#447: The Asia Pacific Loyalty Awards

This episode is also available in video format on www.Loyalty TV.

Sarah Richardson is the Founder and Advisory Board Chair of the Australian Loyalty Association, and a great partner and friend of the show. She is also an experienced loyalty practitioner and consultant, as Founder and Director of Sciensa Loyalty, a loyalty consulting firm based in Melbourne.

Today, we’re discussing the launch of the inaugural Asia Pacific Loyalty Awards to celebrate excellence, innovation and best practice in the thriving loyalty industry active in the region, which will be judged by a panel of local loyalty experts.

Listen and watch to hear all the insights and updates on these and other Australian Loyalty Association events, which are incredibly well respected and well attended, perfect for anyone interested in loyalty in the Asia Pacific region.

Show Notes:

1) Sarah Richardson⁠

2) Australian Loyalty Association⁠

3) How Loyalty Programs Are Saving Airlines

4) Asia Pacific Loyalty Awards ⁠

5) Watch the full video interview on ⁠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 today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty and Loyalty TV. I’m delighted to have back on the show, our partner and friend, Sarah Richardson, the Founder and Advisory Board Chair of the Australian Loyalty Association. As well as Sciensa Loyalty, a loyalty consulting firm based in Melbourne.

Sarah is here today to share her insights from some of the past and upcoming events that are run across Australia for the members of the association. And in particular, to share the exciting addition of the Asia Pacific Loyalty Awards which are now open for entries until November the 5th. The Australian Loyalty Association events are incredibly well respected and well attended.

So for anyone interested in loyalty in the Asia Pacific region, make sure to connect with Sarah and sign up for the Australian Loyalty Association newsletters on their website. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation. And if you’re listening today on our Let’s Talk Loyalty podcast channel, please also do check out this video of myself and Sarah Richardson at www.loyalty.tv.

So Sarah Richardson, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty and Loyalty TV. 

Sarah: Hi Paula. 

Paula: Great to have you back on the show, Sarah. I know you rushed literally off the beach to get into your office to join us here today for a wonderful catch up conversation. It’s been 18 months since you’ve been on the show, and there’s so much going on on your side and so much going on on our side. So really excited to have today’s conversation.

 So as you know, we always start this this conversation always talking about our favorite loyalty programs as loyalty industry professionals. So given that it’s been a while since you’ve been on the show, and obviously Australia is doing some incredible work in this space, tell our listeners and our viewers now, what is your current favorite loyalty program?

Sarah: Yeah, well, it’s a very difficult question, and I do often need to be politically correct with these things, but we did have Diana Sinclair speak at our last event, and she runs the Dan Murphy’s program, and the fantastic thing about this program is that it’s super simple for members, but very complex to run for the team, and they have the majority of their customers as members, but it’s extremely Inexpensive to run and the partners and the members absolutely love it. So from my perspective, when I look at loyalty programs, there really needs to be win win. And this program certainly does that. 

Paula: Incredible. I don’t even know what Dan Murphy’s does, Sarah, would you believe? Is it a retailer or a restaurant chain? What do they actually do? 

Sarah: Yeah, so it is a retail chain and they sell wine, beer, alcoholic beverages.

Paula: Okay, fantastic. Wow. Wow. Well, sounds like it’s very powerful. I’m absolutely a believer in simplicity like you cause I always think consumers of course are so inundated with our loyalty programs. So in order to cut through the clutter and make sure people actually engage, it does sound like something that Dan Murphy’s is doing extremely well.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s a fantastic program.

Paula: Amazing and delighted to hear they spoke at your event, and I guess it would be remiss if I didn’t say they’d be welcome, of course, anytime if they want to come and chat to us on our show as well. So definitely sounds like a story worth sharing. So, Sarah, you have been on the show a couple of times before, but as you know, we have a global audience. We have people listening in the US, the UK, and of course, Australia and the rest of the world. 

But give us a bit of background first and foremost, in terms of how did you even get into the loyalty industry? Cause I always feel like most of us kind of come in sideways from other areas of marketing. And I think you and I have quite a similar background, but please do share it with the audience.

Sarah: Yeah, well, back in the day, we were direct marketers. So we were the poor cousins of the marketers doing TV ads and radio, et cetera. But we always like data. And because of that, we were the obvious choice for moving into the loyalty roles when loyalty programs started to become popular. And so I started my career client side with roles in Telstra, Suncorp, Australia Post, and Myer where I was head of loyalty.

