#335: Guest Host Announcement - Phil Rubin - USA Loyalty Industry Leader

Phil Rubin is a global leader in customer marketing and loyalty strategy, and a loyalty industry entrepreneur who has created, grown, and led loyalty businesses in the USA for over thirty years.

Phil’s clients have included global icons such as Adidas, American Express, Citigroup, Disney, Estée Lauder, Mandarin Oriental, and Nike, and in this episode, we announce his role with “Let’s Talk Loyalty“, to guest host episodes with some leading loyalty personalities and brands in the coming months.

As a recognized thought leader and sought-after keynote speaker, Phil is now the founder of Grey Space Matters, a growth and innovation firm working with technology companies, investors, and enterprise clients worldwide.

Show Notes:

1) Phil Rubin

2) Grey Space Matters

Audio Transcript

Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

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Paula: So Phil Rubin, welcome back to Let’s Talk Loyalty.

Phil: Thank you very much, Paula. It is fabulous to be back with you.

Paula: Fantastic. We’re here to make, uh, a big announcement about, uh, you working much more closely with us on the show and, um, absolutely thrilled about what we’re gonna be doing together. But before we get into, uh, the big.

As you know, we always start our episodes, uh, asking our guests about their favorite loyalty programs. So Phil Ruben, please do tell us what is your current favorite loyalty program?

Phil: Well, you know, this is one of the hardest questions to answer, whether it’s clients or you or anybody else asking the question.

And really, for me, it’s pretty simple. Uh, and it’s Delta Airlines Sky Miles for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that. , other than the first airline that I worked for, it was really the first major loyalty program that I was involved with launching back in 1995, just to date myself a little bit , but what, what, what Sky Miles has done are, are a few things that I think are exemplified, sort of the best of what loyalty.

marketing can be not just a loyalty program. Yeah. And, and that is number one. It’s, it’s shown that the great examples of loyalty marketing don’t launch overnight. They take time to evolve. . Yeah, for sure. If you think about what we’re at 20 20, 23, so April 1 95 or May 1 95 was the original launch date of Sky Miles.

My goodness. So, so, you know, more than a, a quarter of a century. Yeah. It’s been around, it’s evolved over time. We, we added in, you know, we, we were part of the team that came up with the idea of yield based qualification, which. and the earliest tie, and this is why I think it’s such a great example for Delta especially, is it’s a great example of the loyalty strategy, reflecting and being intricately tied to the business strategy.

Mm-hmm. . and it does so to a degree of not, it delivers. Basically, Delta wanted to focus on high yield passengers. Mm-hmm. and the program over time has been attuned to that. Mm-hmm. , it says, look, if you’re gonna. Do all the things that are gonna give you the best of Delta. Mm-hmm. We’re gonna make sure that that is consistent and rises up to your level of expectations.

Mm-hmm. And in doing so, in recognizing yield and profitability of customers mm-hmm. That drives Delta’s business and allows them to do things like, they just announced that I think officially at c E s a couple weeks ago, that WiFi’s gonna be free. on all flights. Wow. Wow. And they can do that because they’ve got the business aligned to deliver that kind of customer experience because they recognize profitable passengers.

And of course, loyalty. The emotional state of loyalty means people are willing to pay a premium for a better experience. Wow. Or go out of their way or take a connection instead of a nonstop, depending on what market you live in. So that’s why it’s probably too much. Yeah, too much about Delta. But I think it’s really important today because yeah, you see so many changes in the marketplace and so many pro ec programs exiting Best Buy.

Mm-hmm. just announced they were exiting their, their accrual and rewards, part of their loyalty strategy for non tender. customers, which means if you don’t have a Best Buy credit card, you’re not gonna earn any rewards. You’re gonna get free shipping. Yeah. Which is, which is table stakes. That’s a big deal.

And I think oughta be addressed by the loyalty industry because Mm. While there wasn’t a full explanation Hmm. Clearly something wasn’t working there for Best Buy.

Paula: Yeah. My. Well, I mean Delta for sure. I, I absolutely love that strategy. First of all, that you were there 25 years ago when they started , so congrats on being part of the creation of something that’s truly groundbreaking.

Um, I haven’t looked enough at the Sky Miles program, but we’ll definitely have to, to try and think about getting them on the show at some point, uh, maybe this year if we’re lucky. Um, so, but, but what I was hearing is I love that alignment of true. Focus and your example of making wifi free on board, to be honest, is something I’m really surprised that airlines in the Middle East haven’t done because it is an absolute game changer.

And I know even back in Ireland, um, for example Irish Rail, um, Took that exact same strategy now competing with people driving between the big cities. But they really realized that if they want people who are going to business meetings around the country to choose to travel by rail instead of being on the road, wifi was actually a decision making strategy.

