#375: Loyalty Trends from the International Loyalty Award Finalists

Today we are showcasing lessons and learnings from this year finalists who are each hoping to win one of the highly prestigious “International Loyalty Awards” being announced in London in June 2023.

Our guest is David Parker, the Chair of the Judging Panel for the Awards.

David is the CEO of Polymath Consulting, and an active fintech investor and advisor, with many years of expertise across some of the world’s best-known advertising agencies and building loyalty programs in global markets.

David joins us to highlight the exciting trends that emerged from this year’s highly anticipated judging day.

I hope you enjoy his insights from the Finalists of the 2023 International Loyalty Awards.

Show Notes:

1) David Parker

2) Polymath Consulting

3) International Loyalty Awards

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.

This show was brought to you by Comarch. A global provider of powerful loyalty management tools to increase customer lifetime value and improve your return on investment. Recognized as one of the top loyalty technology solutions providers in the Forrester Wave Loyalty Technology Solutions Report quarter 1 2023, Comarch is responsible for over 120 loyalty initiatives in 50 countries around the world. Comarch Technologies help companies design, build, and manage highly immersive loyalty programs that bring results. For more information, please visit comarch.com.

Hello and welcome to today’s episode, showcasing lessons and learnings from this year’s finalists who are all competing to win one of the highly prestigious International Loyalty Awards being announced in London next month. My guest is David Parker, who is the chair of the judging panel for the awards.

So I asked him to join me today to highlight the exciting trends that emerged from this year’s highly anticipated judging day. As well as his role as Chair of the Judging Panel, David is also the CEO of Polymath Consulting and an active FinTech Investor and Advisor. With many years of expertise across some of the world’s best known advertising agencies, as well as building loyalty programs across many global markets.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with David Parker and his insights from this year’s International Loyalty Awards.

So David Parker, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

David: Thank you very much for having me.

Paula: Great. I feel it’s long overdue, David. we haven’t spoken in a long time and you’re doing some amazing work with the International Loyalty Awards, apart from your day job. Huh? 

David: Well, it’s, it’s fun and games. It’s fun and games. It’s always  fun.

Paula: Absolutely. Great stuff. Well, listen, I have just booked my flight over to London to attend the awards next month. So super excited to really dig into what’s going on with the awards this year. In terms of trends, you are obviously the chair of the judging panel. But before we get into talking about these trends and what you’ve, seen and heard, as you know, we always start this show by asking our guests as industry professionals, what is your favorite loyalty program?

David: That’s an interesting question. I might have a favor, but as chair of the judges, it would be totally wrong for me to express any favoritism. As chair of judges, I am 100% impartial. So as far as I’m concerned, every program that enters the loyalty awards is my favorite. No matter, I mean, we were, this year we had more entries than ever before.

I think we were up something like 10, 15% again, year on year. It’s been great. So, no. So everyone who turns up at the loyalty awards representing their loyalty program, on June the 13th in London, sponsored by Nayax CoinBridge, that will be my favorite loyalty program. So, 100% of those are my favorite loyaltyprograms.Everyone who turns up.

Paula: Okay, well I can’t decide now if you’re a diplomat or just a dodger. So, so we’ll go with diplomat. Totally cool. It is an exciting time of year, David, and I know in fact, you’ve just chaired the judging day. 

David: Indeed. 

Paula: Which again, is, is kind of perfect timing for us to pick up on what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard. So, before we even get into that through David, I know you have a very specific expertise. So you don’t describe yourself, for example, as a loyalty professional. You’re much more in the payments space with a very interesting company name, which I thought we would start off with cause I knew this word, but I’m not sure everybody knows what a Polymath is. So start off by telling us what’s Polymath Consulting?

David: But Polymath is actually, yes, you’re right. It is an interesting word. Poly. Ancient Greek, meaning many. Math is in ancient Greek, the science of learning. So Polymath is actually a person of wide learning or knowledge. So, hence Polymath Consulting.

So I, it’s a bit unfair actually, I think described me not as a loyalty professional. I mean, I’ve worked in and around loyalty for, gosh, now 20 years. I mean, if you go back to my original background, I’m ex Saatchi & Saatchi  Bates, McCann Erickson. So I spent my career, some of my career highlights in loyalty were importing latex scratch off to Saudi Arabia and teaching the printers how to use it to do the first ever scratch off loyalty promotion in Saudi Arabia. 

So it wasn’t that you wanted, if you wanna do a scratch off promotion, you thought that’s easy. I’ll just get a quote. No, you had to, I had to import the latex material and teach the printer how to first light to and then screen print to, in order to create the winners because there had never been a scratch off promotion in Saudi Arabia at the time.

So I do go back to the mid nineties creating loyalty promotions. That was one of the big supermarkets there at the time. So I am loyalty through and through. But I suppose coming from an, a background of advertising agencies and my original background is, I still could show you I have a certificate.