And I also worked for an advertising agency called SapientNitro. And I always say this to younger loyalty marketers, if you can possibly work both on client side and vendor side or agency side, it gives you such a great perspective on all different angles. And since leaving Myer, I started the Australian Loyalty Association and I do consultancy as well for my company Sciensa.

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. First of all, I just want to pick up on that advice, Sarah, because I give the same advice if people ask me about their career, because I always think it’s one thing to be on the agency side and have that creative opportunity to make recommendations. But it’s only when you come into the brand side and you try and implement those recommendations, that I think you actually see what it takes to take something exceptional to market.

So I think that’s a really good idea to make sure people get the brand experience as well as the agency experience because, you know, nothing works without both sides. So sounds like it’s something that’s that’s worked in your career for you. 

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I was very lucky to be able to do both and I would like you encourage anybody coming into the industry to do the same.

Paula: Amazing. And then you mentioned, obviously, you founded the Australian Loyalty Association and we’re here to talk about all of the amazing new things that you’re doing there. So why did you set it up, Sarah, first and foremost, and when did you even set it up? It kind of feels like a relatively mature organization compared to maybe some other markets. So tell us the history. 

Sarah: Well, we started it in 2012, and we had small dinners for 12 people in the industry, and it really just grew from there, Paula. We started to have larger events. A couple of the vendors said, look, can you keep on going? We’ll sponsor. And it’s just grown very embryonically through the years.

And we were very scared, obviously, during the COVID years. But I think that the way that it’s built as I like to say, like an onion. It’s very strong and and we survived those years and, and thrive on the other side of it. 

Paula: Amazing. And I know also you do have an incredible panel of advisory board people who I know are all kind of listed on your website, Sarah, as well. Is that piece a recent addition? Because I feel like you get so much industry insights just from having so many people involved and I guess collaborating to create something that the industry really values. 

Sarah: Yes, I, I have 18 people on the advisory board and I’ve had that right from the beginning. I think it’s a very dangerous thing to, to think that, that what you’re going to decide to do next is going to be the right thing. And they’ve proved me wrong on many occasions as with very recently suggesting unanimously that we should have the conference on the gold coast, which I was quite terrified about doing. And then it turned out really to be the best thing. 

So we’re an extremely close knit group of a very honest loyalty marketers and we started just really as a group of friends, but it’s been fantastic over the past couple of years, we’ve been getting heads of loyalty from some of the biggest loyalty programs in the country. And yeah, I’m extremely proud to be part of such a great group of people. 

Paula: Yeah, it’s absolutely exceptional, Sarah. And I particularly love actually when you do have your events, because I tend to see so much positive feedback on LinkedIn. People are so proud and the brands show up in great numbers, because I think we all know, certainly from my perspective, again, I created this show to hear from brands. And I love to hear what they’re talking about. 

So given that you’ve had obviously your annual conference recently, again, as you mentioned on the Gold Coast, you’ve probably heard lots of new ideas, lots of new, I suppose, insights, and maybe even challenges coming from the industry. So again, given that we’ve got a global audience, most of us didn’t have the opportunity yet to be there, although, you know, I’m committed to coming. Please God, next year in 2024. But I’d love you to share just what you’re hearing in general, Sarah, you know, cause loyalty is continuing to evolve. I think we’re getting more respected as, as time goes on. So tell us what your members are telling you. 

Sarah: Yeah, well, one of the things I’m very proud of with the ALA events is we try and keep it at least 60 percent client side and 40 percent vendor, and we don’t include speaking spots in any of our sponsorships. We look at the different industries that people are interested in and the different topics that are coming up so that the audience can really get a fantastic experience. You know, nobody wants to sit at a conference and and hear from vendors. 

However, having said that, in a lot of cases, they are the experts. And so we invite them along, but that’s whether they’re sponsors or not. And I think that’s why we heard at the conference, you know, lots of themes coming through one of them seems to be that a lot of the loyalty programs that have been around for five or 10 years are now relaunching because the technology has become so much more sophisticated.

And so what you can do with the systems that used to be available, it’s just way too limiting for people. So we’re seeing a lot of these programs revamping and have revamped in the past 12 to 18 months. And one of the things that they’re all doing so much better is personalization. And it’s a bit of a you know, buzzword that’s been around for a really long time, but I’m starting to see the results of that, where the emails that I’m getting from the loyalty programs of which I’m a member of, which is an awful lot of them, that that one to one communication is really coming through, which is just fantastic to see.

