Loyalty360 Executive Spotlight: Bill Baker, The Lacek Group

Loyalty360 engaged Bill Baker, CEO at The Lacek Group, to talk about how customer loyalty has evolved, new possibilities for the loyalty industry, and the new technologies impacting the loyalty landscape today. For more than 25 years, Lacek has built a reputation for winning the hearts and minds of customers across multiple marketing channels using customer data to design, build, and maintain loyalty and CRM programs for industry-leading clients.
 
Please provide us with a little background on your role at Lacek and what makes the company unique in its offerings.
Baker: The Lacek Group has been in business for 30 years, and I’ve been with Lacek for 27 of them. Our focus is on customer devotion to brands. Our ground-up approach gives us a singular ability to connect strategy to implementation. Lacek knows how to motivate customers, create emotional engagement, and connect customers to the brands they love.
 
We deliver a tailored combination of art and algorithms — honing our creativity with data and vice versa. In fact, we have about as many talented folks on our creative teams as on our data teams. We leverage data to design the most compelling and effective personalized communications. Lacek boasts a 30-year heritage of assigning integrated teams of strategists, practitioners, data and technology specialists, and best-in-class creative professionals. We have decades of proven experience creating and growing programs and initiatives that perform.
 
Lacek’s strengths come out of collaborations with our fantastic clients. They invite our holistic participation in their efforts to develop and deepen their customer relationships. We strive to be trusted advisors and effective partners to our clients. And that’s only possible through the tireless efforts of my Lacek colleagues. I’m blessed to work with them, and I want Lacek to be their employer of choice. Our leadership team works hard to make that happen.
 
As CEO, how do you demonstrate what is important to Lacek/company values to the organization you lead?
Baker: I try to lead by example, looking in the mirror and holding myself to the values implicit in our agency credos:

  • We, not I.
  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • Good work begets good work.
  • When you grow as an individual, we grow as a team.
Also, The Lacek Group’s values really emerge out of the caring and committed individuals who work here. Each year we conduct an annual survey of our employees, and out of that feedback has emerged lasting programs that put our values into action. For example, each year we partner with a local nonprofit and focus our volunteering, donation, and pro bono efforts on its work. We also have an employee recognition program, the Achiever Awards, that celebrates extraordinary work through peer-to-peer and leadership nominations. Additionally, wanting to support the kind of systems change required for an equitable society, we formed five diversity, equity, and inclusion committees to help us put our shared goals for change into action: education and knowledge; hiring practices; community involvement; retention and inclusion; and financial support.
 
The Lacek Group is celebrating its 30th anniversary this fall, and you have been with the company for almost three decades. How has customer loyalty evolved, and what new possibilities for the loyalty industry do you see on the horizon?
Baker: Over the years, loyalty has moved from centering on a transactional relationship to growing out of an emotional connection. Today’s brands need to deliver benefits and experiences that align with their values and needs — and do so in each customer’s preferred channel. Additionally, loyalty boundaries have grown, expanding beyond earning points and miles and even outgrowing the necessity of a discrete program (although programs are still very viable). Today’s loyalty seeks to create a more holistic relationship with consumers. Toward that goal, we work to integrate loyalty strategies across communications, recognition programs, and experiences — everywhere consumers encounter a brand. Consumers expect omnichannel, time-sensitive, data-driven communication strategies, and Lacek’s Total Loyalty approach delivers.
 
It’s almost impossible to talk about loyalty without acknowledging how AI is changing the world and our business. I believe using AI to anticipate and deliver on customer needs has a profound potential for loyalty. The same goes for behavioral science insights gained through customer behavior. Both will inform powerful new advancements in building emotional bonds and motivating consumer action.
 
