Loyalty Live: SheerID on Leveraging Customer Communities as a Powerful Strategy for Driving Engagement

SheerID is an identity verification company serving commerce brands and working with globally recognized names like Walmart, Target, Nike, T-Mobile, AT&T, Spotify, and YouTube. The SheerID verification platform is built on a foundation of 200K+ authoritative data sources, which power instant consumer verification, establishing whether a person is part of a particular community — e.g., a college student, teacher, member of the military, etc. — or a profession like fitness instructors.
Retail brands work with SheerID to provide exclusive offers and rewards to select groups — i.e., Target’s back-to-school program designed to engage educators. Brands leverage SheerID’s service to ensure that the people responding to offers and redeeming rewards are truly members of the specific “community” a brand desires to reach. SheerID’s verification engine works in the background and performs a lookup of the customer record to confirm if access to the reward should be granted.
Today, brands are using SheerID’s solution much more for loyalty use cases to collect valuable first-party data while providing special offers. Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, spoke with Bill Schneider, VP of Product Marketing at SheerID, about the company’s verification platform, customer data privacy, and how marketing to people based on the communities they identify with is a powerful strategy for driving engagement.


Leveraging the SheerID Verification Platform
With connections to 200,000 authoritative data sources around the world, SheerID has one of the largest verification networks to validate hundreds of consumer attributes, such as professional occupation, student or military status, driver’s license, and more. Authoritative sources include university registrar offices for students, government databases for verifying whether somebody is actively enrolled in the military, or state license boards for certain professions, among others. SheerID maintains those data sources while expanding to more communities and geographies around the world to provide the highest instant confirmation rates to brands and consumers when verifying customers for rewards.
Schneider offers an example of a brand that benefits from the platform’s capabilities: Spotify. The music streaming service offers a half-off discount on the subscription fee for those who are actively enrolled in college.
“That’s a significant savings,” says Schneider. “Additionally, it’s a great way for Spotify to establish a relationship with a student before their first career and before they’re earning their first paycheck. Spotify will use our service as part of the signup process to ensure that it’s going to actively enrolled students.”
This practice helps protect Spotify from potential fraud and gives the brand a strong acquisition and retention channel. SheerID notes that their clients report a higher customer lifetime value on community-based cohorts like these versus their typical cohorts. It can be an attractive approach for brands to invest in.
Data Collection and Privacy
With the complexity of data collection, maintenance, and distribution, it can be challenging for brands to navigate increased customer data and privacy concerns — especially with evolving data privacy laws and regulations in the U.S. at state and federal levels.
SheerID’s service allows a brand to make a connection with a customer so that it can collect and create a first-purchase-party relationship with that customer. All the data the customer provides is opt-in.
“Again, to use Spotify as an example, students provide a few basic pieces of information about themselves — their first and last name, the university they’re attending, and email address — on a designated website page,” explains Schneider. “This allows our process to make a quick check in the cloud to ensure there’s an active record.”
Results are sent back to the brand indicating if the person is actively enrolled or if there isn’t enough information to make a decision. At that point, the student can upload a document to prove their eligibility.
All the data collected is opt-in. SheerID does not share personal information with the brand without a person’s consent and never gives or resells customer data to a third party. The company is a data processor, not a controller. All techniques used by SheerID are in full compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
The complexity of such regulations and acts brands must adhere to add to the difficulty in navigating customer privacy concerns.
“For brands, it’s thinking about how they can collect data about their customers in a way that adds value to the customer relationship and where the customer has an understanding of what is being collected, how it’s being collected, and how it’s going to be used,” says Schneider, emphasizing that there must be a level of transparency present and a level of control that the customer requires.
And today’s consumers demand it. They recognize the data they share is used in many different ways. SheerID focuses on giving brands more opportunities to create a value exchange with the customer so they can see the benefit of sharing their information. This helps them create a relationship with that customer over time so they can remarket to them.