I have a certificate from the Institute of Sales Promotion in the UK. So I am actually a qualified sales promotion person. Now, if that’s not loyalty, I dunno what is. 

Paula: Oh my god. 

David: I started my career doing Safeway, shelf shelf barkers with the buy one, get one free, and all the promotions but that’s loyalty. So I do go back 40 years in loyalty. So yes, I work more in payments now for my day job. But I’ve spent 40 years working in and around loyalty. 

Paula: Wow. Wow. Okay. Well I stand corrected David that’s absolutely amazing. And what I like as well, that you’ve talked about, obviously Saudi is very close to my heart because it is geographically so close to us here in UAE. And it is, you know, I mean with all its challenges and, and nowhere’s perfect, it is the land of opportunity. 

And I know you know that given that you’ve been going there for so long, so. Everyone I speak to, you know, talks about the, the energy, the ambition, the education of the, the workforce in Saudi Arabia particularly young women in fact, who have been very well educated and now are looking to.

David: So I have another claim to fame. You see, I, I was involved with the first government approved hiring of women in Saudi Arabia. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. 

David: We did it for Abbott Laboratories to teach mothers about iron deficiencies in babies. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. Well, well done you, yes. 

David: Yes. So lots of things, but funnily enough, you, when you talk about them, and I also worked in Asia.

I worked in Hong Kong and Vietnam. And especially now, if you look at the what’s going on in Asia regarding loyalty, it’s incredibly exciting. There’s some really amazing programs coming out of that part of the world, and we see that in the awards. So, you know, I’m quite lucky in the way that I’ve worked not just and I’ve also done quite a lot of our work actually in Africa as well. In Kenya and places. 

So one of the things I, I, I do think I help bring the awards is I’m not a single region. I’ve worked in all these regions and therefore you can, as chair of the judges, highlight to judges sometimes certain things and nuances about different regions because you know, the Middle East compared to Africa, compared to Europe, to Asia, they’re very different countries, but what they bring in loyalty can be so exciting.

It really is. And the cultures bring out their own, nuance nuances in that as well, and I think that’s quite amazing. 

Paula: It is amazing and I think it’s extremely important, particularly because obviously the awards are now fully positioned as the International Loyalty Awards. 

David: Oh, yes. Although, I mean, we have 18 categories, which are loyalty awards. And then we have the five regional awards. Now, what’s interesting about those is, just because, a companies won a specific categories doesn’t mean they, they, you know, a same company’s gonna win the regional awards. The regional awards are for the best loyalty programs in those regions.

And, and if you’ve got a very strong category, let’s say that company, you know, company entering a particular catch owner, you know, best loyalty industry innovation, or best use of gamification, it might have come second or third. But when you, because that was a particularly strong category, but then when you compare it regionally, actually it really is an amazing program.

So the idea of the best regional awards is to make sure that no one fell through the, the cracks, so to speak, and amazing programs got picked up. So I’m really happy that we have those regional awards to pick up on everyone. So it allows us to make sure that no one or no great loyalty program is missed anywhere along the lines.

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. And I know you said to me last time we spoke as well, that even though you’ve just chaired the, the judging day, I don’t think you’re responsible for keeping track of who won. So we’re not gonna give anything away. 

David: I honest. Well, the funniest thing is, I’m sitting here with lots of bits of paper, but I can promise my, your view, your viewers and listeners that there is not a single piece of paper with a single winner on.

And if you asked me under oath, could you name a winner? I can honestly say, no. I, I, it’s one of those things where I actually deliberately don’t try and remember because on things like this, then I can’t make mistakes. 

Paula: Totally. So that’s classic. So it means we’ll all have to be there to figure out who the, who the winners are. And I’m sure there were hotly contested, discussions, which I’m sure is part.

David: There were, I mean, you know, Paula, I have to say, and I think listeners again should really understand this is not a simple thing where sort of judges get together and there’s an automatic winner. Some of these discuss discussions can go 15 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour, just on a single category even.

There are some very hotly debated with, judges having strong positions to, you know, say, no, I think this one’s better and these are the reasons and everything else. And the other thing I would say though, and I know you’ve done a podcast in the past of about making a good entry. But I cannot enforce it, you know, reinforce enough. We judge people on the entries. 

Paula: Yes. Yes.

David: You know. It’s hard, you know? And nuance of the understanding of the markets becomes useful and everything else, but ultimately we’re judging people on the entries they put in. And it’s so important to be clear, to give the data to support and everything else cause that’s what we do judge on.

And, and therefore to that end, I think that, it’s a really important point that, you know, if people say, well, why didn’t I win? Sometimes it’s not about the program itself.  It may just be about the entry and what the information they put in the entry. So, you know, I cannot stress that enough.

Paula: It’s, it’s well made, David as a point, and I do remember talking with Amanda about this, you know, when we talked back in January about what makes a good entry. And I remember saying to her as well, you know, coming from Ireland, as you know, I do the, the particular awards that I draw comparisons with would be the marketing awards in Ireland.