Paula: Amazing. Yeah. You know, honestly, I totally agree. Personalization. Honestly, I think it’s about 10 years that people have been emphasizing the importance of it. And very rarely do I actually have a wow factor. I’ve often said on this show, actually, particularly my birthday, from a purely professional point of view, I really tend to pay a lot of attention to what communications I’m being sent by brands. And I’m often very professionally disappointed on my birthday because I feel like that’s what I should be getting all the goodies. But it certainly sounds like it’s something that’s starting to come through. 

Any particular challenges, Sarah, that you would say, I mean, Australia is a huge market. I always think it’s a very mature market as well in terms of loyalty. But what would you say are the challenges? I mean, what you’ve just referred to, for example, in terms of, you know, relaunching a loyalty program to me is something that can be quite terrifying because that whole migration of platforms can be something that can take over the program, the proposition and the operations for quite a long time. So to me, it can be quite daunting. How are they reacting when they make those kinds of big decisions? 

Sarah: What you say is absolutely correct, Paula. They, they relaunching a program is very scary because you can’t really predict what the effects are going to be. And the business is extremely keen to see improvement if they’re going to be spending money.

So, so getting the buy in from senior management and obviously the funds to relaunch because even though in the long term, the ROI is expected to be positive. There is a financial outlay right at the beginning. So that seems to be a really big, big challenge and loyalty marketers have to be brave because it’s not like asking to launch a new campaign or try something new. It’s a massive part of the business. And so the bravery of loyalty marketers that I’ve seen in Australia and some of the programs are some of the most fantastic programs in the world has been one of the main challenges. I think resources are tight in a lot of cases and loyalty is just considered in quite a few organizations still as just being part of the marketing function which is a whole discussion on its own.

Paula: You know, actually, that’s one we should probably do a separate episode on Sarah, because, you know, I think once so far, I’ve seen somebody with chief loyalty officer as their actual title. It was an organization in Asia. It wasn’t in Australia, actually, but I totally agree.

It’s a, it’s something that can be often, I suppose underappreciated and, you know, maybe doesn’t get the level of respect that you and I know it deserves because obviously it does deliver the ROI when it’s built properly, managed properly and optimized. So sounds like as you said, you’ve got a lot of brave loyalty marketers there in Australia. And as you said, they’re all good friends and they all do seem to share a lot of knowledge with each other. 

And I was also really interested in your next event that’s coming up. I think after this is being released, it’ll be a couple of weeks time in Sydney, where I suppose you’re going to have more of a conversation about looking at the different industries. 

Which I thought was a really good idea to try and understand, you know, what are the opportunities perhaps that an airline loyalty marketer might have, whereas compared to maybe the challenges in a retail loyalty sector. So I’d love to hear what your speakers are planning to share at that kind of event, because it is something I’ve never heard done before in that particular way.

Sarah: Yeah, well I was pretty excited when we came up with the topic because we just had our conference in August and everything got covered and we were thinking, well, what on earth are we going to to be able to deliver to the market? That’s going to be interesting. 

And one of the things that came out, we do ask our speakers to cover, you know, what are the challenges and advantages of running a loyalty program within their industries. And that’s what I thought, you know, it’s incredibly diverse. You think that those skills would be translated across all the different industries, but in fact, it appears that it is a big, a big difference in terms of moving between them.

And so we have speakers from insurance, hospitality and banking, three very different industries. And that’s what we’re talking about is the diverse benefits and challenges of money, managing customer loyalty across those industries. And I’ve even been surprised talking to the speakers as to what they were, because I would have thought being a seasoned veteran and loyalty that nothing would come as a surprise to me. 

But one of the things that came up that was really interesting was, you know, how important it is to have multiple product lines to engage members. And that if you don’t have those, it’s actually hard to engage with them. And, and, and get them to really be sticky to your, to your brand or, or to your product.

Paula: Okay. Okay. So multiple propositions, you mean across, you know, different types of, do you mean that kind of evolution of an always on proposition versus tactical campaigns? Or do you mean just in different areas of the business? 

Sarah: I mean, both of those things are important, but it’s almost one of our speakers is from Grill’d, which is a burger chain. And they were saying, you know, we basically have burgers and fries and a few other things. And it’s very hard to continuously engage members whilst in the insurance industry, for instance, you have so many different types of insurance and different options within those insurance, et cetera. So there’s a lot of cross sell upsell opportunities that you just simply don’t, don’t have. And, and hospitality is, is great because obviously everybody loves burgers and nobody wants to pay, you know, their insurance premiums, but it’s very hard to keep the, the members engagement when there’s so many different options and you can obviously churn so easily, literally by just walking into another hospitality venue.

