#498: Loyalty Connect Global - Join this Loyalty Industry Flagship Event in Dubai

Today’s episode is available in video on www.Loyalty.TV and as a podcast as Let’s Talk Loyalty.

Loyalty Connect” is being positioned as the flagship conference for the loyalty industry for 2024, taking place in Dubai in April, with an expected attendance of over 3,000 people!

This podcast shares the origins and intentions of the conference for its inaugural year.

This incredible event will also feature the International Loyalty Awards, which is taking place outside of the UK for the first time in its 13 year history.

No matter what area of loyalty marketing you work in, on the brand side OR the partner side, Loyalty Connect is an exciting event not to be missed.

My guest today is Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive of Loyalty Connect, Marian Kelly.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Show Notes:

1) Marian Kelly

2) Loyalty Connect⁠

3) International Loyalty Awards

4) Watch this episode at www.Loyalty.TV

Audio Transcript

Paula: 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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Hello and welcome to Loyalty TV and Let’s Talk Loyalty. Today we’re sharing the story behind Loyalty Connect, which is being positioned as the flagship conference for our industry for 2024. It’s taking place in just a few months time on April 23rd and 24th here in Dubai with an expected attendance of over 3000 people. The conference also includes the International Loyalty Awards, which is taking place outside of the UK for the first time in its 13 year history. No matter what area of loyalty marketing you work in on the brand side or the partner side, Loyalty Connect is an event not to be missed. 

Joining me today is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Loyalty Connect, Marian Kelly, who created this conference together with Eileen McGuinness. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

So Marian Kelly, welcome to Loyalty TV and Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Marian: Thank you so much for having me, Paula. I have to say I’m delighted to be with you today. It’s my first time, so yeah. I’m really excited to have this conversation. 

Paula: Indeed, we have an awful lot to talk about Marian. We have worked together for so many years and I’m a huge fan of what you do. 

Marian: Thank you so much.

Paula: So, nothing could give me more pleasure than what we’re talking about today. So listen to me. I know you’re here representing what is going to be the single biggest event in the loyalty industry in 2024 Loyalty Connect. So we’ve got a huge amount to talk about today on behalf of yourself and your co-founder of the event. So Eileen couldn’t be with us today, but we’ll be making sure to to include her in all of our discussions. 

But before we get into talking about the actual event, Marion, as you know, we love to start this show getting a sense from industry experts and specialists about their favorite loyalty programs. And given that you are living in my home country, of course, back in Ireland, why don’t you give our global audience a sense of your favorite loyalty programme, please? 

Marian: Yes. I have to say, Paula, I gave this some thought last night in terms in preparation for coming on the show. And I have to say, after a lot of thought, I decided my favorite loyalty program is one which you are very familiar with actually.

And it’s the SuperValu real Rewards program. Like many people, I’m sure my biggest spend every week is food. So for me, my loyalty partner in terms of food retail is really important. I love Supervalu Rewards for the, there’s loads of reasons to love it actually. You know, it’s been in the Irish market for the last 15 years. They have constantly evolved. They dedicate a team to working on their loyalty offering, which I think is fantastic and a great example for other companies. But I love, I think I love their app. I love the simplicity and transparency in earning and redeeming rewards. I love that vouchers come directly to my phone that are relevant to my tastes. So I don’t receive offers for items that are generally not on my shopping list. So I love that. 

But I suppose most of all, I love that they continue to evolve. In December they launched a lovely Scan to Win program. The value proposition was 70,000 euro, which is quite a strong offering in the average market.

Paula: Wow. Yeah. 

Marian: Yeah. So people won cars, people won, you know, a thousand euro, people won shops. It really exciting. And that’s what I love about them. It’s really important that you can adapt and pivot quickly.

Paula: Yes. 

Marian: So for example, cost of living crisis, we’re all aware of that and the huge challenges the consumer has had around energy and I would say I got super value, were fantastic. They partnered with a energy supplier here in the Irish market and very quickly were able to offer consumers real value in converting their Real Rewards points into paying for their energy bills. And those types of steps are the steps that keep your consumer loyal to your brand. So yeah, I’m a huge fan.

I have no surprise at all that in Europe, Ireland scored very high. I am going to get that point in Paula. I’m very happy that they did well and I think that’s of huge credit to all the companies in Ireland who are really working hard to deliver a strong valued proposition. 

