Dani  Cushion
November 2, 2018

How to Build Customer Loyalty By Understanding Your Data

Guest: Dani Cushion - Chief Marketing Officer, Cardlytics

When it comes to building customer loyalty, Dani Cushion believes that the creativity is in the data. In her role as CMO of Cardlytics, she and her team work under the power of “purchase intelligence,” or the ability to know where your customers are buying when they’re not buying from you. As Dani has learned throughout her career as a marketer, it’s all about defining who is loyal and figuring out why.

On this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite, Drew and Dani discuss why defining your existing loyal customers can help you understand where you’re missing profits, as well as why using insights on aggregated data doesn’t mean creative marketing is dead. As Dani admits, “it ain’t sexy,” but working to have a extraordinary customer experience will result in unmatched loyalty.

Get to know your customers by following this advice – listen here.

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What You’ll Learn

“Defining your loyals” is step one in the process of building repeat business

Dani explains the importance of “defining your loyals” on this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite. She shares that one of Cardlytics’ clients earned an additional $6 million in sales, simply because they identified and retargeted a segment of their existing repeat customers. By knowing who your potential loyals are and the problem they’re trying to solve, you can tap into a new area of business.

Gathering insights from your data doesn’t equal the death of creative marketing

Cardlytics’ success is built on their ability to combine purchase data and creative marketing. In order to build customer loyalty, marketing teams need to use both strategies. Just because you’re aware of your customer’s data does not mean you should stop reaching out to them with engaging and creative marketing stories. Drew and Dani both agree that “the creativity is in how you use the data.”

2 do’s and 1 don’t for CMOs looking to build customer loyalty

Dani’s top 2 “do’s” for CMOs seeking a greater ability to build brand loyalty are to always look at the broad picture of loyal customers and to listen to what they’re saying. Without an accurate picture of what your customers want and their past buying habits, you won’t make much progress. She also encourages CMOs to never be scared to try something new. The most innovative marketing strategies to build loyalty only began because someone was willing to take a risk – and that someone can be you!

Timeline

  • [0:30] Loyalty and customer acquisition are both essential topics on Renegade Thinkers Unite
  • [1:51] Dani’s Renegade Rapid Fire segment
  • [15:54] The importance of building loyalty into your marketing plan
  • [20:00] Digging into the purchase behaviors for your existing customers
  • [25:35] Using analytical insights to understand customer loyalty
  • [33:13] Dani explains Cardlytics’ in-house loyalty program
  • [37:30] 2 do’s and 1 don’t for CMOs looking to expand their customer loyalty knowledge

Connect With Dani:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Dani Cushion

Drew Neisser: We spend a lot of time on this show talking about customer acquisition, and that shouldn’t be that surprising because something like 88% of marketing dollars goes to customer acquisition. Arguably, that may be the right amount of money going to it, or it may be way too much.

I’ve thought about some of the episodes that we’ve done lately. We had Brent Adamson who talked a lot about reorienting your thinking, not saying you have a sales problem, but your buyers actually have a problem. We had Janine Pelosi, who said let’s build broad-based awareness to drive new customers to Zoom. We had Jon Miller and Peter Isaacson, both of whom talked about ABM. We really covered a lot on customer acquisition.

I realized that we haven’t spent any time on this show, at least in the last 20 or 30 episodes, on loyalty. We’re going to fix that, at least in today’s episode we’re going to redress that imbalance, or at least try to make the case for spending more on loyalty. To help with that, my guest today is Dani Cushion, the CMO of Cardlytics, a company that runs cash-back loyalty programs for more than 1000 bank partners. Dani, welcome to the show.

Dani Cushion: Thank you very much. Happy to be here today.

Drew Neisser: Let’s start with a Renegade rapid fire. You mentioned before that you’ve listened to a couple of the shows, so you know how this works. We’re going to cover as much as we can in eight minutes or so. What is your definition of marketing?

