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Mastercard® has been a leader in payments since the late 1960s. Over the past decade, the company has evolved its suite of services to help customers make smarter decisions with improved outcomes. When it comes to consumer engagement, Mastercard works with brands to deliver better experiences and ultimately drive long-term loyalty.
Kyle Clark, Senior Vice President of Merchant Loyalty at Mastercard, has seen many changes in consumer behavior, especially in recent years as consumers increasingly shift to digital. Clark’s focus is on supporting brands across industries to build loyal relationships with their consumers.
Loyalty360 sat down with Clark to talk about recent news and developments in the customer loyalty industry.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work at Mastercard?
Clark: I’ve been in the loyalty industry for about 18 years, working for various companies during that time and have held a variety of roles building and selling loyalty technology. Now, I have the privilege of working for Mastercard and leading a global merchant organization.
Mastercard is a global leader in loyalty, and we run more than 1,000 loyalty programs across 800 million team profiles every day of the week. We accomplish this by serving a variety of verticals, including financial institutions, quick-service restaurants, retailers, airlines, fuel stations, and many other industries.
When you look at the state of customer loyalty, what are the key factors driving loyalty in today’s market? Are there any new approaches or tactics that you’ve seen as being particularly effective?
Clark: There’s a key overarching factor that I see. For a long time now, consumers have been expecting more when it comes to their experience with the brand. Traditionally, we’ve had points and rewards programs, which have continued to evolve over the past 20-30 years and will remain because consumers still expect them.
But when it comes to consumer loyalty, consumers are beginning to look at the holistic experience. They want to know what’s in it for them beyond points and offers. If you look at the persistent shift to digital that we’ve seen over the last few years, we need to understand the rise in engagement in that channel. But we also have to think about the other parts of the experience, like the in-store experience. That magnifies the importance of having a solid omnichannel engagement strategy.
When we look at tactics that fit well in a loyalty program, we must determine how to leverage the loyalty program itself. For example, with mobile ordering, you can buy online and pick up in-store. When you consider these convenience factors, consumers are measuring their loyalty based on that experience. When thinking about that interaction, you receive an offer, redeem it through your mobile application, and then pick the product up in the store. As a brand, you must provide a good experience throughout the entire process. Clear communication is crucial. You give the customer an estimated time of pickup an hour later, message them when it’s ready, they pull up, and the customer either calls the number on the sign or checks in via the mobile application. In a couple of minutes, you bring it out to them — that’s going beyond the program while still leveraging it. And if the order is lost, or takes a long time to bring that product to the waiting customer, that can also impact loyalty.
The key here is that the best experiences are those with incentive mechanisms built in throughout. When we think about factors beyond the program and drive that value to the consumer, they, in turn, bring their loyalty back to the brand.
Holistically, what do customers expect from the brand from a customer loyalty perspective?
Clark: Beyond the shift in expectations around experience, we need to put on our consumer hats for a minute. As consumers, we want companies to care, and we want our interactions to be tailored. We want to find real value in the loyalty programs we’ve joined.
There are three significant components consumers seek in a loyalty program. The first is utility; they want and expect more from the engagement that they’re giving. They want more value out of that engagement and flexibility in the way they can use rewards and redeem points. They also want to see increased exclusivity and status. That’s the expectation for us to meet to grow and sustain their loyalty.
I like to think about the macroeconomic environment and how it ties into this. There is a lot of uncertainty, rising costs of living, and rising costs overall. Because of this, consumers turn to loyalty programs. They also do this to receive special perks they may not otherwise get.
The second factor is convenience. It goes back to that streamlined experience. Consumers tell us they want a streamlined, frictionless experience that’s consistent across channels. This is aligned with the rise in mobile ordering.
The third and most important factor is personalization. Consumers value their data and want something from brands in return for access to it. The value exchange is very simple. As a consumer, if I’m going to share this data, I have an expectation that I’m going to get a tailored and personalized experience that delivers an emotional connection.
Consumers expect utility, convenience, and personalization. The question is: what do companies do to meet these expectations? This is what I like to call smarter engagement. We’re collecting data from consumers via a variety of channels, but how do we unlock it?
First, you need a multi-year strategy. It can’t only be what you’re doing in the next three months.
Next, you must have the technology to enable that strategy.
The third and often overlooked component is to be organizationally aligned with a consumer-first mindset. Ensure what you’re doing for the loyalty program is driving smarter engagement and meeting consumers’ demands.
The last two points are to think about metrics and measure what you do. If you try new tactics, you must understand what works and what doesn’t. Ask yourself: are the interactions that build an organic relationship with consumers in place? You need to have authenticity and engagement that’s genuine to the brand as well.
When you look at the brands that you partner with, what are they embracing? Many brands try to redo or enhance their programs and add new functionality, but it can be challenging. What are brands moving away from?
