Let's talk loyalty: Cracking the code to emotional loyalty



In this episode of Let's Talk Loyalty, Tamara Oliverio, Senior Director of Loyalty and Customer Experience at Epsilon, and Julie Smith, as Vice President of Loyalty Technology at Epsilon discuss how the US market is evolving dramatically due to the pandemic, and how brands are re-inventing their programs to keep up with the changing perception of what customers find valuable.

Key insights include a significant shift towards contactless loyalty and how to approach the complex process of effective loyalty program evolution. They also discuss how brands continue to capture data, with consumers increasingly expecting it to be useful in real ways and in real time.

This episode includes fascinating insights on designing & optimizing loyalty programs from some industry experts who clearly love loyalty.


Paula Thomas (00:04): 

Welcome to Let's Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I'm your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world. 

Paula Thomas (00:22): 

This episode is brought to you by Epsilon and their award winning PeopleCloud loyalty solution. Epsilon has actually just released a guide on the topic of contactless loyalty, which explores how marketeers can create human-like connections with their customers in an increasingly contactless world. I would highly recommend you have a look, so to download the guide visit emea.epsilon.com/letstalkloyalty and you'll find the guide in the resources section. 

Paula Thomas (00:58): 

So, welcome to this episode of Let's Talk Loyalty. And, as most of you will know, particularly if you've been listening for quite a while, I have first been sponsored with this amazing show with a fantastic technology partner. So Epsilon is an extraordinary company, powering some of the most powerful loyalty programs around the world. And I've bene working with Epsilon since April of this year, and first and foremost, the two episodes we've done together in terms of guests are some of my most listened to episodes of the show. So for regular listeners, if you haven't listened to episode 33 with Joseph Taylor, or episode 46 with Mitch Kennedy from Dell, then definitely do tune into those. 

Paula Thomas (01:44): 

So today, I am delighted to be talking to two of the ladies who are key and integral to the role of loyalty within Epsilon. First of all, I have Julie Smith, who is the vice president of development for loyalty. And separately, I also have Tamara Oliverio, who is the senior director of strategy, loyalty, and customer experience. So Julie and Tamara, welcome to Let's Talk Loyalty. 

Tamara Oliverio (02:10): 

Thank you. 

Julie Smith (02:11): 

Thank you. 

Paula Thomas (02:12): 

So you're up bright and early on a Monday morning, so first and foremost, want to thank you for coming on air. As you know, we've done lots of amazing shows, I think we're on episode 59 now, with you guys together. My favorite opening question is always this about really talking about loyalty statistics that can be super useful for listeners. Maybe Tamara, you might start by telling us what is your favorite loyalty statistic? 

Tamara Oliverio (02:40): 

Sure. Mine actually comes from some Epsilon research that we recently did, and it was that loyalty members actually can spend three times more as non-members. That stat alone is incredibly powerful in what loyalty can do for brands. So understanding driving the incremental behavior, and motivating and rewarding people for doing so, it's a very powerful stat for every brand to understand. 

Paula Thomas (03:11): 


Tamara Oliverio (03:11): 

So that's my favorite. 

Paula Thomas (03:13): 

Wonderful, thank you for that. And I know we'll get into your background now, in a couple of minutes. But, what I do love is, obviously, you have access to some very big loyalty programs and talking to the senior people leading them, so to have the insights, I suppose, coming from those kind of programs and scale is always super interesting. I'm a little bit jealous of your job. 

Tamara Oliverio (03:33): 

We're hiring. 

Paula Thomas (03:34): 

Oh my goodness, that's amazing. Don't tempt me. Julie, now tell me, you're more on the tech side, which again is going to be absolutely fascinating to hear what you're seeing and see what you're thinking about, in terms of your roadmap. But first of all, again, want to ask you exactly the same question. Tell me, what is your favorite loyalty statistic? 

Julie Smith (03:57): 

The one that's intrigued me is the one where the average consumer is part of so many loyalty programs, 14 to 18 on average. But, you're only active in a small percentage of those. So why I love that stat is that it reinforce the fact that the programs have to find ways to differentiate themselves. So you have to be different than your competitor, or someone else in that. Why that's interesting to me, from the technical perspective, is because that's a challenge for me and my technology, to be able to support a wide variety of programs that have to be out there, so they are differentiating themselves and still able to solve that problem with our technology. 

Paula Thomas (04:48): 


Julie Smith (04:49): 

That's an interesting challenge for us. 