Dani Cushion: Marketing, for me, is about driving demand for a company across any audience that they need to address. From my perspective, we’re reaching marketers, banks, investors, and what we call affectionately, “cardlytians”—the people who work in the company. But really, marketing is responsible for making sure that a really clear point of view on what the company is and what it offers to somebody is enunciated, and then it really hooks the person that you want to try to get to do something.

Drew Neisser: I boil this down to “rethink your drink.” That’s all marketing is. It’s getting someone to rethink your drink. I notice that loyalty didn’t actually come up in your definition of marketing. Do we need to redress that?

Dani Cushion: Maybe. It’s baked in there, Drew.

Drew Neisser: It’s baked in. So, what’s the primary role of the CMO?

Dani Cushion: From a CMO’s perspective, at least from my perspective, it’s trying to connect the dots and being able to tell the story of what the company does and boiling down what you do for someone else to get them to take an action. The CMO plays a really important role sitting amongst a bunch of other functions. I’ve heard in a bunch of your other programs as well how connectivity is so important and I completely subscribe to that.

If you’re not inquisitive as a CMO, if you’re not building bridges, if you’re not trying to understand the whole part of the business and what challenges people face, you’re probably not being as impactful as you could. The CMO sitting in the middle makes a really big difference in helping to tell the story.

Drew Neisser: What’s your top priority right now as the CMO?

Dani Cushion: We’re a pretty interesting company. We’re a newly public company. We were just the first tech IPO of the year. We managed to get out in the biggest market drop in history, in February. There were a bunch of companies that did not get out that week, so that was a fun ride. From our perspective now, we work with, as you mentioned, about 2000 banks: Bank of America, Regions, SunTrust, Lloyds etc. We’ve also just signed a bunch of new banks, like both Chase and Wells, which are two of the biggest banks in the country. We’re actively working on bringing them online.

Now that we’ve got a pretty good consolidation of all the banks in the U.S., my focus has shifted in a pretty big way to driving revenue and helping make sure there are enough marketers coming into the channel to be able to reach all of the bank customers that we’re going to have. We’re going to be reaching over 100 million people in the next year or so. It’s a pretty good media channel that we’ve built, and it’s effective. There are no bots in there. It’s reaching real people when they’re thinking about their money. We’ve paid out over $200 million in cashback to consumers, so now it’s about making sure brands understand the impact of getting in there, buying with us, and reaching people when they’re thinking about their money.

Drew Neisser: We’re going to circle back to that because I’m really interested in the business model here. But first, what’s your favorite part of the job?

Dani Cushion: Oh gosh. I love learning something new every day. I love being able to build a team, build a function, and empower people to learn and do something new that they love, whether that’s on my team or not. I really love the people aspect of it. I love being able to tell a story and I love being able to help others embrace their passion and do what they love to do every day.

Drew Neisser: Very cool. What don’t you like about the job?

Dani Cushion: I don’t like politics. I run communications too, so as a natural communicator I get frustrated sometimes. But I have to dial back the angst when there’s not over-communication within an organization. That gets a little frustrating sometimes. I think always trying to figure out how to prove out what you’re doing can be challenging.

I know instinctually it’s that balance between art and science that I struggle with sometimes, as well as I know a lot of our CMO partners do too, trying to find the balance of “Okay, I know this is working, but man, I’ve got to really show it to be able to justify the budget to do it.”

Drew Neisser: I was reviewing Christine Moorman’s study that she does down at Fuqua Duke School of Business. They do a CMO study, and at the latest count, maybe 40% of CMOs are confident that they can point to their spend and say, “This is working.”

Dani Cushion: Yeah, it’s hard. I sort of wear two different hats, as the CMO. I’m a B2B CMO which, personally, I love that space. I had been on the B2C side for a long time as well, and once I shifted over, it’s a lot more about storytelling and thought leadership. I love that side of it, but I work with B2C CMOs and it is hard. There’s so much stuff out there to try to gauge how are you doing. Some are proxy, some is real, some is not. How do you sift through all of that, to really know that the levers that you’re pulling are working? It’s not easy. It’s a huge challenge.