Clark: Paid loyalty tiers, subscription-loyalty, or premium tiers are big. A recent stat indicated that 73% of existing loyalty program members would be willing to consider paying a fee for enhanced benefits. I think that’s phenomenal because you have this engaged base in a program, but then research reveals that they’re also willing to pay more to get more exclusivity, benefits, and perks.
This is a win-win for the brand. Not only can it drive more engagement to consumers through a paid tier or a premium loyalty program, but it can also create a new revenue stream.
What’s next for customer loyalty?
Clark: We have to remember that things are changing fast. That’s not going to slow down. It will take more than points and rewards to build relationships and long-term revenue. The next chapter in loyalty is going to be marked by how well brands can think holistically across that experience and arrive at the conclusion that loyalty is not just a program. It’s not a single interaction — it’s an outcome. It takes some time to get there, and it requires creating and sustaining authentic relationships.
How do you successfully help companies integrate new technologies into their existing technology stacks in a seamless manner? How can brands leverage technology to complement or augment what they’re doing for the customer experience?
Clark: What’s exciting about Mastercard is that we have our trusted insights from the Mastercard Economics Institute. This asset helps me make decisions with my team and also with our clients as it allows them to make informed decisions on what’s going on in a macro sense.
When you look at Mastercard’s offerings, we’re a full-service, end-to-end loyalty provider. We have loyalty capabilities where we can run in-store codes, programs, card-link offers, and benefits, and it runs the full spectrum in terms of capabilities.
When we complement that, we can add Dynamic Yield for best-in-class personalization. We can also leverage our Test & Learn capability to make sure we can measure results. The best part is we can bring strategy to bear as well.
We can execute in those three areas I mentioned earlier, enabling brand strategy via this technology. With that, we help ensure the organization is there to support it. What’s exciting for Mastercard is that we can bring all these things together and tailor our engagements for each individual customer because that’s what’s needed to win in the market.
How can brands effectively leverage data and insights to create better experiences and build loyalty? Can you provide us with a couple of brands that are doing some unique things with data implementation?
Clark: A foundational 360-degree view of the consumer is needed for good engagement, and clean zero- and first-party data is a requirement to provide effective personalization. Now, that being said, it’s just the starting point. You also have to be proactive, not reactive. You must use predictive insights to dynamically curate offers, products, and content to put in front of the consumer.
Brands need to go beyond purchases and look at behavior-based offers and promotions to ensure that they’re leveraging those so customers can unlock additional offers and benefits. A stat indicates that 98% of companies plan to invest more in personalization in 2023. Consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences. If you’re not, they’re going to fill that need somewhere else.
For example, I recently signed up for a new streaming service, and I loved it because the first thing they did was ask me, "What do you like?" The message here is learning from that experience. Don’t wait to get started with data; get it out there. Start trying personalization. When you do, leverage what you have built over time, and make sure you measure along the way so that you can get the most out of each interaction.
As we get closer to the holiday shopping season, brands are starting to finalize some of their strategies on how to engage consumers and maximize their shopping experience and potentially the company’s revenue. When it comes to loyalty and customer engagement, how should brands be approaching this busy shopping season?
Clark: It’s crucial that brands develop a strategy as soon as possible. If your acquisition strategy includes sign-ups during the holiday, I’d question if we’re just giving away discounts. Think about that. If I’m standing in line with 100 of my closest friends who are also waiting to check out, a store employee may ask, "Do you want to sign up for the loyalty program?" I might say no, but then they’ll ask, "What if I give you a 15% discount?" Of course, I’ll take the 60 seconds and sign up.
Brands should think about starting earlier in the year, giving customers high-value offers and cultivating consumer relationships before the holidays so they choose your brand during the holidays. That’s critical — more so for brands that don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence.
The other thing to consider is to link back to that experience. There’s the loyalty component of the holiday season, but there’s also all those new channels. Make sure there’s a solid experience beyond the loyalty program. If customers are buying online and picking up in-store, make sure that the entire experience is holistically going to meet the mark for the consumer to drive both.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to brands? Are there some quick wins that they should consider?
Clark: Find ways to provide customers with real value and benefits that go beyond offers and points.
This goes back to evaluating the role of status and perks in a program. The role of surprise and delight is not just giving away more points and offers but leveraging status and perks and playing into something different to get the consumer to try something they might not normally do. Also, make sure you can measure it any time you introduce a new element into an experience. Brands want a quick win, but make sure you understand what success looks like. Measure it and learn from it.
What’s next for Mastercard in 2023 and going into 2024?
Clark: For us, it goes back to delivering a holistic consumer experience. It goes back to the role of subscription and the role of perks, but we’re looking beyond the loyalty program itself and how we can cultivate relationships across the entire consumer experience — we’re laser-focused on it. We want to help our customers create better experiences and stick to engagement so they can build long-term organic relationships with their consumers.
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