Understanding the state of customer loyalty, the shift from physical to digital outlets, and the necessity of data is imperative for brands looking to increase ROI. In this kind of environment, brands need to be fairly picky about the tech providers with whom they partner. That’s why Loyalty360 recently sat down with Bill Warshauer, Vice President of Sales at Blackhawk Network. In an illuminating chat, he discussed all three of these challenges and how he thinks Blackhawk can help brands address them.
According to Warshauer, Blackhawk Network is the largest supplier of branded payment products that services B2C and B2B programs. The company provides retail and digital distribution points to major grocers and other retailers. On the B2B side, it serves as a backend rewards incentive provider for direct partners and channel partners who need employee engagement solutions or just want to better reach an end-customer, a channel partner, or even an employee. Warshauer runs all sales for the B2B side of the organization.
On the topic of how customer loyalty is changing, Warshauer said, “One of the biggest shifts that we’ve seen is our partners and our direct clients trying to meet their customers and consumers where they want to be met. A lot of the brands are looking to incent consistent behavior and engagement with their different constituencies, that drives the need for them to be rewarded and incented in a more frequent and timely manner.”
Undoubtedly, with the advent of social media, mobile technology, and applications, customers are more interested in engaging with brands through the channels they want. Just 10 years ago, this might not have been the case, but it definitely is now. So, Warshauer’s intuition that brands need to engage with customers where they are in real-time makes a lot of sense to us.
Warshauer also believes that Blackhawk enables brands to do this. He said, “We bring forward a digital, near-real-time catalogue of offerings to be leveraged and filtered based on the type of customer you’re looking to incent. For example, giving a health-and-wellness subscriber a gaming gift card may not be the most sensible, but if you were to give them something related to living a better lifestyle like a spa or wellness gift card, all of a sudden you’re delivering a reward that is much more meaningful.”
Clearly, offering rewards that customers actually want will go much further in incentivizing them to behave in ways beneficial to brands. According to Warshauer, Blackhawk has a good track record in providing this kind of incentivization.
He also touched on the major shift, still going on, from physical to digital channels. He said, “Tying into mobile wallets, in-app purchases, and tap-to-pay is a hard requirement. It is something we’re delivering to the marketplace, but the future is empowering participants with the opportunity to select and leverage a reward where they want to go and engage. I think we’re still probably a year or two away from full utilization and consumption of this in the way that customers are looking to engage. We’re just seeing the beginning stages of these.”
In the meantime, Warshauer believes that surprise-and-delight programs are especially useful. He said, “Surprise-and-delight is becoming a highly used tool. It’s a low denomination reward that is providing value to loyal customers in their normal, day-to-day lives. A free cup of coffee on us. Go see a movie on us. Go get a donut on us. Those are things that our company is able to bring forward and enable for big brands. They’re delivering these moments and customers are responding. The response and utilization rates that we’re seeing are blowing away what you would normally see in other mass marketing efforts.”
To keep up with this changing state of loyalty, the shift from physical to digital, and to power brands’ programs (surprise-and-delight or otherwise), brands need to pay special attention to their data. This is probably not a surprise, but remembering that it is true is still important. On this topic, Warshauer said that he believes that data is the key to insight.
He noted, “It’s the data that sits behind our engagements and how customers are using these rewards in terms of timeliness, repeat visits, and incremental spend that proves the value. Data helps you predict the total spend of the customer’s next visit, which might not have been anticipated had you not engaged that customer in that particular way.”
Lastly, Warshauer offered some thoughts on how Blackhawk is changing its marketing strategies. He said, “Marketing and ad agencies are consistently challenged with optimizing their customers’ marketing budgets. We feel confident that leveraging a digital or physical gift card in the overall marketing strategy can deliver significantly better results. I think that’s becoming more and more an area of focus of ours. It’s not just about search optimization or all of those new marketing stack toolsets that exist. There’s absolute value in gifting, rewarding, and incenting.”
All the challenges that Warshauer mentioned—the shift in what customers want and where brands need to engage with them, the need for data, the need for new marketing tactics—have been corroborated by Loyalty360. They are real issues that marketers need to tackle. From our own research, we’ve seen how important data is, how customer desires are evolving, and where the industry is headed.

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