Whilst with insurance, it’s a big deal to, to change insurance companies both perceived and in reality, so I thought that was really interesting as well. You know, you’ve got a brand like a burger brand everybody loves and wants to engage with, but they keep their audiences keep on coming back in and out. Whilst in insurance people don’t really want to engage with that brand, but they’re extremely sticky. So I thought that was really interesting. 

Paula: Yeah, yeah, and absolutely. When I think about insurance, in fact, I remember talking with a colleague as well before about loyalty in insurance, and it is one of those grudge purchases. It’s a bit like fuel, you know, fuel loyalty. It’s actually something nobody really wants to have to buy. But they do have to buy and again, margins can be super difficult. It can be very challenging to be profitable in these particular sectors. So I love the fact that you’re bringing them in to get that contrast.

And actually as well, the fact that you mentioned the vendors as well, Sarah, earlier, again, we work with all of the big loyalty suppliers. I always find that those episodes, they often get higher listenership on our show. Because they have that breadth of expertise, it sounds like that’s something that you’re getting as well, because they get that cross sector insight in terms of what’s going on and what can work that you can think about maybe from insurance and take to an airline or vice versa.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. There’s, there’s so many opportunities to do those things, Paula. 

Paula: Yeah, for sure. Super exciting. So lots of events, lots of conferences. I know you do lots of training as well, but the big news today, of course, is the Asia Pacific Loyalty Awards. And this is something that I guess it feels like it’s maybe long overdue because again, the Australia loyalty market in particular is just doing such incredible work. So why did you decide that now was the time to launch these awards? 

Sarah: Well, the region has been crying out for awards that are specific to loyalty for a very long time. And honestly, we always shied away from it because it always just looked really hard to be honest. And we don’t like to do anything if we don’t do it really well. And if, if we have people submitting their very personal information to us and being judged, we wanted to make sure that it was very well done. 

And we’ve been so impressed with the work done by the team at the International Loyalty Awards held in London that I’ve been to in the last couple of years. And they really inspired us to do the same thing specifically in our region. We decided to go Asia Pacific rather than just Australia and New Zealand because all of our sponsors are Asia Pacific. A lot of our members are now Asia Pacific and it just feels very much like the right time. We’re so proud to get judges from 12 different countries in 16 different categories. And it’s just wonderful to sit on the cause with everybody and really feel like we’re all part of the same region. 

Paula: Amazing. Well, having been a judge for the International Loyalty Awards myself, Sarah, of course, and we’ve spent some wonderful evenings, certainly in London, enjoying the results of all of their work.

So I think you’re right not to take it lightly, first and foremost having been again, brand side, I think we all know how much work goes into compiling a compelling entry. And then of course, the anxiety around, are we going to be, you know, I suppose, ranked in a way that is both confidential and fair. And I suppose showcase the industry to its best advantage. 

So I know you’ve given us a huge amount of thought. You even mentioned, you’ve got some wonderful software applications. So all of that security is really being taken to the next level. So tell us a bit about the operations behind the scenes, because again, I know you working on this for a long time, even before it launched. So tell us a bit about what’s involved in terms of once these people do submit their applications.

Sarah: Yeah, well, it’s just been incredibly important for us to make sure that there’s effective privacy measures in place for entrance and for judges. We have some very big brands in Australia who would shy away from entering if they didn’t know for sure that there wouldn’t be a judge from a competing program seeing their submission.

And we also wanted to make sure that there was no possibility of any of the entries. You know, going astray or getting into the wrong hands. And in fact, because it’s a software program that you can go into, start your entry and then go out of and finish and submit at a later date, we’ve had a, an enormous amount of entries already going in.

So we can see that all the major brands in Australia are already represented and, and the whole heap of brands from, the Asia Pacific region that I’ve not heard of. So it’s incredibly exciting. I get my dopamine hit every day by going in and seeing the numbers grow. And the judges are ready to go mid November to start judging those submissions.

Paula: Amazing. So, they’ll take their time, of course. They’ll they’ll, I suppose, rank and rate all of the best entries in every category. And then what’s your plan? Are you planning to have an event to showcase the winners, to announce them? What can the the people who are either shortlisted or winning, what can they look forward to?