Drew Neisser: It is. I feel like I need to do another show just on analytics.

Dani Cushion: There’s enough there.

Drew Neisser: There is a lot, maybe 10 shows. Is there a renegade moment in your career that you go, “This is on my greatest hits”?

Dani Cushion: Growing up, I was not a huge risk-taker. I liked to make sure something is going to work before I try it. I’ve grown through that as I’ve gotten older. You realize that it’s OK to try and test things.

Honestly, I think the biggest renegade moment of my career was moving my family, our three kids, a bunch of dogs and cats, down to Atlanta three years ago to take the CMO role at Cardlytics. It’s a company that I hadn’t heard of before it came across my desk. But as I figured out what it was, it was an “Oh s***” moment where it was like, “Holy crow, this company does what?”

It was a big leap of faith for us. We didn’t know anybody in Atlanta, not really. We only had some friends down there. It was a pretty big move. We had always been in the Northeast. My husband’s English. We like to be close to Europe if we can. It was a little bit of a leap of faith for us, and we got to this notion of just rolling the dice. We really believed in this. I really believed in the co-founders and the team, so that was a big scary moment in my career to say, “I’m going to put myself out there and we as a family are just going to try something.”

Drew Neisser: And three years later…

Dani Cushion: I haven’t regretted it a single day. It’s amazing.

Drew Neisser: You put your travel life in Delta’s hands.

Dani Cushion: That’s true. I had to switch over. I did. I was a big Southwest girl. Delta’s great too. Atlanta’s a good hub.

Drew Neisser: Is there a book you’ve read that made you rethink something?

Dani Cushion: Yeah, I love historical fiction, like Leon Uris and Rutherford. I  do audiobooks a lot because when I’m in the car, it’s easier. With little kids, I’m not picking up the paper books as much as I used to. I’m listening right now—and I’ve probably listened three or four times but I just love it—to Michener’s “Chesapeake.”

We lived in Annapolis, Maryland for 10 years. All my kids were born there. It’s just a really amazing area. So, listening to “Chesapeake” right now, it’s a really great look at the history of how people came through in that region.

There’s always something you can find from historical fiction. Truly. Like, right now, we’re trying to reframe our diversity and inclusion efforts at Cardlytics. We’re a really good, inclusive culture already, but we can be better. There’s more we can do and looking at some of the stories coming through Michener’s “Chesapeake”—It was written by an old white guy—but the stories of people of color, people of different backgrounds, trying to find their way through challenging times.

Drew Neisser: It’s so funny—I actually listened to Michener’s “Alaska,” and the funniest thing was, I knew more of the history than of course anybody else on the trip. I kept saying, “Are you sure that’s right because wasn’t this it?”

Dani Cushion: I’m sure they loved you.

Drew Neisser: Oh yeah, they did.

Dani Cushion: “Do you want to step up here, sir?”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, who’s the wise-ass here.

He’s amazing, and I’d totally much rather read historical fiction than just about any other genre. I’m right now in this crazy series based in the 1300s in France and England.

Dani Cushion: I love that period.

Drew Nesser: It’s amazing. It’s such a wonderful adventure and really escapism. The leader in this book is a great leader. He sleeps with his men. He has a way of expressing himself that allows the folks to get behind him, and there is no question that this guy is a leader. You could write down all the characteristics of leadership, and you would find them in this individual, so any leader would benefit from that.

Dani Cushion: I’ll try that one next.

Drew Neisser: Alright. Will machines ever be able to do your job?

Dani Cushion: On their own, no. That’s my quick answer. I think they can make it easier. They can make it better. I had the privilege of seeing Garry Kasparov speak earlier this year, who’s a really amazing, amazing person. He spoke about how to not think about machine learning and analytics and machines coming through as a replacement for people, but a compliment. It was a really cool way to frame it actually. I still think there’s a humanness and a nature and a setting of a strategy that needs to happen from a human mind, but man, machines can absolutely do the things that will allow us to spend more time on that.