Paula Thomas (04:51): 

It sure is, Julie. I've always been intrigued, actually, I worked once in a technology company. It was a small startup now in Dublin, so not at on the scale of what Epsilon does. But, prioritizing developments for clients, because clearly at the end of the day, we all have this unlimited wishlist of what our technology can do. So how on Earth you manage, I'm dying to try to understand. 

Paula Thomas (05:17): 

Before we get into all of that, actually, tell us about your loyalty background, I suppose from both sides. Maybe Julie, as we're talking tell me, I know you've been with Epsilon quite a long time. 

Julie Smith (05:28): 

I have, actually. I was in technology, and that's where I studied. But then, I fell in with Epsilon, and I've been in loyalty technology with Epsilon for 18 years. That's how I've actually learned the loyalty business, is all the way through the technology in my career here. 

Paula Thomas (05:49): 


Julie Smith (05:49): 

I got to work with a lot of different programs, big and small. That's actually how I got into loyalty marketing, was all the way through the technology. 

Paula Thomas (05:58): 

I always love to acknowledge employee loyalty. And actually, I was talking genuinely to some colleagues of yours in the Asia-Pacific region recently, and I know Epsilon actually had a couple of days where everybody was just asked to take a day off. To me, that just showed an incredible, I suppose, company culture. 18 years, you must have seen a hell of a lot, but clearly they're doing something right to keep you there, huh? 

Julie Smith (06:25): 

I have. They have fantastic employees. 

Paula Thomas (06:28): 


Julie Smith (06:28): 

Everybody I work with, it is the people, absolutely, that has kept me here. They're very, very bright, and challenging, and it's fantastic. I love it here, obviously. 

Paula Thomas (06:39): 

Yeah. Never gets dull, huh? 

Julie Smith (06:41): 

No, no. 

Paula Thomas (06:42): 

Brilliant. Tamara, tell us about your loyalty background? 

Tamara Oliverio (06:46): 

Sure. I haven't been here nearly as long as Julie, but it'll be five years in May. I was brought on board to help design a loyalty program for General Motors. 

Paula Thomas (06:55): 


Tamara Oliverio (06:55): 

So, My GM Rewards. 

Paula Thomas (06:57): 


Tamara Oliverio (06:58): 

Sign up today! 

Tamara Oliverio (07:02): 

My career's actually spanned about 20 years, where I've been both on the client side and on the agency side. 

Paula Thomas (07:08): 


Tamara Oliverio (07:09): 

Always, for the most part, in loyalty or CRM. But interestingly enough, how I fell into loyalty is my degree is actually in public relations, and my first part of my career was in public relations and investor relations. 

Paula Thomas (07:22): 


Tamara Oliverio (07:22): 

Where I had an assignment about this really cool ... I worked for a company called Valassis in Lavonia, Michigan. I had an assignment around this really cool thing called the Aztec Code, and it was all about collecting data, and what you can do with data, and I just fell in love with the whole concept and joined their startup, and got involved with frequent shopper programs, and CRM, and loyalty. Worked at Borders, managed the loyalty program for Borders. 

Paula Thomas (07:51): 


Tamara Oliverio (07:51): 

Gas Buddy, ran rewards for Gas Buddy. And, here I am. Here, basically working with a number of very large brands on designing loyalty programs and proving their current loyalty programs, and it's very exciting. 

Paula Thomas (08:07): 

Absolutely yes. Yeah. I'm sure there's just an ongoing extraordinary pipeline. Do you focus mainly on US clients? Do you work internationally? Because I know you do have an incredible number of colleagues around the world, but your team, you specifically focus on US programs, am I right? 

Tamara Oliverio (08:24): 

Specifically US programs, but we do a lot of programs that have global reach. We do partner, also, with colleagues around the world in those different locations. 

Paula Thomas (08:35): 

Yeah, wonderful. Wonderful. I remember saying to you, actually, when we spoke on the phone before, Tamara, about your background in public relations I think is just perfect, because I did read about one loyalty program, just for listeners I'll repeat myself, where the program was designed with the press release first. So the headline was written, and then the technology, the platform, the proposition was retrofitted to match up to the press release that the company wanted to release. So, I'm guessing you sometimes have very ambitious clients that start exactly the same way? 

Tamara Oliverio (09:10): 

We do, yes. How a loyalty program comes about does vary from client to client, but that is certainly one way. 