Paula: Indeed, well, well said Marion. I always feel actually as a very small country, we punch above our weight in a lot of areas. And definitely I think when it comes to grocery retail we are some of the best in the world, and I don’t think that is appreciated. Supervalu is definitely a brand we would love to have on Loyalty TV. So a shout out to them if anybody’s listening to make sure there’s an open invitation.

And I guess for people around the world, Marion, you know, just, I suppose from my perspective, you’re absolutely right. Supervalu have nailed so many key parts of the proposition and it’s essentially the closest thing Ireland has to a coalition. So we don’t really have a coalition like Nectar, for example, or you know, some of the big ones in Europe. So Supervalu is kind of filling that void and doing it super well. So thank you for showcasing that. And as I said, please, God will get them on the show in the future. 

Marian: Absolutely. 

Paula: So let’s get into the big topic for today, Marian. And we are here to talk about an extraordinary conference taking place in the city I now live in Dubai, of course, in April. So coming up very quickly in a couple of months. But before we get into talking about the conference, Marian, yourself and Eileen co-founded this big idea. So can you just gimme a bit of background on the kind of work you’ve been doing over the last couple of years? Because I think everybody knows your work, but they might know you by name. So tell us a bit about the company and what you do. 

Marian: Okay. So I suppose I spent most of my career in the UK, which was not in the actual loyalty space at all, but I suppose a turning point in my career was when I returned actually back to Ireland and Paula, you will know, and if Eileen had been able to join us today, she would certainly know that my first experience in the loyalty space was really bringing the Avios currency.

Paula: Yes.

Marian: To the Irish market because IAG had purchased Erlingus. So I have to say it was a fantastic program to cut my teeth on because it’s such a big program and, you know, so many people are aware of it. And it also had a very powerful proposition in the Irish market. So when you were talking to, you know, potential partners, it was actually quite easy because they were always very interested. So that was my first experience in the loyalty space, but and my first experience of working with Eileen on loyalty.

I think we both looked at the market in Ireland and felt this is so strange because actually lots of companies in Ireland are doing great things around loyalty and indeed customer experience, but nobody’s actually recognizing it. And from a consumer perspective, how do you know which are the best loyalty programs? So we spot with an opportunity in the market and we founded The Irish Loyalty Awards together. I have to say, whilst the loyalty community in Ireland is a small one, it’s a very vibrant one. And we’ve been on a very successful program for the last five years and it really has been a fantastic experience. 

Then about two years ago, probably three years ago now, we were invited to work on the International Loyalty Awards program. Again, a fantastic experience, a fantastic insight into the global picture of loyalty programs. And you know, that has been a really huge learning curve from a global perspective because when people enter the awards, we’ve got access to the nuts and bolts of the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of loyalty across the world. So that’s been just an amazing experience and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed that. We also have partnered with the Loyalty Academy in delivering in Europe, in delivering CLMP. 

And I suppose my reason for sharing all of that is probably to give your listeners an understanding that we have a very broad experience of the global loyalty network. And I think when you’re talking to potential sponsors and potential partners and potential brands for entering into the awards, I suppose one message has been getting louder and louder. That message has been really that there is a little frustration. We have a very I suppose we have a great loyalty platform across the world, but it is a little fragmented in the sense that from an event perspective, there are a lot of small events going on, and there’s absolutely space for small events and for niche events.

So, Loyalty Connect is not about, you know, removing that very valuable resource for the loyalty, the global loyalty community, but it became clear that from an investment perspective, sponsors are keen to probably find a platform that’s more of a flagship for the industry. And I think customer loyalty hasn’t always been top of the agenda. It’s been a slowly evolving industry for the last probably 15 years. So the time is now, right for a flagship industry event, which it may not have been ready for previously. 

So I think that was our first starting point was thinking what we really didn’t want was sponsors and partners and people who are really invested in this community being a little bit disillusioned by not being able to get their message out to the brand. Because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. So I think we were hearing that message for quite some time and we were thinking, right, something we need to do something about this. We then, so we’ve researched this really for the last two years. We then spoke with many brands and the message that was coming from brands is very often they don’t really know what’s working out there.