We work with a very heavy data company. We see like $1.5 trillion in spend per year, so there’s a ton of purchase data flowing through our pipes at the company. We love our data. We love analysts and being able to pull stuff through. There are things that machines and algorithms and machine learning can absolutely help unpack and find trend-wise that humans just can’t. But from a marketing perspective, I totally subscribe to the art plus science aspect of marketing.

Drew Neisser: At least so far, the robots haven’t been very good at that, but they’ll get better. The most interesting areas to me in robotics are not the robots that are replacing, but the robots that are enhancing. Where you can suddenly wear some equipment around you and lift something and not hurt yourself, so changing the ways of factory work. And there are all sorts of interesting things with surgery, where the surgeon is still in control, but the instrument is actually the robot.

Dani Cushion: Yeah, it reduces the error rate.

Drew Neisser: That’s an exciting time, so we will all be working with machines very soon. One last thing. Was there any advice that you were given that was like, “Oh man, I really want to share this?”

Dani Cushion: Yeah, I got two actually. Both are a little bit more personal, but one is career-wise. Coming out of college, I went to a school that had a pretty heavy finance focus and got a lot of finance jobs floating across the desk. Just speaking with my boyfriend at the time, now husband, and my parents, it was really you’ve just got to follow your gut. I’m a big quote person, but I think one of my favorite quotes is, “At every crossroad, follow your dreams. It is courageous to let your heart lead the way.” That’s tough to do when you’re making a tradeoff between coming out and making near six figures out of school and coming out making 30 grand to go into sports marketing.

It sounds very cliche, but I subscribe to it: If you choose the path where your passion lies, you’ll put more time into it. You’ll find your way, and you’ll end up doing something that is worth it in life for you. The other piece of advice that I got from a woman I worked for at XM Radio was, “In every career, there are ebbs and flows.” So, while you might not always be exactly on the high part of the wave, know that it comes back around. Keep your nose straight. The cream rises to the top, so just keep doing what you’re doing.

Drew Neisser: Those are two good pieces of advice. We’re going to ebb and flow into a break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about loyalty and how you can go about building it, so stay with us.

BREAK

Drew Neisser: We’re back, and my guest is Dani Cushion of Cardlytics. We’re going to talk about loyalty and the importance of it. First, let’s just talk about—as a CMO, how do you put loyalty into your marketing plan?

Dani Cushion: I’ll hit that from the side of the kind of brands that we work with. I have the benefit and the fun of being able to work with CMOs across all kinds of different verticals. That’s one of the things I love about being a B2B marketer. You can really learn a whole lot about different types of businesses.

I think the way that a lot of CMOs are thinking about loyalty right now—it’s getting smarter and smarter as there’s more data. Where I see people get tripped up is when they’re defining “loyalty” on too narrow a view of what their customers are doing.

From our perspective, we see purchase data. If you think about a brand that has an amazing CRM system, it’s really important to know your customer. It’s important to get them and try to make sure that you’re providing them something that they want. You don’t need to shill them something. You actually really need to understand them, but a lot of CMOs only know when their customers are shopping with them. This is where we sort of work with our clients. You’ve got to take a more macro, whole wallet view of what else are they doing when they’re not shopping with you? Where else are they going?

I’ll give you an example. There is a client of ours who, a few years ago, Advance Auto Parts was working with us, who only wanted to drive new. How they had actually defined their loyal customer base was, “We know the aftermarket, DIY auto folks who are coming in and spending with us four times a year. We’ve got them. We don’t need to put anything against them. We know that we have everything we can out of those guys, so let’s not touch them. Let’s not reach them.”

We did a little analysis because we love our data and looked at where else are those people buying. It turned out they were really heavy category shoppers. These people love to get some quality car ramps, love their cars, love fixing their cars, and they were spending like 60% on competitors, not with Advance Auto. And this is great. They’re the best clients now, they step up and say, “Well how do I reframe that?”