Personalization is critical when creating a great customer experience. Lacek’s platform, CODA™ (Create Once, Deliver Anywhere), allows for personalization at scale. How are the brands Lacek works with leveraging this tool?
Baker: CODA™ is a proprietary communications tool that enables clients to scale personalization across channels and devices. CODA connects people, tools, and workstreams to create messaging, assign it to individuals and/or audiences, deliver messaging, and measure performance with precision. It automates the adaptation of content for multiple presentations, languages, and channels — which frees up marketers to redirect resources to more valuable efforts. CODA is one place we’re starting to use AI to further refine who gets what message, when they receive it, and how it’s delivered. CODA ties together the decisioning, the design, and the delivery while automating content adaptation to forge highly individualized relationships between customers and brands.
 
If you could only choose one thing, what do you believe most influences a great customer experience? Why?
Baker: Short answer: Delivering amazing, personalized experiences based on customer empathy.
 
We all want to be heard, understood, and treated accordingly. The more we can truly understand and empathize with the customer, the deeper and more authentic our personalization. That, in turn, helps our clients forge lasting emotional connections with their customers. For us, that’s success. Also, we keep investing heavily in innovation, with customer empathy at the core of the process as well. Customer empathy sessions dramatically expand our consumer understanding, which continually reveals new insights and opportunities.
 
What trends are you seeing in the marketplace today? How do you see new technologies impacting the loyalty landscape as we move through fall and approach 2024?
Baker: The marketplace maintains a big focus on personalization and the tech tools that can automate it as much as possible. Lacek’s CODA product has offered clients a solid communication solution for many years, so we’re excited to continue expanding CODA and its customer relationship management (CRM) services in implementations across the marketplace.
 
We’re fielding lots of interest in program redesign lately as well. With many programs now more than 20 years old, most need some freshening up. Often, they benefit from examining how emotional engagement can enhance their program’s transactional relationship. In addition, brand partnerships are trending as a way to add value and create experiences that enhance brand perception on both sides and complement the member experience. Our partnership team leads this work for our clients.
 
We’re discovering applications with generative AI that boost efficiency in content creation and adaptation. We’re using AI to target messaging and drive adaptive relationship paths. We expect AI will accelerate ideation and testing to help us craft better, more tailored experiences that add up to brand devotion faster. For one major client, we’re building and integrating self-learning AI models to drive highly dynamic experiences that fuel business results. We’re all just beginning to understand AI’s capacity to accelerate strategies, campaigns, and overall revenue.
 
Do you have a personal creed or motto that best reflects who you are?
Baker:
 1) Be hopeful, be positive, and know there will be curveballs. Those curveballs are opportunities.
 
2) If you do the best you can — truly the best you're capable of — then you need to be okay with the outcome.
 
What’s the best advice you’ve been given related to the field of customer loyalty?
Baker: The field is constantly changing and evolving, and there’s opportunity in that.
 
Are there one or two books you would recommend, and why?
Baker: Read what you like. Read about something that interests you. Or just read something that lets you simply unplug, relax, and recharge.
 
We like to end these interviews with some words of wisdom for novice marketers and loyalty professionals. Do you have a tip or a lesson you could share?
Baker: You need to manage your own career. No one’s going to do that for you. Listen, witness, learn, explore, try, and grow.
 
Quick-fire* questions:
 
1. What is your favorite word?
Fantastic.

2. What is your least favorite word?
But — and I admit I use it too much.

3. What excites you?
Spending time with my grandsons.

4. What do you find tiresome?
Redoing work and self-inflicted pain.

5. Where is your dream golf course?
Maybe Loyal H. (Bud) Chapman’s Infamous Golf Course, an imaginary 18 holes he illustrated and cheekily captioned.

6. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Commissioner of the PGA Tour.

7. What profession would you avoid?         
 Teacher.

8. Who inspired you to become the person you are today?         
My first boss and mentor, Dick Nelson (PGA golf professional).

9. What do you typically think about at the end of the day?       
How lucky I am. 

10. How do you want to be remembered by your friends and family?

That I was authentic and caring — and there when they needed me.

 
*Inspired by the quick-fire portion of Inside the Actors Studio.

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