You know, they don’t have a global picture of loyalty. They don’t always know what the thought leadership is, and the reality is for a lot of C-suite personnel, they’re so busy with the day-to-day business, they don’t have the time to sit down and Google and find out what the latest thinking and thought leadership is around loyalty. So they were very supportive of a flagship event for the loyalty community. And hence, Loyalty Connect was born. 

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. Totally. Totally. And I know you’ve been thinking about this in great depth, Marian, both yourself and Eileen, certainly as you said, for two years. I think I passed a joke last year, in fact when we were together in London that maybe you should do something in Dubai. So I was absolutely blown away. I’m not taking the credit, but I know that there’s very good reasons that you’re coming to where I now live. 

My own, I suppose, reason for living here is usually the first question people ask me, Marian, is why do I, you know, why are you not back in Dublin where you’re from? And for me, this city is full of ambition, Marian. So, you know, genuinely for Loyalty Connect, as you said, it is a hugely ambitious project. It is what the industry’s been asking for. So give us a sense of the scale of your ambition of what you’re hoping to unfold when we get together at the end of April.

Marian: So I think just talking about Dubai for a second I do think Dubai is the perfect location because naturally it’s the gateway between east and west. It is a fabulous city. And you know, when we talked to our brands, so these are not my words, these are the brand’s words, which I love. It was like everybody wants to be in Dubai, so we were like okay.

Paula: Totally okay. Yeah, why not? 

Marian: Okay. 

Paula: And Paula is there. So of course, I mean it just makes sense. 

Marian: Absolutely. So, you know, whilst this event is based in Dubai, we want to be very clear. It is actually a global event of course we are very much hoping that the MENA region will get behind this event, but it is a global event. And, you know, we wanted to pick a city that was going to be accessible fairly for all leading global experts across the world. So the location was very key in our decision. 

You know, I think from a thought leadership perspective, one of the absolute key items that we’re working on for this event is a compelling, high profile, diverse agenda. 

So it’s a two-day conference. It’s a two day conference. Being really transparent about our strategy, we are very much trying to and succeeding. We will be announcing the agenda shortly, but we are targeting C-suite, presenters, very much brand side who will talk about their loyalty programs the good, the bad, and the ugly, hopefully.

And I suppose share the experiences of what works and what doesn’t work at a very senior level, but also people who may not have been heard in the space before. So I think that’s really important for us that we you know, bring new material, new content. So we’re curating that and a huge amount. Our head of content has been inundated with requests to speak and share content. So, and I mean, inundated. We have to give due diligence to all those offers. So it is taking a little time to get the agenda out there, but it will be worth the wait. So I will say watch this space in the next week or so.

Paula: Indeed. Absolutely. And we are recording at the end of January, but of course releasing this. So anybody listening, it’ll be, you know, early to mid-February. So I’m guessing the agenda will be available on the Loyalty Connect website. So certainly from our perspective, Marian as partners of yours. We’ll make sure to link to that in the show notes. So anybody who is listening, it’ll be in your inboxes, in your emails, and all up to date as Marian says in terms of getting that incredible agenda together. 

So, I mean, honestly, from my perspective, Marian I share the understanding of the pain point, not only back from my own days of running programs there in Ireland and wanting access to C-suite insights, but this whole idea that there is, you know, almost like a, you know, an industry that feels often, I think quite lonely. And I know that’s a strong word, but somebody nailed it for me when in an interview actually on this show, because as loyalty professionals we’re very often the person driving the program through every single department in the business. 

So we’re convincing the C-suite. We’re convincing the ops, the customer service, the comms people. So it’s a huge responsibility. And if you don’t have the C-suite on your side, life can be tough. And particularly when it comes to the very commercial realities, which I know is something that the speakers that you’re lining up, I’ve had a little preview. I know we can’t disclose them, but I know the kind of speakers that you have will be bringing those C-suite insights because ultimately they are the decision maker, Marian, and we’ve been talking about a lot of, a lot about ourselves. So, so very exciting. 

So am I right in saying as well as having C-suite speakers, you’re also hoping that obviously every loyalty professional listening to this, but also C-suite professionals within their companies are welcome and of course you know, more than more than welcome to come and attend and hear their peers and their colleagues talk about what they’re doing.