They had a ton of headroom that they hadn’t been realizing, so they actually opened up their whole media plan and ended up targeting these folks because there was really significant headroom for them. In a few months, they drove an increase of $6 million in incremental sales.

Drew Neisser: Simply by going back to their existing customer base and serving up ideas or teases, something to get them. How did they get those customers back into the website or to their store to buy?

Dani Cushion: I mean from our perspective, they come through our channel. While we run media through banks, we’re reaching people when they’re actually thinking about their money. We were reaching people because we could segment very quickly and easily based on their past purchase history. But they did do other things as well on their site with house ads and promotions through all available channels that they had. Whether it was a paid channel like ours, whether it was their own channels, like email and things like that.

The key point of this is it was really important for them to pull up in their view of how they were defining their loyals. That is the first place to start. Before you even get into the tactics of what you’re going to do with it, you’ve got to know as much as you can about them. Where is their headroom?

Drew Neisser: Just to put a fine point on that—this is a case where a B2C marketer was saying, “Our good customers buy four times a year when in fact, they could probably buy 12 times a year.” And they had no recognition of the purchase frequency because they had no insight into their overall purchase behavior. So how did you get insight into these folks’ overall customer behavior?

Dani Cushion: What we as a company do, since we run these loyalty programs for banks, we have the banks’ purchase data. I say that with the gravity and the privacy in mind that needs to come with it. We never CPII. It’s always aggregated, anonymized. Banks don’t just give out their purchase data. The way that we’re actually able to run these loyalty programs for banks is we have this aggregation of purchase data across the board. Right now, we see about one out of five swipes in the US, so credit and debit. We also see HCH and bill pay.

Once we launch Chase and Wells, that number will increase. You can imagine the size of those banks. This is where we geek out on the data, but we have a pretty massive aggregation of purchase data because it actually allows us to serve more relevant ads to bank customers. The banks love this because it’s giving something of relevance in a way to save cash and earn cashback on brands that their customers love. It makes their own program stickier. It increases card spend. It decreases attrition.

From a marketer’s perspective, the way that we work is, we can help marketers understand, no kidding, where there’s headroom, but then we can actually make it actionable. Just knowing the information, we help them reach those customers through our channel.

With all the purchase data that we do have, it comes with great responsibility and we do not do that lightly. Every bank we work with, we go through very long and brutal LRC, which is legal risk and compliance processes, but that’s important because the customer’s data is really important to protect and make sure that they are, with GDPR and other things coming through, really, really aware of how their data is being used to give them value. Do they agree with it?

Drew Neisser: At the core of this engine that you’ve created, just so folks understand. A bank app on the phone. My bank is First Republic—don’t hack me. I go on there, and in theory, there would be ads on that app.

Dani Cushion: Yes. Bank of America is one of our biggest banks. I’m a Bank of America customer. If I open up either my online banking or I get e-mails from them or if I open up my Bank of America app, you’ll see on their home page that there’s a little something called BankAmeriDeals. We white label it for them.

Every bank has its own brand because it’s the bank’s program for their customers. It will show a number of different ads and offers that you have. You might see a Starbucks or a Whole Foods or an Under Armour or a Hilton. Once you actually click on that ad, the next time I go to that place and swipe my card because I’ve stayed at a Hilton, that money like a cashback reward is automatically put back in my account.

Drew Neisser: Because you clicked on the ad?

Dani Cushion: Correct.

Drew Neisser: So, people who are using this app know that that’s part of the deal.

Dani Cushion: Yes. That’s part of it. If you engage with the ad, then you go and swipe your card and you get money automatically put back. It’s super seamless. The reason that clicking on it is important, not just seeing it, is because, from a marketer’s perspective, you need to know what is truly incremental. You need to know, what if somebody never saw the ad? You’re not going to pay out for somebody who happened to stay at Hilton. There is a natural walk-in rate in every store.

