Bryan Pearson is the CEO of LoyaltyOne, a loyalty marketing company. He is the author of Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information into Customer Intimacy. Bryan is often quoted in the news and is a sought-after speaker. You can learn more about Bryan at http://pearson4loyalty.com
Bryan, you believe companies should shift some of their focus from acquiring clients to putting the consumer front and centre. Can you explain?
Many companies are product-obsessed, meaning they operate with complete focus on creating, developing and enhancing their products to meet an existing need. Other companies are product opportunists – they obsess on the product, but also use their data occasionally to solve issues involving service or sales dips.
You can begin the journey; take small steps. And if you find yourself to be successful, that may entice the organization to make a larger commitment to other opportunities that exist around customer-centric marketing.
Both of these types of companies operate every day. But these days, with dramatically shifting technologies and fickle consumer demands, merely responding to consumer shifts isn’t enough. The company has to put the customer at the center of its purpose from the start, and then base every decision it makes on what is meaningful to that consumer, using the data the customer shares.
This is what I call a customer-committed company, and it is the one that stands apart. Customer-committed organizations, such as Caesars Entertainment, Nordstrom or Amazon.com, commit to two-way dialogues with their customers and use a careful balance of data and innovation to design a relevant customer experience.
What is ‘emotional loyalty’?
Emotional loyalty is more deeply rooted than its counterpart — behavioural loyalty, which is driven by habit, convenience or even price. Emotional loyalty is based on the company’s capacity to recognize the customer’s contributions directly and exists within a sustained customer relationship. It results when the customer sticks with your brand even when there is a comparable, convenient or less expensive alternative available. It is a matter of gaining trust, which is hard won but worth it.
How to get there? Emotional loyalty requires that the company motivate the entire organization to use customer data to deliver experiences that are relevant to its customers. Relevance in turn will lead to customer intimacy and, ultimately, emotional loyalty with your brand.
Your work at LoyaltyOne is Enterprise Loyalty. What about the small and medium-sized businesses…how can they benefit from loyalty marketing?
I think any company that is capturing customer information has the opportunity to enhance the way it thinks about the business by looking at it through a more-defined customer lens. Does it mean you have to get all the way down to Enterprise Loyalty, with one-to-one marketing and unique experiences by customer? No, but there is an opportunity to take steps in that direction by re-examining and mobilizing the organization around the information it’s capturing on customers, and the insights derived from how best customers engage with the brand. You can begin the journey; take small steps. And if you find yourself to be successful, that may entice the organization to make a larger commitment to other opportunities that exist around customer-centric marketing.
You helped grow the AIR MILES Reward Program to more than 10 million accounts – two-thirds of Canadian households. Looking back at what made that such a success…are there one or two big lessons that you can share?
There are two big lessons, which work very much in tandem:
1. Treat the customer’s data with utmost respect and care. Consumers are giving you something of great personal value when they agree to share personal information with you, so they are making a leap of faith. The onus is on marketers to provide them something of relevant value in return. There are keys to doing this right: Collect only the data you need, and use all the data you collect; do not share or sell the data to third parties without permission; destroy any data you no longer need.
2. Approach every business decision as if it was made from the consumer’s perspective. You require data to do this, of course, but it is in how you collect and use the data that matters. Every reward, whether it is hard (points or miles) or soft (exclusive events or preferential treatment), should demonstrate that the data was used specifically to benefit that consumer.
Guided by these lessons, not only did AIR MILES build a winning business, but our unique approach to gathering and using personal customer information yielded superior returns for our partners, while giving back $500 million each year to our Canadian members.
Many publications and companies are starting to talk about “Big Data”. Is this something that has been around for a while and some companies are just catching up, or is this really a big deal?
In my opinion, it is a new name for an existing industry. The difference is that companies are just now learning how to use all of the complex data they have been collecting for years in a way that really translates to meaningful communications and offers, even at the consumer level. Social media and mobile communications certainly have contributed to this level of sophistication, but much of it is accomplished through advanced internal strategies and how the data is shared throughout the organization, to inform all business decisions from the consumer’s perspective. We call this practice Enterprise Loyalty.
That said, there is still a lot of ground to cover in terms of creating experiences that are mutually advantageous to both the consumer and the company. And there are many opportunities. The requirement, always, to attaining emotional loyalty is making sure the data is used responsibly with the goal of benefiting the consumer.
For people who are interested in a career in the loyalty marketing space, what would you recommend they focus on? Any specific skills they should develop? Education critical for the job?
I can tell you from my own experience that straight-up marketing alone is not enough – it needs to be rounded out with a good measure of scientific knowledge. In fact, to me the practice of marketing seemed more like hocus-pocus than any logical, scientific method – until I segued into the software sector early in my career. That was when I gained meaningful insight into direct marketing, a discipline in which scientific principles ruled, and I was hooked.
I am fortunate to work with a top-notch team that is truly dedicated to the business.
That said, loyalty marketers today should not focus on any one discipline; the industry has become just too sophisticated and fragmented. The key to advancing in loyalty is in gaining knowledge across a broad spectrum of disciplines, and not being a “monoline” specialist. For instance, there is more to being a 21st century marketer then merely understanding the mechanics of a given channel. Take social media. Anyone can learn how to plant a ‘like’ button, or to create conversations. But without a deep understanding of the mechanics of the medium, you can’t generate momentum around the ideas. Central to gaining this insight is recognizing that there is a human element to direct marketing.
Bryan, you lead a company with thousands of employees. What does your typical day look like?
My days start early; I am usually in the office before 8 a.m. But that’s where the “typical” ends. On any given day, I may be speaking at a loyalty event, traveling to a newly developed market, such as Brazil, or engaging our associates in one of our regular LoyaltyOne “Town Hall” meetings.
But one thing is constant: I am fortunate to work with a top-notch team that is truly dedicated to the business. Everyday I am in regular contact with members of the team at LoyaltyOne, focusing on the issues our clients face and identifying new ways to understand and derive powerful insights from the information that consumers choose to share with us.
With such a busy schedule how do you approach productivity? What tools (apps, gadgets, etc) do you use to help you stay productive?
There’s a few. I rely on a combination of a Blackberry and an iPad to more easily and flexibly access all the content, email and communications that reach me and require my review and feedback. I love Flipboard for browsing through Twitter and to track my favorite blogs, magazines and other information sources. To keep up to speed on key trends in the marketing, retail and banking/payment sectors, I turn to media screening sources and to COLLOQUY.com. And last but not least, with more than 1,500 intellectually curious associates, there’s no shortage of ideas and links to great articles, videos and other content that stream to me and challenge our thinking.
What is your favourite quote of all time?
An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch
I like this quote because it emphasizes that learning, by understanding both the big moving parts in the industry as well as the insights from customer information – are both strategic levers that are critical for the long-term health of the business.
What is one thing that your coworkers, clients or friends may not know about you?
I didn’t set out to be in business; I originally wanted to be a doctor. Both of my parents were doctors, and we were often discussing human anatomy and how things worked. In fact, we didn’t only discuss – we practiced. I remember my father giving anatomy lessons at the kitchen table with something that would later become dinner, such as a carefully dissected beef kidney. Not surprisingly, I had from an early age a predisposition for forensics, pathology and clinical manifestations.
So I entered college planning to be a doctor, but in the summers I ran my own small businesses, painting houses and the like, to make money. These ventures led to a great interest in entrepreneurialism and business, so I changed my major. But I have always felt that marketing and business needed to be a blend of art and science, and that probably ties directly to my early education.