Obviously it’s much broader, but it is taken so seriously because of the potential impact of becoming a winner that not only do people dedicate an awful lot more time in advance to create the entries, but they often do, you know, send it out to the marketing agencies. Get the professional copywriters involved and they really do put their best foot forward.

So I think that’s what’s starting to happen with the International Loyalty Awards. But what I’m hearing from you is we need more and you know.

David:  We still have a, huge range shall I say in the quality of entry. And you know, I, I, you know, there’s always videos and help things on doing it online, and I couldn’t you know, emphasize enough.

Do you know, almost, I always say to people, give it to your mom to read because she understands what the entry is, anyone will. And you know, these judges don’t all know, you know, your sector maybe intimately. They, they’re just reading what they see in the, in the instructions, so you know, I, I still remember one year a company said, well, we are, so they said, you know, the company said, talk about yourself.

And they just went, we are X. And I looked at ’em and said, so, Who’s that then? You know, they thought they were big enough to be recognized by the whole world, but some of the judges come from other pieces in the world. They don’t know all, you know. So, but no, we should move on though to talk about trends and things.

Cause that’s the more of the exciting stuff because, you know, as I said, more entries than ever. Seen some strong trends, I feel, coming out this year, which is always great, but no. So what do you wanna start on? 

Paula: So I guess just even a little bit more context for myself. So from memory, there’s 24 judges this year you mentioned 18 categories.

And again, I know that’s across all the different verticals and the geographies. So I guess when we talk about these trends, and I know this kind of five that we’ve more or less highlighted, we’re gonna talk through today. It really is a great, I think, cross section from a learning point of view. So I can only imagine, as you said, after your judging day, everybody coming away full of inspiration, full of ideas.

And that’s the purpose that we want to kind of capture today. So the one, the first one, I suppose, David, that I liked from what you had picked up was this idea about innovation. And I do think this is a, a global requirement, probably even more so in more developed or mature markets such as where you are at the moment such as the UK. But tell us about, this trend of needing to innovate within your loyalty program. 

David: Sure. And, and do you know what, I’m gonna take that back as well to one of my favorite loyalty categories, which is the best long-term loyalty initiative.  Because I think, to really have a long-term loyalty initiative is always gonna be hard. Let’s be honest. It’s, it’s hard. And to be constantly on the front foot of that, it’s very easy to become tired, to become, and it’s really hard to, to drive that forward year after year with fresh thinking. And, and this year, I suppose, you know, we have seen, you know, customers looking for value.

More than ever before. And you could almost say in the current, I don’t wanna call it recession cause many markets are not in recessions, but let’s just call it tight economic times. 

Paula: For sure. 

David: Given the tight economic times we’re in customers, you can almost ask the goalposts of move very quickly. In terms of customers saying, well, you know, where’s my value? And it is always about excitement, interaction, communications. But it, it’s where that value and the underlying me, you know, customers always gonna be in it for me ultimately. So the interaction has gotta be good to be keeping that program fresh and interesting and dynamic. 

And I always think that’s an incredible challenge on these long-term loyalty programs. You know, we saw some really great, entries this year in that category, you know, Royal Bank of Canada, Game Mania, IBM, T-Mobile, HDFC Bank, you know, we’ve seen some really entrants, you know, ExxonMobil, you know, real great programs, putting their best foot forward.

So yeah, be the long term loyalty. And you, you talk about the innovation, that’s where, one of the areas where if you are innovating something brand new, no one’s ever seen before. It’s always wow. But if you’re innovating a long-term loyalty program to keep it fresh. To me it’s a wow-wow. Because it’s such you, your base is already at that level of wows. You’ve almost gotta take it another level each time. I think that’s a really interesting area to look at in terms of both a trend. But also in terms of a category that I think is really exciting. 

Paula: Yeah, no, I, I, and I’ve always had that feeling as well, David, from, you know, launching loyalty programs or relaunching loyalty programs.

You know, there’s always this huge sigh relief on launch day when everybody’s like, great, now job’s done. But as we know very well within the industry, it’s actually then only the work starts. So I fully agree. And even keeping internal stakeholders engaged. David, you know, in terms of a long-term loyalty strategy, sometimes I think that’s more complicated or more challenging.

David: And funny you should mention that one of the categories, you, you all, the trends you didn’t ask me to talk about, but I will because I do do a lot of work in financial services. Is we’ve seen a trend this year with more pan-bank loyalty programme. Now, if you’re gonna think banks can be very siloed in, in their, you know, credit cards, current accounts, lending. So if you think about a pan-bank loyalty programme, the challenge in, in engaging the different areas, it’s almost like different businesses that come together can be really tough. And again, we’ve seen some really strong entrants in this year.

The increase effectiveness using artificial intelligence, to provide sophisticated services to customers. You know, it’s rebirth. It’s almost described as the rebirth of pan-bank loyalty that really couldn’t mean envisioned, you know, even just a few years ago. So I think, you know, and I know it’s not one we’re gonna talk about, but you mentioned the, the challenge of when you launched sitting back, but in a  pan-bank loyalty programme, you’ve almost got 3, 4, 5 business units.