So how do you actually do a test versus control where you can hold out? These people clicked on the ad, people exactly like these people did not click on the ad and we can measure true incrementality. If you don’t have that, then it’s not fair to the marketer. They need to know what they’re paying for is truly driven by the media that we’ve run. They wouldn’t have been going in there anyway.

Drew Neisser: Thinking about this little, tiny media, this little space particularly in a mobile ad, it’s so difficult to work with. Has there been something that somebody did that was incredibly creative that really surprised you that it worked so well?

Dani Cushion: You know what’s funny is that it ain’t sexy. It’s not like, these are little logos. And I will say, as a channel and as a company, we will continue to evolve with our bank partners. But banks? That’s a tiny space.

Where we’re seeing creativity and the folks that are doing very well is not in the creative application itself. It’s not in the, “How do I make this logo wiggle?” or “What’s the copy say?” It’s actually more about creativity in the targeting. Creativity in thinking about, “How do I actually cut who I want to reach based on their past purchase history?” It’s more creativity behind the scenes that the customer will never see.

Say I’m Starbucks. They’re a very big customer of ours. If they want to think about, “How do I make sure that I’m reaching customers who maybe used to come to me once a week and don’t anymore or who come on the weekdays but not on the weekends?” It’s using the data and analytics behind the scenes to segment appropriately. That’s where creativity comes in for us. Will we ever see a video interstitial on a mobile app for a bank? Maybe, I don’t know.

Drew Neisser: If the creativity is with the data, then it seems to me that there could just be a bunch of machine learning and algorithms to keep slicing and dicing the data in different ways and just keep testing. In theory, you could be testing in real-time, all the time.

Dani Cushion: And we do.

Drew Neisser: There’s no creativity because I’m putting a logo in there; the creativity is in the data. Let’s just let that sink in for a moment, that creativity is in how you use the data. We’re going to take a break, and when we come back, we’ll try to sort that out.

BREAK

Drew Neisser: We’re back. My guest is Dani Cushion, who is the CMO of Cardlytics. We’ve been talking a lot about mobile marketing and how you can take advantage of data. Immediately, the creative in me thinks, “This is the death of idea.” Tell me why this isn’t the death of idea.

Dani Cushion: Our channel is not meant to replace other beautiful creative that occurs on TV and that builds brand love. I actually moderated a panel at Adweek yesterday with some great people from Orangetheory and Under Armour and Hilton.

Every bit of marketing has its place in what you’re trying to get customers to do. Our channel is very, very good at driving incrementality, driving sales, being able to connect what is happening in a digital ad to in-store sales where 90% of purchases are still happening in a store. As much as online has grown and will continue to grow, it is still largely in-store.

Every marketing has its place. We never would say to our clients that what we’re doing should replace building brand affinity and making sure that people understand the value prop and really get and love your brand. But every marketing has its place and you’ve got to drive sales.

Drew Neisser: This falls into the direct marketing bucket one would argue. So where are you taking dollars from? Is it coming out of Google spend? Is it coming out of programmatic? Where are the dollars coming from because it’s not like budgets have gone up 50%; it’s got to come out of somewhere.

Dani Cushion: Yeah, it’s coming from all those. As you’ve seen a shift to more measurable media, we have the ability to be able to show that campaigns are actually driving sales. We’re pulling from other places that cannot show that. They cannot show the ROI. It gets a little bit back to the question we mentioned earlier that it’s actually really hard to measure. We make CMOs’ lives easier because they know that this media is working. It is pulling from low funnel things, like SEM, like Google, like other digital displays.

There’s still a lot of companies doing physical mailers which are A) not great for the environment, B) super costly, and tough to measure so we’re pulling from budgets like that.

The other thing—I think where we’re actually gaining some real traction, whether we’re actually pulling from Facebook or others, there’s a mistrust in marketing right now too. PWC put out a study last year that said like $6.5 billion—billion with a B—were anticipated to be wasted on digital ad fraud. $6.5 billion. It’s a lot. While it can be a little slow and painful to work with banks, they’re regulated to know who their customers are. Bots do not have bank accounts. They don’t. They are real people. I think we’re actually starting to gain traction because you need to know as a marketer that you’re not throwing impressions at some stupid machine that is never going to buy anything.

