Senior Loyalty Consulting Director, Bond Brand Loyalty
Richard is a highly accomplished and visionary loyalty and CRM professional who has enriched the relationships between some of North America’s most iconic brands and their customers for over two decades. He possesses a unique breadth and depth of experience that includes both client side and agency roles, building award-winning customer loyalty and CRM programs, and leading strategic marketing and promotional campaigns. He has a passion for retail and customer management, with a proven track record of harnessing customer and transactional data to deliver enterprise-wide solutions that drive company sales and profitability. Richard has provided strategic loyalty counsel to many North American brands in the following sectors: high-frequency retail, specialty retail, financial services, CPG, and QSR. Before joining Bond Brand Loyalty, Richard held a number of senior North American loyalty marketing leadership roles with LoyaltyOne (owner and operator of the Air Miles Reward Program in Canada).
During a recent retail co-branded credit card client engagement, it became clear to me that retail co-branded credit cards are generally behind their bank credit card counterparts when it comes to the utilization of digital channels for the purposes of securing new cardholders. It is time for retail co-branded credit cards to take notice and actively explore and utilize digital channels to extend their reach to where their potential cardholders reside. It is increasingly important to communicate and reach out to consumer cohorts differentially, as seen in Bond’s Loyalty Report 2019.
Back in 1997 when I began to lead a loyalty project for Shoppers Drug Mart with the code name “ASA” (an acronym for Acetylsalicylic acid), little did I know that 20 years later we would be witnessing the evolution of Canada’s favorite and most successful loyalty program. This past week’s announcement of the merger of these two iconic loyalty programs makes great business sense for the brands and their customers. The Shoppers Optimum program was originally tested in Kingston, Halifax and Calgary over a 16-month period. Towards the end of the pilot in 1999, approval was granted to launch the Shoppers Optimum Program nationally.
Loyalty Programs are critical to fostering effective Customer Engagement strategies for brands. They enable Customer acquisition, onboarding, engagement, retention, and even win back a brand’s Customers. Many strategic brand marketers have made their Loyalty Programs a key business imperative and have invested significant financial and human capital against this important endeavor. We often see many Loyalty Programs underperform or even fail because of poor Program design and planning. When designing or renovating your Loyalty Program, marketers should avoid:
Almost all currency-based consumer loyalty Program designs inherently house a financial liability, which in many cases has a material impact on a brand’s balance sheet. Generally speaking, a brand incurs liability for a future loyalty Program reward as soon as it issues the Program’s currency (e.g., points, miles, credits, stars, etc.) to a Program Member. From an income statement perspective, there is a reduction in revenue as soon as the currency is issued to a Program Member. As such, the brand cannot account for the full sale, since a percentage will need to be remunerated in the form of a reward (or dividend) back to the Program Member upon redemption. The accounting principles which govern financial liability management are not for the faint of heart, and they more than often create an ongoing level of tension between a brand’s CFO and CMO. CFOs wish to minimize their currency liability and resulting financial exposure, while CMOs wish to issue currency to incent incremental transactional behaviors with the aspiration of maximizing Member redemptions.
In many cases, the distance between the offices of marketing and the operations staff is too far. When it comes to loyalty programs, Marketers can fall into the trap of missing executional realities—including the ability to turn front-line staff into evangelical brand ambassadors.
Neglecting to include front-line representatives and other key stakeholders early in the loyalty program design process can lead to poor promotional execution of campaigns, unchecked accountability and other issues. There also can be a lack of clarity and continuity of expectations, especially with new hires. Then, as competing business priorities arise, the program becomes little more than a sideshow over time.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Our recent Loyalty360/Bond Brand Loyalty webinar, “Measure Twice, Cut Once—Get it Right From the Start!” provided a case study of a leading North American retailer whose loyalty program has set an industry gold standard. It’s not just that enrollment goals for the entire first year were met within the first month. It’s also that front-line staff were and continue to be enthusiastic participants themselves, continuing to create excitement, share tips and engender loyalty with customers.
Just the other week, the Boston Consulting Group announced that Tesla had joined Apple and Google at the top of an annual ranking of innovative firms. In fact, Tesla raced into third position from the 41st position in just two years. As a Tesla owner, I am not at all surprised by this rapid leap to third place. Such acceleration is highly becoming of a brand that boasts a 0–60 miles acceleration, in just under three seconds.
A few months ago when I purchased my Tesla Model S, I had no idea that Tesla had a loyalty program. Perhaps I was distracted and mesmerized by the brilliance of the technology housed in this vehicle. Maybe my attention was diverted as I was infatuated by the gorgeous design of the car. Or was I overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of never again having to fill my car up with fuel? As a loyalty practitioner, how could I have missed this, as loyalty is part of my very DNA?
As I continued to engage with the brand, it became evident that Tesla has a very clever and covert loyalty program. In fact, every Tesla owner is a member of the Tesla loyalty program, yet nobody has ever heard of the Tesla loyalty program. So how can a brand’s loyalty program exist if their customers have never heard of it, don’t recall enrolling in it or participating in it?
What are the implications of the Plenti launch on May 4th? While the U.S. marketplace has distinct differences compared to other countries where coalition models thrive, one can suspect a lot of attention against this landmark initiative. Coalition, by design, has an inherent power of helping partners acquire new customers by harnessing each brand’s customer pool. It can also move market share away from retailers with standalone programs, as customers tend to gravitate toward programs that alleviate the need to carry multiple cards, and collect multiple currencies. Last, but not least, coalition tends to accelerate members’ currency-earning power by getting them to their rewards quicker.
American Express shook up the loyalty landscape last month when it announced the launch of Plenti, a coalition loyalty program that allows members to earn and redeem points with various brands—including Macy’s, Rite Aid, Nationwide, and AT&T.
This is significant because the US has traditionally been unfriendly territory when it comes to coalition loyalty. Let’s examine some of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of coalition loyalty and why it hasn’t taken off in the US.
This past Wednesday, American Express made an historic U.S. customer loyalty announcement revealing that it is launching a coalition loyalty program called Plenti in the U.S. this coming May. Why was this announcement so historic? Well for one thing, coalition loyalty has thrived for decades in other parts of the world, including Germany, the UK, the Middle East, New Zealand, and just north of the U.S. boarder in Canada. Strangely enough, it has never really caught on here in the U.S.