Paula Thomas (09:18): 

Yeah. But, I definitely write a lot about loyalty, as I think you both know, and I do see an awful lot of coverage across all channels, whether it's big news media websites, TV, so it genuinely has consumers interest so I think that's absolutely superb. I'm not sure every country is advanced, in terms of monitoring and reporting on that, so super exciting for you guys. 

Tamara Oliverio (09:47): 

Definitely, yeah. 

Julie Smith (09:49): 


Paula Thomas (09:51): 

Great! I'd love to get into a discussion, I suppose, around trends, really. Because, at the end of the day, everyone listening to this show ... At the moment, I think, I was looking, there's probably over 400 loyalty managers and directors around the world listening to every single episode, so it's a big audience. I think by virtue of the fact that they're listening to podcasts probably means they value innovation, they value new ideas, and that's what they're here to listen for. 

Paula Thomas (10:18): 

So, tell us exactly what you're seeing in terms of the industry? 

Tamara Oliverio (10:23): 

Since we're talking global, I will say it does vary from market to market because, to your point, the US market is extremely mature in comparison to other markets. 

Tamara Oliverio (10:33): 

Specific to the US, a big trend that we see right now is people wanting to reinvent their loyalty strategies. Because obviously in 2020, but even before 2020, there's been a lot of disruption, and the tactics and strategies of yesterday don't necessarily work anymore. So you have to completely reinvent what your program strategies are. I will say, there are a number of reinventions underway right now, specifically in the US, that will be launching in the near future. Which we can't talk about right now, but there are a lot of common themes to them that are around having more than just rewards, and having the value proposition being more than just a discount, having convenience be a factor. 

Tamara Oliverio (11:22): 

Obviously, in the day of COVID having a contactless experience and contactless loyalty is going to be a really big key as well, around the trends. Obviously, mobile plays a big part in a lot of the new reinventions that we're seeing. But, I would say overall, the general value proposition, in terms of the value exchange a brand has with the consumer, is being shaken up. 

Paula Thomas (11:47): 


Tamara Oliverio (11:49): 

Because what consumers perceive to be valuable a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, isn't necessarily the same as it is today, so there are things that are changing pretty drastically. 

Paula Thomas (12:02): 

Wow. And I love that, particularly. I do a lot of work in convenience retail, and it's something that I've noticed as well, Tamara, you're absolutely right. Again, this pre-dates COVID, but where you can actually simplify the customer's experience at the point of sale, be that in store or online, it really is about removing friction, about making it easy. Actually, it's one of the reasons I did call this show Let's Talk Loyalty not Let's Talk Loyalty Programs, because really the emotion of loyalty comes the whole customer experience, so that's really cool that that's coming through. 

Paula Thomas (12:40): 

You'll definitely have to make sure I get whatever press release you issue about the new programs you alluded to there, Tamara, because it sounds like there's some interesting stuff up and coming, so that's really interesting. 

Paula Thomas (12:52): 

I suppose, what format does it come to you? Would it come to you from senior executives that sit down to do a formal review and workshops on, I suppose, a scheduled basis? Do you conduct your own customer research? Or, how does Epsilon, I suppose, keep up to date on those trends? 

Tamara Oliverio (13:11): 

Yeah, I would say all of the above. We have a really in-depth group. Obviously, Epsilon's very well known for not just the technology in loyalty, but we have a huge data division, too. 

Paula Thomas (13:21): 


Tamara Oliverio (13:21): 

So on top of that, we have access to a lot of data, we can understand and see a lot of trends. In fact, I know if you go to Epsilon, our website, there's a lot of recent trends out there and information tied to COVID, and how consumer dynamics are changing. 

Tamara Oliverio (13:35): 

But really, it comes down to the client relationships we have, and or new client relationships, and just talking to different brands on a day-to-day basis to see what's going on with their brands, what their challenges are, and how we could help improve them. And, leaning in on what we're seeing with the data. A lot of the decisions and recommendations that we make, in terms of program optimization or evolution, is tied to what the consumer data is telling us. Obviously, mirroring that up with what the brand needs are, and that's how you come up with the value exchange that's the most appropriate. 

Paula Thomas (14:11): 

Absolutely. There's a couple of things that you did recently as well, which again, I think listeners will be very interested in. First of all was Loyalty Week, so I know there was a lot of amazing webinars that you guys did. So I'll make sure that we get access to those and share them in the show notes, so anyone that wasn't able to attend, some of us in inhospitable timezones for example didn't get to listen live. 