Building Successful Loyalty Programs and Strategies 
Schneider reiterates that SheerID tends to see higher customer lifetime value scores for consumers who are part of community cohorts compared to standard cohorts. The company engaged in research to understand why that is and also what is unique about marketing to a customer based on the community to which they belong. What SheerID found was that across the board, whether it was a member of the military, a teacher, a nurse, or a college student, when they receive offers because they are a member of a certain community, they feel appreciated.
“They feel valued and honored,” shares Schneider. “It’s a powerful dynamic for a brand. They can create that emotional connection through their programs. People feel recognized and valued when they receive these offers and rewards.”
SheerID sees providing the customer with the offer but then using that data to remarket to them over time as best practice. Schneider cites a client — a home improvement company — that gave an everyday reward of 10% off to members of the military whenever they shopped. The data was leveraged to remarket to those military members/customers at different points in time, where they would receive freebies on special days, such as a free bag of briquettes on the Fourth of July.
For active military members and their families, Schneider believes those types of offers demonstrate that the brand recognizes them, values their business, and cares — the brand is “in their corner.” A visit to the store for a freebie, like a bag of briquettes, can lead to a larger average order.  
“That’s an example of how these types of programs create a valuable connection with consumers who respond to these special offers (because of the community they belong to) and how a brand can create a relationship with that customer over time,” says Schneider.
Demonstrable Understanding
SheerID recognizes that customers typically have limitless choices in today’s marketplace, and many brands offer a points-based program. According to Schneider, the next step for brands is to develop a clear understanding of core customers to serve them better than competitors.
“I think SheerID provides a slice of that in terms of helping brands align with customers who are part of specific communities,” adds Schneider. “Getting a deeper understanding of who your customers are and how that aligns with your business, and then serving them incredibly well, is critical.”
Schneider points out some examples of brands that have demonstrated their understanding of what communities their customers belong to: retailer Target’s engagement of teachers with back-to-school supplies; Home Depot, with its long history of connecting with the military — military families are indexed higher for home improvement; and YouTube and Spotify promotions that are a good fit for college students.
Data is at the core of knowing who customers are and what is important to them. Ultimately, brands work in an omnichannel context, and customers expect that brands understand their last interaction and will connect with that context in mind.
Schneider offers a nod to United Airlines from a customer perspective. “I’m impressed with the level of communication they provide from the moment I start to do research on a flight all the way through to when I’ve arrived at my destination. Their systems, in terms of communicating gate changes and time changes, are fantastic. United Airlines is a brand that’s getting the data side of things right.”
Technology, Tools, and Opportunities
When Schneider considers the next 6-18 months, he sees a big push to collect more first-party customer data as third-party data sources are eroding. Moreover, for brands to drive success, it’s more efficient for them to serve their existing customers than to spend an inordinate amount of money on customer acquisition.
“Of course, there must be a balance,” acknowledges Schneider. “But serving existing customers well is a much more predictable and lucrative proposition for brands. Data is the key.”
SheerID has observed a movement in which brands are seeking to collect high-quality, first-party (or zero-party) data on different attributes of customers to enhance how they are served. Longer term, the company recognizes that brands are interested in leveraging AI models on that data to build predictions and identify areas to elevate customer service.
“That’s one layer,” begins Schneider. “Another layer is how the digital experience continues to expand with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). There are interesting initiatives taking place.”
Schneider cites Ray-Ban’s collaboration with Facebook, where the AR experience is coming into focus. While the technology is still new, the form factor with sunglasses makes it approachable, and Schneider looks forward to watching the technology mature.
On the Horizon
As SheerID moves forward in 2024, its main focus is to raise awareness that marketing to people based on the communities that they identify with is a powerful strategy for driving engagement and re-engagement in a loyalty program. It also leads to increased revenue. The company is expanding geographically while adding different professions to its platform. Recently, SheerID added the ability to connect with people who are on government assistance programs — which is a great way for brands to support groups that might have additional needs.
The team at SheerID found when brands engage customers based on the different types of attributes that describe who they are — their demographics, income levels, locations, or even their latest behaviors — the communities that they belong to have the most resonance because it’s what they’re working toward or concentrating on in their daily lives.
“If I’m a teacher, I’m dedicated to my classroom. If I’m a member of the military, I’ve made a very conscious effort to serve my country,” finishes Schneider. “By recognizing a person through those aspects, engagement can be powerful.”
Quick-fire* Questions    
What is your favorite word?  
What is your least favorite word?   
I can’t do it.
What excites you?   
New possibilities.
What do you find tiresome?   
Doing the same thing over and over again.
What book do you like to recommend to colleagues? 
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 
It would be very interesting to be a monk for a period of time — like a year or two.
What do you enjoy doing that you don’t get to do often?     
I really enjoy rock climbing.
Who inspired you to become the person you are today?   
My dad.
What do you typically think about at the end of the day?
On my best days, I think about gratitude.
How do you want to be remembered by your friends and family?   
The feeling that “he was there for me.”

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