Sarah: Well in 2024 we will have the awards night in Melbourne, but we’re really hoping that we’ll be able to take it to another region, maybe Singapore or Malaysia for future years. So the events on the 14th of March at the Glass House, which is a beautiful venue in Melbourne and we booked for 500 people. So we are trying very hard to fill that room. And yeah, and have a massive, fantastic celebration of loyalty in the region. 

Paula: Oh my goodness. 500 people, Sarah, like I really want to be there now. So that’s just incredible. So what’s your advice for the brands who are maybe watching this episode of Loyalty TV? I think the deadline is November 5th. So about 10 days from when we’re broadcasting this episode. So I guess the first piece of advice is make sure to get your entries in super quickly. But any other top tips for brands as they’re thinking about putting their entries in? 

Sarah: No, absolutely not. Can’t give any of those those sorts of secrets away, Paula. But we do have an early bird timings which you just mentioned in early to mid November, and then there is room for late entries. They just attract a higher entry fee. 

However, we have kept the entry fees extremely low because we want to make sure that even smaller brands brands that maybe don’t have enough money or they, they haven’t submitted entries before, so they’re a little bit shy of it and don’t want to, to splurge out can enter, I think some of the things that these smaller brands, smaller companies are doing are absolutely fantastic, and there’s certainly a lot more nimble the larger companies. So I’m very excited to see some of those come through as well. 

Paula: Amazing. And again, I suppose coming both from my background in Ireland from other awards, just generally in marketing, you know, certainly the more time anybody has, of course, the better. And again, I know that the way you do all of your events, Sarah, is always top notch.

And the way I’ve seen it evolve in other markets is that people increasingly, I suppose, get other colleagues involved, whether it’s excellent copywriters, or of course, the people who have the actual results to share. Because certainly, when I was judging, again, the International Loyalty Awards myself, anything that could be measured and proven, and again, knowing that there’s no competing judges, for example, from a similar category, is, of course, very reassuring. So, I guess I would just encourage people to make sure that they put something in that’s super exciting for the judges to read. 

Sarah: Yeah, thank you. That’s a much better way of putting it, Paula. 

Paula: Wonderful. Well, listen, I think the most important thing is, you know, to really get those entries in. As you said, it’s the inaugural year. There’s did you say 16 categories in total? Plenty of options for people to enter. And again, I’ve seen all of the judges posting. So the best place for information, Sarah, I guess, is it australianloyaltyassociation.com, your own website? 

Sarah: Yeah, and it’s com.au, which is our Australian ending for websites. And yeah, by all means, either email me or anybody in the team or even get in touch via LinkedIn. Any questions that you have, we’re more than happy to answer, of course. 

Paula: Okay, amazing. So with the awards firmly established on your annual calendar, Sarah, what else? Is there anything else that the Australian Loyalty Association is working on in terms of conferences and get togethers next year? What can people look forward to in the region? 

Sarah: Well, we’ll have our conference on the Gold Coast again by very popular demand. And we had almost 350 loyalty marketers at the conference this year. And so I assume that that will continue to go. We’ve also booked for up to 500 people on the Gold Coast. So if anybody wants to come and have a day and a half of watching fantastic speakers, networking, and just basically enjoying the Gold Coast, which is a fantastic location in the middle of winter for us anyway, please come and join us.

Paula: Amazing. Absolutely. And again, I’ve just heard exceptional feedback from everybody who does attend the event. So again, fingers crossed, I might even be able to get there. As I said, in 2024, we have to set the intention and and make sure we do our best. 

So listen, that’s all of the questions I had from my side today, Sarah, is there anything else that you wanted to mention for our audience before we wrap up?

Sarah: No, just thank you very much, Paula. And it’s just so exciting to see this new stage in Let’s Talk Loyalty. I think it’s it’s fantastic. And I can’t wait to see some of the speakers coming through. 

Paula: Amazing. Thank you, Sarah. Yes. I think I admitted on LinkedIn, it’s equally exciting and terrifying to be sitting now in a TV studio and making sure we all look good and sound good on camera as we’ve always done in audio format.

So thank you for being one of our early guests. You’re very kind to to put your time aside. I know you’re traveling this week, so really delighted to be able to share the news, particularly about the Asia Pacific Loyalty Awards. I think that’s super important for that incredible part of the world.

So with all of that said, I just want to say Sarah Richardson, Advisory Board Chair and Founder of the Australian Loyalty Association, and of course, Director of Sciensa Loyalty. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty and Loyalty TV. 

Sarah: Thank you, Paula. 

Paula: This show is 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 is 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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