Drew Neisser: Bots don’t have bank accounts. There you go. That’s the quote of the show, folks.

I remember this conversation with a CFO once. He saw some dollars were coming in through Google ads and said, “Why not spend all the money on Google ads?” The truth is you can’t because it reaches a point where it’s no longer cost-effective. I would imagine this would be really interesting—do you have any marketers that are testing a combination? Where they’re doing this down here, as you called it, lower funnel, but they’re doing this up here? Because somehow or other, they need to be aware. I don’t want to use the term “disruptive,” but they need some moment where something happens to cause them to rethink their drink, to be open to something.

Dani Cushion: Every marketer we work with does that. We’re part of their overall marketing and media mix. We’re not the only thing that companies are doing, and we shouldn’t be.

Drew Neisser: So, they might have a TV buy which is very difficult to measure, and then they have your buy which is very easy to measure. It’s like, “Well, your buy looks great and the TV looks terrible.” But the truth is that if the TV stopped, your performance would drop. Have you had any tests like that showed that, that proved it?

Dani Cushion: We haven’t actually, and that’s an interesting thing. I’ll bring that one back, Drew.

We’re not a multimedia attribution company. That’s not what we do. Our clients have their own models that use a ton of data points to try and sort that out. One of the big challenges that marketers face today is getting away from the stupid last-click attribution, getting away from something that is very one-dimensional.

There is a path to success and what is the right path of all of these different media and marketing touchpoints to get somebody to convert. I still think we’re early in figuring out how to do that for brands. Some are getting it righter than others. There’s a lot of infrastructure and process that has to go into being able to plunk something into a model. It’s all based on some assumptions too. It’s not perfect yet.

Drew Neisser: All research is based on assumptions, no matter who’s doing it. Let’s get back to loyalty. Are you doing anything for your customers to build loyalty?

Dani Cushion: Yeah. I’ll put my other hat on. We’re pretty surgical in our approach from a marketing perspective. We spend a lot of time with our clients to listen to them, to understand what’s driving their business, where they’re getting stuck. From a loyalty perspective, we obviously run programs, deliver, run programs, deliver. Truly, the proof is in the pudding. That’s true whether you’re at Under Armour creating amazing gear and have a consistent product and whoever’s buying that gets the same thing every time and they love it. We’re building our own brand love by just doing what we do very well and reaching people and driving incremental sales. My job is easy. It’s easy to be a CMO when the company has a legit product.

Drew Neisser: When the product delivers, it’s easier. In this case, it’s very rational: “You spend this amount of money. We’ll track it all the way through. You’ll see the cash register ring.” In some ways, an easy sell. Yet, there are other companies that do the same thing. Where do you use marketing and loyalty to raise the likelihood that if all things were equal, I could spend a dollar on Google or I could spend a dollar on Cardlytics, how do you win on the emotional?

Dani Cushion: That’s a good question. I’m a big fan of using thought leadership. We use our data to tell a lot of stories. A lot of stuff that we do—we have a lot of this stuff on our website—but a lot of it we actually use to try to make our clients smarter and win. Since we’re able to see purchase data across the board, we can use that to help our clients gain stickiness in their own companies too. A number of our clients use our analytics, and what we see, and how they sit in the market in their board packs every quarter. That’s pretty sticky.

If you can help them understand their own business better in the macro environment, they work in—now, do they have to buy media to be able to get that? Yep, they sure do. Because the reason we get the purchase data is because the banks want their customers to get a reward. It’s sort of a virtuous cycle.

The things that really help us from a marketing perspective are telling stories, using the data that we have. I’ll give you an example. We just recently opened up a sales unit focused on grocery. Grocery is a tough business because it’s super low margin, and there’s a lot going on. We’ve started to look at what is happening with the customer? How are they spending their money? Not what do they say they’re going to do in a survey, but how are they actually spending their money? Grocery is split—you’ve got discount, the big guys, the Whole Foods of the world. It’s a really complex space in itself and then layer in things like meal kit delivery and layer in things like restaurants.