So I absolutely love that and. I know it’s not our traditional points and prizes that we talk about in terms of structured loyalty programs, but actually this show is about creating loyal behavior and loyal emotions. So you’re absolutely All right. So a great way to start the show. Thank you for bringing, uh, the latest DA news to my attention, and that’s why I asked that question.

It really gives me an insight into what’s happening in the. So I guess the big announcement today, Phil, is that you are coming on board as a guest host for Let’s Talk Loyalty, and I’m absolutely thrilled. There’s a lot of reasons from my side that I wanted you to take on some, I suppose, some supportive role.

Um, given you’ve been supporting me behind the scenes already for quite a long. And giving me a lot of guidance and insights in terms of your, your perspective in terms of what’s happening, particularly in the US loyalty industry. So I think I saw on your LinkedIn profile over 30 years actually in totally, you’ve been working here, uh, across what wonderful brands, uh, giving insights and I suppose you’re really seen as a global leader, uh, for the industry.

So tell me why did you want to be a host on the show, Phil? I think it’s absolutely extraordinary that you’re gonna do this with.

Phil: Well, thanks Paul, and I’m really, uh, grateful to have the chance to, uh, to, to help, let’s talk loyalty and really, you know, for me the motivation is, you know, obviously having spent 30 plus years in doing this kind of work, I’m, I’m kind of into it, right?

totally understatement of the date. Understatement, right? Yeah. Um, you know, as, as we look at where loyalty is in 2020, And, you know, we’re in the fifth decade. Mm-hmm. of modern loyalty marketing. Yeah. Uh, number one, and I think you’ll appreciate this, I think loyalty’s stuck. There’s a big opportunity Yeah.

To make it significantly more impactful, more integral to business. Mm-hmm. and not just to marketing. Yeah. And that’s a function of a couple of different things, but more important. , you see sort of the divergence between Delta Airlines and what they do with Sky Miles as an example. Mm-hmm. , where it’s a real strategic pillar of the business.

Yeah. And Best Buy, where it’s really not mm-hmm. . And yet there’s a lot of great examples of loyalty marketing being incredibly effective in retail. And I use those just as polarizing data points to illustrate the fact. Loyalty’s rather stuck. Mm-hmm. after, you know, 40 x years. Yeah. And there’s an opportunity because of changes in technology because, and changes of, yeah.

Data. and regulation and the expectation and the trust that people have in the private sector relative to the public sector. Edelman just released its latest trust barometer, which says this is continuing to be, uh, evidenced by the data that they collect. Mm. It sets up a, what I think could be the opportunity for real renaissance and loyalty.

And so what I’m hoping to do, much like what you’re doing and, and, and and others is driving conversations with people who are able to reflect and adapt and innovate. Hmm. What loyalty and loyalty, marketing and loyalty as a business strategy is gonna be able to do. Yeah. Going forward. And at the end of the day, and I’m really excited about who we’re gonna.

for, for our first guest. Mm-hmm. at the end of the day. And, and a client said this to me years ago, if the answer’s not money, you need to rephrase the question. .

Paula: I love

Phil: that. . If loyalty is not driving profitable growth for the business, yeah. Then it’s a problem. Mm-hmm. And the more we can, we can, as an industry, number one, maintain that focus.

Number two, elevate loyalty. And it, and I really do think loyalty’s sort of emerging from what I always used to think of it being a, as sort of the ghetto of marketing. Totally. Um, there’s a, there’s a lot of interest Yeah. In loyalty these days from all kinds of places. From, from consumer media. Mm-hmm. . The investment community.

Yeah. And, and that’s a, that’s a global phenomenon and it hasn’t reached this level of interest Yeah. That I’ve seen ever. But at the same time, there’s way too many people and things. Uh, and brands, yeah. Doing the same things and expecting different results, which of course yeah. Reflects the definition of insanity.

So I think we have an opportunity, yeah. Through some of these conversations, to hopefully demonstrate the ability to innovate, to get people thinking differently and un about loyalty, and also to help, yeah, really help others better understand. the possibilities when you really step back and, and look at what’s happening, what’s, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked.

Yeah. And where there are, there are areas that are just underdeveloped Yeah. To, to better link customers in the business, which seems like such an obvious thing. Yeah. But it’s like, maybe it’s not at best. So, so what does that mean for all the other brands in the world? Yeah. Some of which are doing amazing, thanks.

Mm-hmm. So we want to like, like what you do. Yeah. And, and some and others. Like, let, let’s tell the, let’s tell these stories and let’s talk to people who are really doing Yeah. Cutting edge work. And, and that’s, yeah. That’s how we’re gonna get started. So it’s gonna be really.