You’ve gotta constantly be managing and engaging, and I think that makes it quite an interesting category in itself. 

Paula: And, and probably, utterly fascinating, particularly for people like you, David, who were involved on the inside, you know, to get a sense of like, you know, I can imagine doing the business case alone to get the ROIs and the justifications. 

David: But I said it’s like five businesses. It, it’s like, it’s like a, a supermarket having, let’s say a supermarket, a garden center, a beautician, and I don’t know, you know, a car rental company all in one company. You know, it’s almost a coalition loyalty program within one company in some respects. It’s quite interesting in that respect.

Paula: And as you know, in this country as well, David, we have a lot of that where, you know, actually it’s almost a coalition program, but it’s a group, perhaps a family group where this totally disconnected brands. All owned by a parent company and they do form loyalty programs, again, as coalitions, but probably in quite a different way that, you know.

David: The Middle East is quite unique on that, in the way that, the businesses are done over there. And you have almost often even competing brands sitting under the same family group, which it is a very unique, market in that part of the world. Even in Asia, it’s you wouldn’t get that in the same way. 

Paula: Yeah. And then just because innovation is something that, that I believe in so passionately, because, you know, I often hear, you know, when we do consumer research, for example, that there is a level of jadedness around, you know, traditional, certainly point-based programs, for example.

So, so would you say that innovation in, let’s say the UK market came across as something that, you saw in the entries this year? 

David: Rather than contracting on the market, I’ll tell you a different trend we saw, and that was the move to away from what I’m gonna call transactional loyalty to, to an emotional connection, number one.

And also, we saw some loyalty programs around usage, much more around usage than just the transaction itself. So you, you buy a product, but then you’re getting loyalty on how you use it, which is quite interesting. So we saw different, you know, but, but I would say the emotional, side of it, it can be really powerful when a business moves away from trying to, I suppose, purely increasing sales to looking at how the customer feels about their products and services.

I mean, it’s not easy to do that. It, it’s, but the benefits can be massive in terms of, I suppose, retention and customer advocacy in terms of really, you know, driving that engagement with the loyalty program. And, you know, you know, many people might have a transactional relationship with a brand and, and financial services is a great example of that.

You know, I ask people how many people love their bank. There will be a few that put their hands up, but most people will just view it as a transactional relationship. Whereas, you know, the move by loyalty companies to pick up on that emotional side and really engage with it is a trend.

Now we’re starting to see, and I think it’s, it ties also in, I think, to the other trend I think we’re seeing, which is around loyalty companies, striving, I suppose, to give something back to society. We’ve always seen that with a few programs. I think we’re now seeing that with more. Now whether that giving things to schools, let’s say, or to the environment. The, the new trend, I think is there’s a lot more around the environmental side, obviously with what’s coming to the fore these days. And, and it, it is always hard to pull it off. Would never make, you know, it is incredibly hard to pull it off and not seem to be, you know, trying to take advantage of something or the good cause you’re supporting.

But, you know, the last thing you wanna be accused is of greenwashing or duplicity, but when it works, it can be so good if the program can really come across and support in an unselfish way, either the environment or the community or a group. Then it can be very, very powerful of course, in in what it delivers on. And that is another trend that, I would say that we’ve, we’ve seen out in the marketplace. 

Paula: And, and certainly what I’ve seen as well, David, you’re absolutely right. You know, I mean we, we’ve all seen throughout our careers, you know, the emergence evolution and whatever increased importance of CSR.

But I think what we’re seeing now is that the loyalty programs are now seeing, as you know, a much more powerful facilitator of those initiatives rather than sitting in a siloe because, you know, certainly in companies I worked in, loyalty was kept very, very narrowly within a specific range of activities. You know, and then see a source sat somewhere else.

Then the brand sat somewhere else, and it was almost like there wasn’t a cohesive marketing strategy led by loyalty or led by an intention to drive loyalty. Even if the mechanics were different. 

David: So, and that’s where we’re now seeing ESG  coming in. So you’re seeing both CSR and ESG coming in on the best entries to these, these programs which are giving back.

And you know, they could be either or both of those, but it is becoming a, I think we’ve seen more this year entries in that area where they, they have had some element than probably ever before. 

Paula: Interesting. 

David: And I do, and I do expect that to continue going forward. Where the, I would say the influence of the loyalty program across the organization is wider than maybe to your point. It used to be. I always think of it as in a sentence, if you put brackets around something, it’s, it’s siloed. It’s just kept off to one side and I almost feel like the brackets have been taken off and now we’re just putting commas in because basically it’s no longer ring fenced and it’s becoming much more integrated to the whole sentence of what the company is about.

Paula: Yeah. I love that. 