Marian: Indeed, I mean the target audience for this is absolutely 100% C-suite. And it does go back to the reason for that very much goes back to what you’ve just said, that, you know, successful loyalty programs have the support from the top to down. So it’s really critical that the C-suite understand the commercial proposition for their business. And that’s the education piece that we are trying to deliver through, or aiming to deliver through the agenda. It’s ambitious. We are targeting a 3000 foot full. And I think that’s really important, but as part of our attracting that C-suite, I think it’s really important to note this, that we have a Brands Go Free Campaign.

And the idea behind this is that we don’t want any obstacles in place for a brand to attend. So up until the 29th of February. We have a Brand Go Free. You can go on the website, you can register now and you will secure your place at the event free. So yeah, C-suite, target Audience, 3000 people flagship event for the industry.

Paula: Oh my goodness. Yeah. Well we got all the key bullet points there. So, I mean, certainly very exciting Marion from my perspective, you know, most of the events that both of us go to certainly in, in the European market typically are two to 300 people. So for you guys to be conceiving and delivering something that is going to be basically 10 times bigger is just phenomenal.

So, congrats on getting this far. I know it’s been a long time coming. As I said, I agree with the need and the appetite and I suppose it would be remiss if I didn’t comment that I’m going to be involved in ways that are not yet confirmed. But certainly I will be around and available and keen to meet with anybody who is going to be in Dubai for that particular week. Because I think most people have business to do in Dubai, you know, as well as the conference. And we’re gonna talk of course, about about the International Loyalty Awards, as well as the final part of the agenda. 

But even before that Marion, the final piece on the conference I just wanted to pick up on is that the title you’ve given it, and I know of course that’s very intentional as well, but this idea of connecting I think is something that you hold very dear. And again, I think people, being people, we do love to connect with each other and sit down and have, as I often say, coffee or cocktails, whichever is appropriate to your taste. So I’m guessing we’re gonna have a lot of coffee and cocktails when you get here.

Marian: Absolutely. Look, I think you know connect is the word that’s probably most important in the loyalty space. Whether you’re connecting with your consumers, peers it’s a really important word. So it is about connection. And I suppose for us it’s very much as well about business, doing business for our partners and sponsors who are there. They want to meet people to do business. So, you know, it is very much a platform for doing business. But it’s also a huge platform for collaboration. And I think that’s really important as a, you know, as an organization, we really feel and our mantra is very much about collaboration with other global partners.

So we have an huge ecosystem of global media partners, which of course you, of which you are one Paula. Yes, but I think I can name a few The Wise Marketer, the European Loyalty Association, the Global Loyalty Organisation, and there’s loads more that I can’t remember off the top of my head. But we are building a network, the Australian Loyalty Association. Dear me, I would be slapped on the wrist if I can’t forget that.

Paula: Can’t forget the ALA. Yeah. Good. 

Marian: So we’re working hugely hard to build that global network of collaboration to really drive a presence at this event. And you know, we’ve had great support and we’re hugely grateful for that support. And in turn, we will support when we are called upon too. And I think that’s really important. 

Paula: Yes, I know the integrity is absolutely unquestioned Marian. So yes, I know you’re running this event in the greater interests of all concerns. So it is very much like, and we know that’s going to guarantee then of course the future success as well. So there’s you know, there’s a lot riding on this, I know for you as a small business, ’cause I’m, you know, like yourselves ambitious and keen to do things that are meaningful and really matter to the industry. So, as I said, I’m hugely excited that you’ve chosen Dubai, that you’re coming here. It’s a packed two-day agenda and can’t wait to see all of the speakers that you end up choosing to share their C-suite insights.

Marian: I have to say, we’re really excited too, so.

Paula: Yes. Good. 

Marian: We’re going to be very exciting. I suppose the last thing Paula, we do need to talk about is the wonderful International Loyalty Awards.

Paula: Yes, exactly. 

Marian: And the decision was announced. Very early in the new year and we’re absolutely thrilled to have partnered with the International Loyalty Awards for many of your listeners, I hope everybody is familiar with the International Loyalty Awards, which has been running now for 13 years in London. 