Paula: Oh, it definitely will, Phil. I’m already super excited and, and you know, I suppose the two words that I use to describe this show are always education and inspiration.

And for me, the fact that you do have this thought leadership positioning, that you are much more used to sea level conversations, I would say, than I am in terms of. Justifying defending and inspiring senior leaders about loyalty. Like to me, you’re gonna be totally able to elevate the conversation to that idea about loyalty being integral to the business, because I think you’re absolutely right.

Loyalty is stuck both in its execution, but also in terms of its percept. For many people. So I always had this issue. I always felt I was defending a program I couldn’t quite articulate or prove if it was working. And it does need people who have your kind of skillset to be able to inspire them to go Actually, if you do it right, it is gonna drive growth.

And as you said, if the answer is muddy, we’re all happy. Super.

Phil: Well, I, when I did my undergrad, I majored in finance, so, yeah. Uh, you know, it certainly helps to be able to speak that language, especially to CEOs Yeah. And CFOs. Right. Because what does the CEO do? Yeah. When pr, you know, you make a pitch to the ceo, e o, they turn their head Yeah.

To the c o and look at their. and see what sheer he says and, and that yeah. That’s a big barometer of, of how things are gonna go. Yeah. In terms of that decision making, so

Paula: for sure. Yeah. Fantastic. So I, I’ll ask you in a second then about your plan, um, for the year ahead. So essentially what we’ve decided is you are going to focus on six episodes, uh, starting this month, so February through for the next six months.

I think that brings us to August. I haven’t counted, um, But first and foremost, I know you’re doing incredible work behind the scenes and we’re not going to, I suppose, give it all away today in terms of who you’re planning to bring on, with the exception of next week’s episode. But I guess for people listening, I just wanted to give a bit more context as well in terms of my thinking.

So, you know, for me, of course, we’re producing three shows a week. Let’s Talk. Loyalty, I really believe has become a much bigger brand than Paula. Which is exactly what I had always hoped. So, you know, our Tuesday show is designed for people who are very short on time. It’s hosted by Tom Peace outta the uk, and he takes that summary episode from before and really brings the key points through and that gets wonderful audience and that’s working really well.

And then of course Phil, you are part of our guest hosts, which is now pretty much every Wednesday. So throughout 2023, I really think we’re gonna be embodying what our friends in the Wise marketeer always say, the global voice of loyalty. So I always like to borrow that a little bit and say that we are actually the global voices of loyalty because we’ve got you in the us We’ve obviously got Amanda Crom House in South Africa, and we have Tom Peace in the uk and we have one more.

Coming up very soon to be announced. So for me, there is so much more perspective, insight, and expertise that’s coming through working with you. And as I said, our other guest hosts on this show. But I also wanted to reassure people that I’m not going anywhere. So every Thursday will still be the Paula show, so I will still be, you know, working super hard to make sure we can get the best brands possible.

And I’ll still be releasing that episode. But to me, let’s Talk Loyalty is actually now a platform to talk about loyalty, you know, in every possible country and in lots of different ways. So I’m enjoying the expansion. I think every business needs to grow. So again, super happy that you’re gonna be part

Phil: of that.

Well, me too. And I think to your point, it’s a big world and as much as, and I wanna be mindful of not being that American saying this , but we were actually looking at the, I was in a meeting yesterday and we were looking at the data and at the US represents, you know, 40 ish. So you know, 40, 45% of the market.

Yeah. For loyalty. Right. Amazing. And yeah, and we have a lot of competition. You, you know, we just, just the size and scale of the economy lends itself to a significant amount of loyalty work and loyalty opportunity. So yeah, we won’t be too US-centric because I think there are a lot of global brands. . And that is, that’s a whole topic in and of itself, is how do you create yeah, the right kind of customer experience and customer value proposition that resonates across oceans and time zones and cultures and currencies and, and all those things.

Um, but it, it, it is exciting and, and there’s certainly a lot of people, uh, that want to talk about things that they’re passionate about in terms of contributing to the growth of the industry and Yeah. And, and, and as you. You know, helping people better understand loyalty and help inspire people to think differently and be innovative.

Yeah. Because those are, that combination of education and sort of tenacity and commitment to innovation Yeah. Is really what’s gonna unlock huge amounts of value for everybody, of course. And, and so to be part of those, you know, helping to, to, you know, take part in these conversations. with people who sort of share these ideas and commitments.

Yeah. Uh, to this kind of. is, is, is a, is, is a huge, a huge opportunity. And, and we’ll, you know, try not to, to, to screw up a good thing here.