David: And if it’s, if it’s a bracket, it’s very strongly you are within brackets, you are, you’re not really part of the sentence. You are a separate bit that we’re just putting in there to please certain people. No, no. Those brackets have come off and we now to put commas in. You really are part of the sentence, part of the vision, part of who we are.

Paula: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s funny, yeah, and I often say in this show that it is around like the intention of the business. You know, like I really think members can feel if we want, as a brand to be loyal to our customers, of course, in order for them to be loyal to us. But I think that flip in terms of mindset, as you said, taking away the brackets, it’s now a fundamental modus operante. So I can actually.

David: It’s the coming part, you know, if I think of a, of a, a vision statement of a company, let’s say. Before now, it would be duh da da duh, bracket, and we’ll try to give back and be good to the environment, close brackets. 

Now I feel it’s duh da da duh comma including it. So in other words, it is part of the sentence now it’s not just a bracketed off piece that we’ve put in there. Bit of whitewashing for so many companies. Now it is becoming much more a core part of what they’re doing. 

Paula: Yeah, and I think you’re right as well on the, the green washing side, I think we’re all aware that it needs to be done, honestly, transparently and consistently.

So there is no point kind of ticking the box, delivering a a one-off campaign and then assuming that’s the kind of job done. So when we look at this trend that you talk about in terms of emotional loyalty, there are incredible ways to do that. But again, it has to be something that the brand is committed to doing.

So I think we’ve all seen how easily it can go wrong if we are, you know, just kind of surface level, you know paying lip service to a particular initiative, rather than actually kind of going, you know what, now we actually wanna connect. And I think consumers want to have these brand relationships as well, David. 

I dunno what your kind of experience is, but for me, like, I like connecting with certain brands and, and knowing what they’re doing, knowing what their strategy is, even sometimes knowing the key people behind it. And I was looking actually at your LinkedIn as well before we came on to, to talk together today.

And I’ve often seen you commenting around like things like Revolut or you know, these kind of disruptors. And it’s interesting to me that the, you know, I don’t know my bank who are the, you know, the C-suite, but I do know the faces of the guys from Revolut and Stripe and you know, the disrupt, disruptors are much more visible. Would that be fair to say? 

David: Yeah, I think disruptors are always more visible, not always for the right reasons. 

Paula: That’s true and well caveated. 

David: And it’s one of those things. but I think that, you know, I think to me, I’m gonna pick on another category there, because when you talk about that, I think it, it, what it brings to me is the loyalty redefined category, you see. Which is another favorite of mine.

Because to me, loyalty redefined, Is a really exciting category because it is, you know, redefining what we mean by loyalty, by the very nature of that heading. And therefore, I always look forward to this category because you talked right at the beginning about innovation.

And to me, this isn’t about innovation maybe in technology per sale, or a different way to collect points or something like that. This is really thinking around what do we mean by that word loyalty. What do we really mean? What are we trying to achieve with it? And therefore, how have we done?

And again, we saw some really, good entries this year, you know? Pampers, Electric Ireland, Ford, Global Hotel Alliance, KFC, Lidl, MOL Group. You know, Woolworth, Shell, you know, we saw some great brands entering. And it’s such excite, so I really do get exciting when I read those, exciting, when I read those entries.

Cause I’m saying, okay, how are you reinterpreting what we’re trying to achieve with loyalty and where you’re trying to get it to? So I always think that’s a, a really, interesting area basically. And to your point, therefore, you know, when you say, you know, what, where are things going and everything else, I always look to that.

That’s one of the categories I always think is the most interesting out in the marketplace. 

Paula: Well, you’re absolutely right David, because you know, what we are seeing is probably the outcome of, who knows, two years, maybe three years of bright minds in brilliant brands like you’ve, you know, listed off an incredible list of brands there all getting together within their own organizations to go, what are our goals and how are we going to achieve, you know, I guess profitable behavior change to use my favorite definition of loyalty. 

So that’s definitely one I’m gonna share your, your passion for on the night, when we come to, to see who wins loyalty redefined. So, so that’s really cool. And I know you had one other favorite category as well David, that you, you are particularly excited about. What’s your other favorite? 

David: I think my other one, I, again, I always look at this with interest, which is best B2B loyalty. Because over the years we’ve seen amazing programs enter. And you know, I, we all work in a B2B environment. So I’m always interested to see what the best minds are doing in that environment.

Because it’s, it’s, in some respects, it’s easier, but in our respects it’s much harder because guess what? You’re trying to sell to other people than are used to sell that are actually selling themselves. So it, it becomes, and, and again, this year we had great entries from, you know, Celebrity Cruises, Unilever, Lenovo, you know, BMN and, you know, VeryMe Vodafone, etcetera.

We’ve had great entries and I always liked reading these and understanding, okay, what are you trying to achieve? They’re often very good with highlighting what they have achieved. Because they’ve got, you know, nice data points, say, you know, this is what we’ve achieved. And therefore I always find it interesting because they’re selling to an audience that is selling themselves as I said.