So it is a huge step forward to announce that it’s coming under the umbrella of Loyalty Connect and will take place on the 24th of April in Dubai. Obviously that audience that normally comes to London we are very much hoping we’ll get behind the event in Dubai. So we are as a starting point, bringing that footfall to Loyalty Connect and everybody who has entered into the, International Loyalty Awards will receive a free ticket into Loyalty Connect, a two-day pass. So, you know, again, we’re very much trying to push that collaboration, connection networking opportunity, flagship event for the industry, and it really is the one in 2024 not to miss.

Paula: Indeed. Absolutely. And as you said, it’s culminating in recognition. So, you know, certainly because you guys have done such a wonderful job. I’ve been traveling to London the past couple of years, so I was thrilled when I figured out. And you guys shared the news that you were bringing the awards as well as you said onto the umbrella of Loyalty Connect.

So, and I can also say for anyone who hasn’t been to Dubai, the location you’ve chosen for the awards is spectacular. So from an Instagram perspective, I know we’re all here to do business, but at the end of the day, of course we also want to have a good time.

Marian: Indeed. 

Paula: So I’m looking forward to spending a very glamorous evening and hearing who this year’s worthy recipients are because it’s always exceptional to see who wins an International Loyalty Award. So great excitement all around Marian. 

Marian: That recognition piece is huge. I mean it sets the benchmark standard for the industry. New this year is we are recognising loyalty global leaders. which is probably new to the International Loyalty Awards. But it’s a really important part of the process because there are people in the industry who are doing so much for loyalty who aren’t always recognised. So we very much want to put up the flag and recognise those people who are working tirelessly within the industry and who are leading the way in terms of innovation which is really important because we all know it’s an interesting time for the world. It’s an interesting time for loyalty. AI is playing such a big part. 

You know, personally, I have to be honest and say I love AI, but I’m scared of it. It’s hard to understand. You know, I very quickly, my daughter is very funny. She doesn’t like going shopping anymore because she does everything online. And I was like, but you can’t try on clothes online. She was going, yeah, I can. Through AI. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. 

Marian: I’m not going Really? Oh my gosh. 

Paula: Wow. 

Marian: So, you know, the world is changing and loyalty is going to have to change, and we all need a platform where we can talk about what those changes are and how we’re all going to handle them.

Paula: Totally. Absolutely. And it’s a key, I suppose, intention of this show as well Marian, as you know, is to share both, you know, best practice. We call it education and innovation. So, again, very much shared values in terms of what we do on Loyalty TV and what you are doing with Loyalty Connect. So certainly from our perspective, we’re thrilled to be media partners, you said, along with all those incredible organizations and our friends around the world. So great that we’re all gonna be getting together. 

So listen, Marian, I don’t have any further questions today. What kind of parting words of wisdom do you want to leave from yourself and from Eileen? 

Marian: Of course, I’m disappointed that Eileen wasn’t here today to be able to contribute. As I know that she would’ve probably added a huge amount of value for your listeners, but I guess what we’d probably both say is it’s a flagship event for your industry, for a flagship event to be successful, we need your support. So we would ask you to get behind the event. We would ask brands to consider the event. It really is going to be a fantastic platform for connecting, for networking, for thought leadership, and really is the event not to miss in 2024. 

You can reach out personally to either myself or Eileen. If you have any queries, we would love to talk to you. So we very much hope to welcome you to Loyalty Connect in April, and we are really looking forward to meeting and seeing everybody in Dubai and having a very vibrant global community of loyalty professionals under one roof. 

Paula: Amazing. Well said. So listen, with all of that, thank you for joining us today. As you’ve said we missed having Eileen McGuinness. So a quick shout out to Eileen for all that you do for the loyalty industry, for your work in working together as opposed to create this amazing content. So we’ll definitely look forward to spending some time together in April. So, Marion Kelly Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Loyalty Connect.

Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty and Loyalty TV. 

Marian: Thank you, Paula.

Paula: This show is sponsored by Wise Marketer Group, publisher of the Wise Marketer, the premier digital customer loyalty marketing resource for industry relevant news, insights, and research. Wise Marketer Group also offers loyalty, education and training globally through its Loyalty Academy, which has certified nearly 900 marketeers and executives in forty-nine countries as certified loyalty marketing professionals.

For global coverage of customer engagement and loyalty, check out thewisemarketer.com and become a wiser marketeer or subscriber. Learn more about global loyalty education for individuals or corporate training programs at loyaltyacademy.org.

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