The Lacek Group’s Vision is Clear in Designing Loyalty Programs

Michelle-Wildenauer-Photo_2021-(2).jpegMichelle Wildenauer had just sat down in her seat on a Delta flight — her first in over a year since the pandemic began — when an attendant stopped by to chat.

“She said, ‘Welcome back, Ms. Wildenauer — we see this is your first flight in 13 months, and we're so glad to see you and appreciate your confidence in us,’” says Wildenauer, Senior Vice President of Strategic Services for The Lacek Group, which provides loyalty, customer engagement, and data-driven communications.

“I thought that was amazing,” she says. “It's definitely another example of using data, but using it in a very human way to make a big impact.”

For Wildenauer and others on The Lacek Group team, that interaction with the flight crew defines what they mean when they talk to clients about customer loyalty and engagement. As an organization, she says, they’re out to create connections between the customer and the brand that go beyond rational decisioning.

How They Feel vs. What They Get

“It results in the individual choosing the company because of how they feel versus strictly what they get,” Wildenauer says. “Often people believe that loyalty programs are strictly rewards, and that's not the way we look at it. We're looking to create a heart strategy versus simply a head strategy.”

For over 25 years, The Lacek Group has been evolving and refining its data and analytics strategies to help clients identify their highest-potential customers while simultaneously helping clients engage those consumers with emotion-infused creative across channels and throughout their lifecycles. Simply put, they help brands use data to personalize each relationship for optimal long-term results.

A specialist company under the Ogilvy Experience umbrella, the agency’s clients include Marriott, Carnival Cruise Line, U.S. Bank, Enterprise Holdings (National Car Rental, Alamo Rent a Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car), United Airlines, Ford Motor Company, The Home Depot, and Dunkin’ Brands.

Focusing on Things That Only a Brand Can Deliver

Wildenauer says The Lacek Group’s approach is not only truly listening to understand a client’s strategic goals, but designing a program that focuses on the things that only that brand can deliver. In combination, this approach helps make the program unique and the brand stand out from competitors.

“What makes a program unique is finding what makes it not easily repeatable by a competitor,” she says. “That could be what the brand stands for or something associated with the brand's foundation. It might be what they're doing in their communities, it might be a product or something like that, and we really look for those unique characteristics.”

As an agency, Wildenauer says, they’ve evolved their approach because, while some fundamentals of program building haven't changed, some steps within it have. For example they’ve added customer mindset research early in the discovery process to understand pain points, motivations, and unrecognized needs – this helps The Lacek Group identify customer opportunities.

In addition, the agency has taken a different approach to the program design process. “We used to go off on our own after the discovery, developing multiple program concepts to bring back to clients,” Wildenauer says. “Now we've shifted to a collaborative design sprint, which enables us to work really closely with our clients on brainstorming and the initial program design.”

Feeling Part of the Solution

They still return to the client and layer their expertise, but she says the design sprint cuts the program development time, which is important to clients.

“It really engages them in the process, so they feel part of the solution,” Wildenauer says. “And then we do research after the design to validate the concept. In the past, we’d work with an outside research company, and it took several weeks and usually a pretty significant budget. Now we do that work ourselves.”

That work includes one-on-one interviews via Zoom or another technology, as well as online surveys using simple survey tools. They typically can conduct that work within about a week and with zero out-of-pocket costs.

“It’s a really significant improvement from a client standpoint,” Wildenauer says. “We also focus on speed to value and offer loyalty accelerators and pilot approaches to meet client needs, which sometimes might start with a loyalty promotion as an example.”

Offering Experience, Expertise, and People

In the loyalty industry, she says, The Lacek Group’s approach combines their experience, expertise, and people who really know what works and doesn't work across industries. About a quarter of their account management team has worked at the agency for over 10 years, and three-fourths have been there over five years.

“Working on many of the world's most awarded programs is a treat for us and our teams,” Wildenauer says. “We deliver both the art and science of loyalty and connect the strategy to implementation. We know that a number of providers design programs, but we don't believe many can make those recommendations actionable and tangible.”


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