So therefore, they’ve got to be, to get that cut through that you’ve gotta do something to, and also Paula, you run a business. You are busy. You probably get 200 emails a day in your inbox, if not more. So how’d you cut through that? You know, if you think about it, you’ve gotta cut through to talk to that person about your business while they’re still trying to run another business. You know.

Paula: Well, you, you feel my pain, David, when I’m trying to get guests on my show, I’m like, please come and talk to me. I know you’ve got a million other revenue driving activities, but totally. 

David: That’s right. Yes. And that’s the point.

Paula:  Exactly. Yeah.

David: So to me, that’s why that category has always been one that I really look forward to reading the entries on because I know that I can, I can feel their challenge. You know, you and I are both talking out to businesses trying to get ’em to give us time, and they’re doing exactly the same thing.

So I have a lot of empathy with that. Let’s say I have a lot of empathy with that category and the challenges they go through. 

Paula: Yeah, but even when you talked about your background as well, David, in terms of direct mail and back in ad agency land, like I fell in love with direct marketing even before loyalty as a, as a practice.

And again, like the stakes are so much higher. So when you think about direct mail campaigns, the budgets would be extraordinary. The creativity would be extraordinary because the stakes were so high. You know, when I think of some of the.

David: And you can measure in percentage points.

Paula: Yes. 

David: What was your, what was your percentage point that you know, and you bounce and, and you know. As I said, I started off in sales promotion, which in client direct mail, you know.

I literally go back to, you know, the early nineties working in sales promotion doing that type of stuff. And it, I think it gives you, good grounding in loyalty because in those days you could argue a lot of those were reward programs. 

Paula: Correct. 

David:  Rather than loyalty programs. And, you know, you can see how things have morphed over the years from pure rewards into much more sophisticated loyalty programs. Where they’re trying to change customer behavior to make it more profitable and long term. And I think that’s, that’s the, that’s the interesting thing on that. 

Paula: Yeah, for sure. And I do think, you know, one of those big shifts is I suppose the increased focus on communications. And I know that’s something that you’re also quite passionate about in terms of the trends you’ve seen in the entries this year.

So do you want to talk us through, you know, how do communications, and I suppose all of the different channels that are so important. I know we’re all trying to be omnichannel and it’s not an easy thing to achieve. But what did you see coming through in the entrance this year? 

David: And again, this is interesting because you picked up on the internet and mobile phones. But that’s a very western mindset. 

Paula: Very true. 

David: Think about Asia, think about Africa. Okay. A lot of places there are still on USSD and SMS texts. So this one I’m gonna push back at. You see immediately as a, you jump to a very western mindset of when we talk about omnichannel means oh, you’re talking about internet and things like that? 

Well, no, not always. I mean, we have seen, you know, a need for all channels of comms to be kept open. The newest and latest, you know, not, you know, mobile apps. You know, but not everyone has that, you know, some might not have access to payment cards or plastic load cards, or even tool receipts. 

You know, and so the royal team needs to be adapted and it’s, I think one of the things that came out was that, you know, the majority of customers these days, even in markets where you’ve got huge, smartphone penetration and apps, still want that plastic card. They still want that token of, of, of plastic to say, yes, I’m a member of that loyalty program. I am an identifier.  Another has a cost to it. So how you know, there’s some interesting cost dynamics around that. But then you go to somewhere like, Kenya and, and Sudan’s in the news a lot at the moment, but I, I’ve done some work out there.

You know, people have jumped all that. They, everything is on that phone. Even if it’s a USSD phone, to some extent, it’ll all be, they’ll do it. But certainly on the smartphone these days in Africa. You are getting a basic Chinese smartphone for $50 as you know. You know, so therefore, it’s interesting the way that channels of communication have not just got to be multiple.

But they’ve gotta be integrated, but they’ve also gotta be relevant for that local market. And I think that’s the interesting thing for me, that what is a multi-channel communication in one market, is not a multi-channel communication in another.  And you know that, that’s, I think I, I is an interesting thought, around, and that’s again where the, the differences in Asia, Africa, Middle East, you know, Latin America, these markets are all different and we shouldn’t forget that.

Paula: Absolutely. And and the most recent research, for example, that I’ve seen coming out of both South Africa and Australia have both shown that they really do want to have the plastic card. So again, I think we all tend to get carried away. We think we’ve got our digital.

David: And you’d hard to call Australia a backward unsmart. Their penetration on smartphones is like 98%, like 99% like most of these very developed markets. 

Paula: Exactly. 

David: But people still want that bit of plastic.  But we call it five grams of plastic. In the payment space, they, we call it five grams of plastic. Cause it’s five grams. 

Paula: Yeah. Is it? Oh, there you go.

David: It’s five grams of plastic. 

Paula: I learned something today. Yes. Yeah. And you might explain USSD David, because I had never heard of it when I was living in my lovely first world country back in, back in Ireland. And as soon as I moved to Dubai and I was trying to top up whatever prepay phone I got the first time back in, whatever.