Paula: Paul . Well, I know you’re a keynote speaker, Phil, and as I said, you’ve um, definitely given me plenty of confidence with all of your, um, advice behind the scenes. And you’ve been a guest on the show as well, Phil, and I think you.

That that actually also creates, you know, a wonderful global network for you as a guest. You know, so lots of people, once they’ve been on this show, find that they start having conversations with different peers around the world, about maybe similar issues, similar industries. So I have no doubt that the guest.

That you are going to bring on will also benefit from that profile and perspective and build our personal brands as well, because to me that’s super important that people who are spending time being guests on the show actually get something, you know, in terms of their personal brand profile as a result.

So, um, super excited. So why don’t you tell us who’s coming up next week? Phil is your first guest.

Phil: So my first guest is, uh, is is somebody whose work I’ve, uh, and, and, and. By extension, the work of of his. Business partner and really his, his mentor, uh, have, have been in my mind, especially from the academic world.

Yeah. Really inspiring and also very validating. Uh, so it’s Dan McCarthy, who is a professor at the Emory Business School. Yeah, based in Atlanta. and, uh, Dan’s work and a lot of his work with Peter Fedder from Wharton have really been, I think, some of the best focused work on the connection between brands and customers.

Yeah. And driving, you know, creating business value. Yeah. And Dan in particular is very focused on. . Using? Using what I, what I would describe is using the customer as the denominator. Yeah. For measuring business performance. So yeah, things like customer lifetime value and customer based enterprise valuation.

Yeah. And things that really pay homage to what Peter Drucker said so long ago about the bus. The purpose of a business is to create a customer, you know, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah. Um, and Dan’s doing some phenomenal. , uh, at new work in a couple of different areas relating to. The last few years and, and sort of the impact of Covid and how do you, how do you adjust Yeah.

You know, recalibrate expectations when you’re looking back at a few years that were such an anomaly. Yeah. Number one. But also just the, the value in looking at the business with the, again, with the customers, the denominator to be able to create better insights, not just looking back Mm. But now looking forward and forecasting.

So, yeah. . Dan’s always great to talk with and, um, you know, he, yeah, he’s, he’s, he’s, uh, obviously doing a lot of academic research Yeah. And publishing as part of his role at Emory, but Dan and Peter also mm-hmm. Work, do work in the private sector. Yeah. Uh, and have done a lot. I’ve had a lot of success doing that.

And Yeah. You know, the, the beauty of, of what we, this work, this loyalty work is because it is measurable. Yeah. , the contribution to creating enterprise value. Yeah. For stockholders, but also broader, more broadly for stakeholders, which another area I’m really interested in, yeah. Is something that marketers as a whole, need to better understand.

They need to be able to do math. Yeah. They need to be able to have those conversations with the C E O and ultimately to the investment community that says, look, yeah, we’re creating profitable growth through our customers, not through Yeah. Some other means. Yeah. And in a world where you can’t just.

automate your digital advertising and push buttons, like those buttons anymore to drive business performance. Yeah. The, the value of zero and first party data and being able to measure that Yeah. And support that. Yeah. With financial, proper financial metrics, yeah. Is, is I think a foundational for the future loyalty.

Paula: For sure. Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. Phil. Dan’s perspective is absolutely essential, I think, for the world of loyalty, both because he’s providing those mathematical models, which certainly I’ve never had. Um, but also I think what he’s reflecting back is a. That interest from the investor community.

And it’s one thing for us to have internal pressures to prove the value of our loyalty programs, I think to our, our senior leaders. But I think it’s totally different for that C-suite to be able to also prove it to their investors. So I think Dan is giving us the tools to do that. So I know you guys are gonna have an amazing conversation and, uh, looking forward to publishing that to the Let’s Talk loyalty audience next week.

And yeah, making sure that we’re all super clear in terms of, as you said, the even more respected role of loyalty in our organization. So I think all our careers are safe, um, for the, the months and years to. And yeah, I guess I just wanna end by saying, again, a huge thank you, Phil, for everything you’ve done for me personally in terms of believing in the show, um, for being a part of it, and now really taking this leadership role and, uh, becoming a host for us.

So with that said, have you any final kind of parting words for today, Phil?

Phil: Only, uh, can’t wait to record with Dan and, uh, and, and get things going and, and help contribute to, to, to all this great work that you’ve done and, and, and led the way with. So, uh, thanks again for the opportunity, Paula.

Paula: Fantastic. So, Phil Rubin, Founder and Principal of Grey Space Matters.

Thank you so much from Lets Talk Loyalty.

Phil: Thanks Paula.

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