When you can actually help a client understand—we do white papers on things like this, but we also do it one-on-one with our clients—help them understand their space and how their customers are thinking about spending their money, not just Publix versus Kroger, but across the whole macro environment. It’s really beautiful to be able to see trends of where are customer is going. I think our stickiness factor really comes from the fact that we can help marketers understand their own businesses and opportunities better. We do that on a repeatable basis, and it’s really tough to get off of that once you start making decisions based on that kind of data.

Drew Neisser: When someone engages you, they have to get the analytics, right?

Dani Cushion: It starts with what you know. It all starts with that.

Drew Neisser: We were working with one of our clients and noticed that the analytics package was a module that they had to actually buy, and we noticed a big difference in customer satisfaction between those that had the analytics and those that don’t. So you’re self-defeating, you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t deliver the analytics. That’s really interesting.

We’ve got a bunch of CMOs listening. If we were going to summarize how to approach loyalty, do you have two dos and a don’t for them to think about?

Dani Cushion: Sure. Let’s see: two do’s and a don’t.

Do make sure that you are looking at as broad a picture as you can of how you’re defining your loyal customers. Make sure that you’re looking at a whole wallet view. It’s not just about purchase history, you want to have a better understanding of what drives them. Do make sure you’ve got a broad enough lens to really understand how you are defining your loyals and where you have headroom.

The second one—I think I heard some folks saying this yesterday at another Adweek panel and I loved it. It’s so simple but, do listen. Listen to what your customers want. What are they doing? We look at what they’ve done. It’s very predictive, it’s real, it’s deterministic. But you also have to listen. You have to listen to be able to prepare your message, your creative, your story, your targeting, based on what your customers want.

Then a don’t. Don’t be scared to try something new. I think it’s really hard to change inertia, and I fall into it myself as a CMO. I know what’s worked and what hasn’t. It takes some real inertia to try to move into something different, but don’t be afraid to try to be creative and try something new. You’ve got to test it and go big later if it works. Inertia is a tough thing. It’s really easy to get quagmired in doing the same old thing over and over and it can really keep you from growing.

Drew Neisser: I love it. You’ve heard me talk about Byron Sharp’s  “How Brands Grow.” He’s not a big advocate of loyalty. It’s funny. He thinks that businesses grow based on acquisition. I think there’s lots of evidence that he’s wrong. It’s very circumstantial, but I really think if you’re not thinking about your customers and how you’re improving loyalty in them, you’re probably not improving your product the way you should. You’re probably not improving the service the way you should.

When we think about loyalty, we’re really talking about how we make the customer experience so amazing that they actually want to share it, to be an advocate, to become a proponent of your brand. That applies to employees too. When your experience is so great that your customers are saying amazing things about you, you feel better about the company. There’s a ripple effect from thinking about loyalty.

One of the interesting things that Dani shared is that she’s got a product that delivers on a fundamental level. That’s basic, we’ve got to do that, but then how do we elevate it? Think about loyalty as simply: what else can we do to enhance our customer experience? Then, marketing will follow. Dani, thank you so much for being on Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Dani Cushion: Thank you. This has been great.

Drew Neisser: I’ve really enjoyed it. To all the listeners there, your loyalty is appreciated. And you can share the love. Sharing is caring, as we say on this show, so if you enjoyed this episode, share it on your favorite social channel, send it to a friend. I always welcome your feedback and comments. Recommendations for guests. I love getting those e-mails from you. Until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

Quotes from Dani Cushion

If you're not inquisitive as a CMO, if you're not building bridges, you're probably not being as impactful as you could be.
Don't be afraid to be creative and try something new.
CMOs need to take a more macro, whole-wallet view of what else their customers are doing when they're not shopping with you.
Bots do not have bank accounts. Your customers do, so direct impressions towards them.

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