And I was like, oh, what is this kind of thing. And then I remember doing interviews, like you said, with some of the top brands in South Africa and USSD was extraordinarily well understood and powerful and also affordable for members. Perhaps. 

David: It’s effectively a dynamic SMS is how I describe it. It’s a menu drivenSMS service.

Paula: Got it. Yeah.

David: But it, it, think of it as text only and a communication through that on a phone using text. But, but it, it driven, on a, on a menu structure. But it, it is, it, the key thing is it works on basic phones, not smartphones. 

Paula: Correct. 

David: It works on 3G perfectly well. And trust me, 3G is the prevalent in many countries in Africa. Forget your four and five. We’re nowhere near that. We’re on three. They’re on three.

Paula: Absolutely. 

David: So therefore, you know, it is. It is a technology that you, you would think has past its day, but in many countries in developing markets, it is still quite important.

Saying that when I used to live in Vietnam, because they jumped the landline situation to mobile. Living in Ho Chi Min City, I could get five bars in a cellar on my phone. And you know, because they, the coverage was so strong and so effective because they said, yeah, well, we’re not gonna put landlines in anywhere.

If when people want a phone, they go mobile. But we will make it extremely good mobile. And Nokia had the contract at the time and you know, they literally, the, the stuff they were doing there was amazing. But again, that’s to me how technologies in some countries will jump. 

Paula: Yeah, of course. And I had a similar experience in Hong Kong as well, actually being on the Metro, which I think in the particular station I was in was about two stories underground, but my mobile phone still worked. I was blown away.

David: Exactly. No, no, no. It, it, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. 

Paula: Oh, you go. 

David:  Cause the gratitude is that, you know, that’s how you wanna communicate and get on with things. But I think where that comes into loyalty is also quite interesting. You bring back, because we do see loyalty sometimes jump in certain markets.

Paula: Of course. Leap leapfrog path, you know. 

David:  Leapfrogging. Yeah. Oh, this developed into this, in this market then, then went into this and in that market you’re going, oh no, we just went straight to there. 

Paula: Yeah, of course.

David: And I think that becomes quite interesting to see. 

Paula: Yeah. And I’m sure when you’re reading the entries then as well, looking at communication strategies for all of the, the global entries to understand again, whether USSD has had a, a huge impact or plastic cards are making.

David: But again, this is why the regional awards are so important.  To make sure that we’re looking at programs within the context of their region. Because it’s so important that, you know, it’s easy just to look at, you know, first world programs and say how wonderful they are. But actually, some of the programs in developing markets in their own market are equally, if not even better in some respects when you take them in context. 

Paula: Absolutely. So my final trend that you mentioned, David, is actually my favorite. And I have, you know, perhaps selfish reasons as a, as a content creator to be, to be thinking about this. But I do always remember when I was running loyalty programs. Any research that we did, it always showed an awful lot of confusion with our customers.

They didn’t understand our program, they weren’t sometimes even aware of our program. So I know that there is an awful lot of focus globally from loyalty professionals on educating members. So tell us what you’re seeing coming through in terms of the awards just to address this problem of making sure that loyalty is educating, as best as we can.

David: You could almost turn it around by saying whether it’s, and if you, if you read the press these days, it’s Chat GPT on this, artificial intelligence on this. You know, I was listening to radio four this morning and they were talking about quantum computing again. And, and how this is gonna change things.

So, you know, the world is still changing at an immensely fast pace in terms of technologies. I mean, I have to say, if you haven’t tried Chat GPT, do so. It is quite amazing when you say, you know, write me a best man speech for friend’s wedding. I need, you know, 10 jokes and this and this, and it comes back, you know, literally in 30 seconds later you might need to edit it slightly, but it’s a good basis and you know.

Artificial intelligence is becoming a, you know, these automated chat bots and everything else and it’s educating consumers. Actually, we talk about a simple thing. You know, I get, I, one of the things that bugs me is when people say, we have, an online chat solution for you. And I go on a website, and I go onto the online chat and it says, thank you for the questions.Our office hours are now closed. We’ll get back to you in the next 24 hours. I’m going, you offered me online real chat.

At least if they said to us, yeah, hi, the office is closed, however, our, our AI chat bot will try and answer your question in the meantime, blah, blah, blah. So it’s about educating consumers that it doesn’t have to be a live person.

And there are increasingly sophisticated technologies out there that can help them. Now, obviously for companies, this is cost saving and efficiencies and all this. But it comes back to loyalty because you can use loyalty programs to get customers to engage with these new communication platforms and ways of talking to a company.

And you know, they’re getting increasingly sophisticated now where, as I said, if you combine almost a a Chat GPT with someone asking questions, you can see how this comes together in a chatbot. They really can answer a lot of your questions or concerns. Or address things without a human, or use it as part of an escalation process.