Paula Thomas (14:36): 

But also, I know you've developed a loyalty assessment in conjunction with Forrester Research. We did mention it on the show there, a couple of weeks ago. I was saying to all there that I just went through that assessment myself with a previous client's program, which shall remain nameless. But, it was a really good experience. Maybe just talk to us a bit about that tool, because I think everybody listening is always looking for validation, I suppose, in terms of how are they performing, what areas maybe have they not looked at or thought about. Can you talk a little bit about that loyalty tool? 

Tamara Oliverio (15:10): 

Sure. Like you said, if you go to the website ... I think where it's really helpful, putting my brand hat on if I was on the client side like I used to be, you're in the day-to-day and you're operating your program, and you're working with executive management and executive leadership to get them the information, and reporting and doing KPIs, so you don't necessarily have the time to really say, "Okay, what should I do? Or, what can I do next?" 

Tamara Oliverio (15:35): 

But, what I really like about this tool, it's just a quick five, maybe 10 minutes, exercise and then there's some immediate recommendations on areas you might want to look at and consider exploring for future innovation. 

Paula Thomas (15:49): 


Tamara Oliverio (15:49): 

It's just being time crunched, we all have time crunch, especially now. But, especially if you're on the brand side and operating a loyalty program, it's a good way to help guide what directions you might want to lean into. 

Paula Thomas (16:02): 

Absolutely. Again, having done a lot of client projects myself, I think it's a great tool to take to senior management to say, "Look, we need to invest more." 

Tamara Oliverio (16:10): 


Paula Thomas (16:10): 

"We need to do more stuff, because we haven't got X, Y, or Z sorted," so that's brilliant. 

Tamara Oliverio (16:15): 


Paula Thomas (16:16): 


Paula Thomas (16:17): 

Julie, I want to bring you back in, I suppose, in terms of what trends you might be seeing in the industry. 

Julie Smith (16:24): 

From the technology side and the platform side, the trends are really more around how to get that loyalty experience in all of the touchpoints. Tamara talked a little bit about being mobile, and convenient and everything, and a lot of the work that we do is more around how do we connect the ecosystems of our clients so that loyalty is a way of life in that business. Every part of that company understands what it is, and understands how to engage, and make it prominent in the conversation with the customer, no matter where you're touching them. Whether it's on the mobile, or at the website, or in store, or whatever the case may be. 

Julie Smith (17:07): 

So, getting all of those touchpoints to have the same data at the same time, in real time and connected, is really the challenge that we've been working on, helping that loyalty execution on the operations side is a big part of what we've been doing, probably in the past five years or so. 

Julie Smith (17:28): 

Now that we've got the framework to accomplish that, and help our clients integrate to that, and make that somewhat seamless, our next vision is a little bit what Tamara was talking about, as far as the insights, and proving the value, and bringing all that data together and grabbing the right insights about that data, at the right time, to the loyalty marketer so they can continue to grow the program and expend in the right places and everything. 

Julie Smith (17:59): 

So, gathering the data, the touchpoints, it's probably the trend. Definitely, more real time is the way to get it all together. 

Paula Thomas (18:09): 

The challenge? 

Julie Smith (18:09): 

A little bit. 

Paula Thomas (18:11): 

Yeah. I'm sure all of us are the same. As consumers, we totally expect that the brands that we do interact with should have all of our data, and it should be available across all touchpoints. I think we probably underestimate the complexity, and it's only when we do go into run these big loyalty programs that we realize the challenge that people like you have, Julie, in making sure that it is at all of those touchpoints. 

Paula Thomas (18:35): 

I know you have a long roadmap as well, ahead. I think you ran some events, you mentioned, for example during Loyalty Week, talking about the product vision for the future. Can you tell us a bit about where you're going with the technology? 

Julie Smith (18:53): 

Yeah. Like I said, the last focus has been the real time and the connectedness of all the platforms and stuff. Now, we're turning our focus to empowering the loyalty marketer to be able to change and evolve their program, as they need to, and get it into market as quickly as possible. But also, continuing to focus on letting them create experiences for their consumers that are delightful, personalized, and relevant to where they are in their journey with the brand. That's our vision. 

Julie Smith (19:31): 

How to do this, to empower that loyalty marketer, and bring the right data to them at the right point in time is some of our roadmap items. So, collecting that data and not doing just KPI metrics, but also giving insights about those metrics. You know, trends that you're seeing, which part of the customer base do we need to focus on, or the member base. And, what promotions or offers in the past have worked, and now start to give relevant suggestions to that loyalty marketer about what to do next, and make that all available in our platform, in real time, and easy access. 

