Chris Yanko, director of marketing and sales support for Xeikon, talked to Loyalty360 about several topics connected to customer loyalty, including the biggest challenges brands face today.

What are the biggest opportunities/challenges for brands and marketers today?
Yanko: Understand the goal of each loyalty program and especially its targeted customers. It’s better to have valuable loyal customers in your loyalty program than to just have a lot of members in your loyalty program. Create engagement opportunities that will reveal your most loyal customers and reward them accordingly and often with something they VALUE. Analyze the returns realized by each initiative associated with and offered through the program. Tweak and repeat.

What is the biggest challenge that your clients face today in creating measurable experiences to drive customer loyalty? How do you recommend they measure efficacy?
Yanko: Enabling variable data and meta-driven marketing can be technically demanding. Targeted marketing initiatives depend on quality data, mined and aggregated through different inputs. While there are software programs that aid in this, there is an art to drawing the right conclusions from multiple data points. The good news is that all targeted campaigns evolve over time as new information becomes available, incorporating new information which makes new campaigns that much better. Results can be measured in several ways, most frequently by an increase in sales or subscriptions to the program.

How sophisticated are the customer experience and customer loyalty initiatives of most brands today? From the very nascent stages of considering a program to the ability to assess and integrate an array of complex new technologies that create consistent and seamlessly connected programs, where do brands exist along this spectrum?
Yanko: There is a wide variety of loyalty programs out there and some of them are extremely slick and effective but some are simply building an email list. In our opinion, the vast majority fall on the email list end of the scale, effectively leaving opportunities on the table. There are many technologies and software solutions available on the market today to help automate and implement extremely complex loyalty programs. These are evolving daily in functionality, to encourage customers to increase their spending and brand ambassador-ship without even realizing they are doing so.  

We continue to hear about brands that are looking to create alignment between their customer loyalty efforts and the brand promise. Should all brands try to become the next “Apple” or “Amazon?” Or is it more realistic and/or beneficial for brands to understand their own unique brand identity, and then define objectives, process, and programs that align with that unique identity?
Yanko: Absolutely develop your own program. Every brand has an identity, or should, and to mimic another brands’ loyalty program in hopes of having the same result could actually have the opposite effect. You might just appear to be a “knock-off” and drive your customers right over to your competition. Make your reward or offer appropriate to the products you sell and to the unique audience that loves them.

There is so much focus on customer data and around creating actionable insight now. So how should brands be managing data in a way that is less complex, easier to understand, and more impactful?
Yanko: Cast a wide net across available media and track, track, track; memory is cheap so keep every piece of data possible. Merge historical data with these new insights gleaned from customer engagement through email, direct mail, traditional print advertising and all the social channels. You will gain context over time and will know your customers well enough to give them what they really want. Regardless of outreach, ask the customer to “do” something and reward them for doing so. The responses will guide more targeted offerings.

Can you define what the phrase “customer journey” means to you? What does it mean to brands? And how do you see it changing?
Yanko: The layers of the customer journey from the perspective of a marketer and a manufacturer who supports the efforts of marketers is twofold. First, bringing a new customer from their initial purchase through every ascending loyalty stage to, ultimately, culminating in being a brand ambassador. Second, it’s easier and cheaper to maintain a good customer than it is to acquire new ones to make the offers and initiatives you offer your existing customers, worth their while to redeem and consequently remain a customer of your brand.

Can you define omnichannel/multichannel? What does that mean to you? What does it mean to most brands? How can brand manage the opportunity? How many brands understand these terms in relation to where they are/what they are doing/where the market is?
Yanko: Omni-/multichannel to us means that as a brand it is necessary to utilize every applicable method of contacting customers. There are so many conduits available to brands these days that it is possible to easily craft an effective multichannel marketing effort. The difficulty is in quantifying and tracking all of the channels utilized to determine how effective they are.

The best method for understanding these channels and to determine their appropriate effectiveness for your brand is to thoroughly understand your product, your industry and your goals with your marketing and loyalty program. Last, but not least, with the multichannel approach, always cross check your customers through different channels, for instance if you routinely email your customers, send them an occasional direct mail piece just in case they abandoned their email address or inadvertently sent you to SPAM. 

What is the single most important thing that you have done (or do) over a period of engagement (say a year) that helps clients increase customer loyalty?
Yanko: In our particular case as a manufacturer, the most important thing that we have done to increase our own customer’s loyalty was to refocus our efforts on developing strategic, high value programs that generate revenue for our customers. This customer care program leverages our unique perspective, gleaned from the success of hundreds of customers over diverse, targeted applications. In addition, we have developed a customer loyalty show wherein we invite a multitude of partners and industry speakers to present to our new and future customers about industry specific topics and profitable add-on software and hardware peripherals. 

If you could ask a brand, a customer, or a competitor one question, what would it be?
Yanko: To ask a brand: How did you come up with the unique identity and feel of your brand and how do you protect it and make it stand out in the sea of other brands?

To ask a customer: What are the most important aspects you consider when making the decision to do initial business, and repeat business with a specific brand and what would make you change that decision?
To ask a competitor: What are your weak points and what do you fear the most when competing with us, where do you see your greatest area of growth and how are you planning to achieve and address that growth?

What is the future of customer loyalty?
Yanko: The future of customer loyalty is multi-faceted and ever-evolving aided by technological advances that promote direct engagement. Some of the most exciting futures are in near field communications and augmented reality. Imagine walking into a store and the signage and price tags change to reflect your interests and level of loyalty and then above each display you see a product demonstration or you see your own likeness displayed wearing the clothes from the rack you are looking at or the color of the paint on the shelf as it would look on your house; imagine the paper direct mail piece you receive in your mailbox pops up a 3D product demonstration or offer when you point your phone at it. There are a lot of possibilities available now and in the very near future.

How does your technology address any of the previous questions? How could you see your platform evolving to address them/what does your roadmap look like?
Yanko: We address many points throughout this assessment through industry-leading imaging equipment and related software functionality. Just as importantly, we comprehensively understand how our technology fits within the many facets of; customer loyalty programs, brand protection, identity development, and maintenance along with how to build and cultivate customers and prospects. We continue to develop solutions, technologies, and programs that enhance the ability of brand owners, to reach their target markets with creative offerings that get results.

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