And the best ones I’ve seen are the chatbot tries to give you some basic answers. And then says, hi, actually, I’m not sure I’m giving you the right, you know, you’ve said I’m not giving the right answer. Let me now escalate you. So the, but if they filter it out, so I think loyalty in terms of education is a strong theme for this year, and it’s helping customers understand and navigate this increasingly complex world being, being created by all these advanced technologies, and is becoming the domain maybe, of customer loyalty programs where in the past you wouldn’t dream of saying.

What relevance has customer loyalty got to my customer services side? Well, no. We are seeing that education now and the education of those communication channels coming through on loyalty programs. 

Paula: Yeah. Yes, and I, I’ve seen a couple of examples and I don’t know if they’ve entered the awards, but for example, you know, if I had, let’s say, a hundred thousand Avios or Skywards Miles or whatever the currency might be, I mightn’t know what I can do with those. But I’m pretty sure that Chat GPT could tell me very quickly, rather than me having to go and wade through, you know, the respective things to go. 

David: Funny enough, a friend of me, own, a friend of mine, only the other day said he’d just flown his son back on one of these airlines.

And he said, I’ve got this set up with, and I’ve forgotten the name of the program. I need to ask him, actually. Which automatically told him, he said, normally from San Francisco it was 40,000 miles or whatever. This time he’d managed to get it for 25,000 or 30,000 because this program had flagged to him that actually a suddenly. And so he is got a, a flight, you know? 

Paula: Amazing. 

David: They’d been doing all the work for him. Knew what he wanted and just came, hey, just there’s a special offer at the moment and this flight on this day has a seat available that you could go and book. That, that’s that. That’s enabling users and we know, you know, points, programs are all about earn and burn.

But one of the challenges getting your consumers to burn those points. You know, we all know it’s a challenge. You know, consumers have a habit of sitting on them for years and years, and the more they burn them, the more they engage, the more they engage, the more they’ll collect. It’s a vicious circle.

And therefore these type of programs actually, it’ll be interesting to see how these roll into being part of a loyalty programs, brands own infrastructure to say, we’ll help you find the best way to spend your points, not just have to use a third party app. And I think that’s when it gets interesting when the, the programs themselves recognize part of what they need to do is help people burn by help people finding the best deal. 

Paula: Totally. Totally, yes. And I’m gonna say it’s a virtuous circle instead of a vicious circle. So. 

David: No, and I would agree with that. It is a, because it is. If you, we, we know, as loyalty professionals that if you can get consumers to burn points, you’re getting engagement.

Paula: For sure. 

David: If you get engagement, you get greater. You, desire to seek more points. Therefore they start to look to how they can collect them. Well, great. Therefore that becomes more points to birth. So it works beautifully.

Paula: It does, but what it also does is drive advocacy. 

David: Yes. 

Paula: Because who, who doesn’t brag, whether it’s on social media or at the family dinner about the fact that I got myself a free flight for my son to San Francisco. 

David: So my, my favorite question to people is always, what’s the best ever loyalty reward? 

Paula: Oh, I like it. Okay. 

David: Do you know what it is? 

Paula: No. Go on. 

David: A gold plated barbecue. 

Paula: Okay. I’m confused. 

David: When you walk into my house, and you say a gold plated barbecue. 

Paula: Yes. 

David: What are you gonna ask me? 

Paula: Where on earth did you get that?

David: I got that from X, Y, Z rewards. 

Paula: Okay. Point taken. Absolutely. 

David: So therefore, the best reward is the one that people ask about how did you get. and I’ve always said like, okay, gold plated barbecues maybe going to an extreme, but I’ve always dreamt of that having a gold plated barbecue got on point.

Cause I could imagine everyone who walks in my house. The first question they’re gonna ask you is, where the bleep did you get that? 

Paula: Oh my goodness, David. Well, it’s been a highly entertaining, journey through this year’s, trends from the International Loyalty Awards. I’ve learned a lot and, remembered a lot of some of the fun stuff and all of the…

David: As I said at the beginning, if you’re not yet booked your ticket. You know, I know you have, but I’m sure not all your listeners have. June the 13th in London, Nayax CoinBridge is our main sponsor. Please come along 18 categories, five regional awards, and an amazing night. So hopefully I’ll see you all there.

Paula: Absolutely. I think there’s over 500 of us going to be gathering in a spectacular location, very near the Tower of London. So it’s my once a year opportunity to go and enjoy the best of what London has to offer. So I will look forward to clinking some glasses with you, David, and with everybody else, all of the winners.

And of course, we wish everyone a huge success. So, David Parker, CEO of Polymath Consulting, active FinTech Investor and Advisor, and of course, Chair of the International Loyalty Awards. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

David: Thank you.

Paula: This show was sponsored by The Wise Marketer, the world’s most popular source of loyalty, marketing, news, insights, and research. The Wise Marketer also offers loyalty marketing training through its Loyalty Academy, which has already certified over 500 executives in 38 countries as certified loyalty marketing professionals. For more information, check out thewisemarketer.com and loyaltyacademy.org.

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