jack Shafer, “but they can change how people perceive reality. Words create filters through which people view the world around them. A single word can make the difference between liking a person and disliking that person.”

The next time you’re working on or presenting a customer programme for a client or colleague, refrain from using the word “scheme” even in your mind. A good customer programme deserves much better than that.