Julie Smith (20:12): 

So, using machine intelligence to help bring that together in a real time perspective in our application is one of our main focuses in the next six to 12 months. And then again, using some of the machine intelligence as well, around that one-to-one marketing is another big part of the vision that we're talking about. So, if you have a ton of offers that you want to put into market, how do I talk to Paula differently than I talk to Tamara, based on where they are with their brand and what they like, and grabbing all of that data to sort through it and personalize. That's our next challenge that we're taking on. 

Paula Thomas (20:53): 

Yeah. Again, I mean even within the industry, it's one thing to collect all of the data and have it available, but to make it accessible in a way that I, for example, as a non-techy, as very much somebody who really wants a very simple set of recommendations, I think that must be a huge challenge. Literally, to bring it into a way that's actionable, because as we all know, you can get buried in data and swamped with insights, but one big thing. 

Paula Thomas (21:22): 

And again, I suppose it's what I always love in terms of talking to partners. It's what have we seen in one industry, so you'll probably see what's happening in a client like Dell which we've done the interview on, and see how that might be appropriate to other clients who are looking to evolve. I think that cross industry expertise gives you a unique perspective. And again, I always say everyone should talk to their partners, their technology partners, to say, "What is happening outside of our industry?" And take that, I suppose, head above the fence and see what's going on in the big, bad world. 

Julie Smith (21:57): 

Absolutely. The working with the multiple verticals and the clients across that, like you said, you can bring those experiences and give different ideas to the other side, the different verticals. Absolutely. 

Paula Thomas (22:11): 

Yeah, absolutely. It's why always liked consulting, actually, it's exactly the same thing. I started in the telco sector, and then moved into energy, and banking. And at the end of the day, they were all massive databases of human beings who didn't want to be on a database, they just wanted to be connected. 

Paula Thomas (22:28): 

Tamara, from your side then, I know you're a big fan of driving emotional loyalty. So, tell us what you're seeing coming through on that side of things? 

Tamara Oliverio (22:37): 

Yeah. There's a lot of innovation in that area, specifically around ... Since we're talking about data, I think one of the big challenges that marketers have, or loyalty marketers have, is around understanding what kind of data can help indicate and inform what an emotion happens to be. 

Tamara Oliverio (22:55): 

There are some projects that we're working on internally here, to get a better and much more scientific approach to that, that's all data driven. So it comes down to data attribution to an actual emotion within a moment, about a brand. And then, what does that mean? How does that impact share of dollar, how does that impact share of heart, share of time? You know, how much time you're engaging with the brand. To that point, how can you use that information to then inform your future offers, messages, whatever it is, to drive that incremental behavior you're trying to drive? 

Tamara Oliverio (23:35): 

So, there's a lot of work currently being done at Epsilon, around this, and I would expect to maybe see more about that in the future. 

Paula Thomas (23:46): 

Yeah, coming soon. 

Tamara Oliverio (23:47): 

Coming soon! A lot of exciting things happening right now. 

Paula Thomas (23:49): 

Oh, completely. Yeah. But, do you know what I love, Tamara? When you talk about share of heart, it's something I'm very passionately agree with you on, and I believe that we should be having those type of conversations. I'm wondering, in your experience, are most brands ready to have that conversation? I'm sure every market around the world is different. Again, a lot of people listening to this show are in the US, but a lot are not. I'm wondering, for example, how much of share of heart is being discussed maybe in the UK, or here in the Middle East for example? What's your sense on the readiness of senior people to talk about something that may feel a little softer than those hard metrics of loyalty we're used to in the past? 

Tamara Oliverio (24:37): 

That's a great question. Honestly, I think it does vary, and it varies based on the brand. And especially, you hit the nail on the hid, how do you quantify that, and measure that, and show some sort of return on an increased share of heart? 

Tamara Oliverio (24:51): 

Some of the work that we're doing right now is to build out what that return could be or would be, so hopefully we'll have some analytics to help nudge that conversation along. 

Paula Thomas (25:02): 


Tamara Oliverio (25:02): 

That we could share. But, it really comes down to, at the end of the day, as a brand, what are you trying to achieve? What's important, what are the goals of loyalty for your organization? And, while we're always going to say ... 

Tamara Oliverio (25:17): 

At the end of the day, when you're talking about big L loyalty, share of heart is extremely important. You want brand love, that's what leads to a lot of other things, retention, long time value, all of that, advocacy. 

Paula Thomas (25:33): 


Tamara Oliverio (25:33): 

But, at the end of the day, it comes down to what is the goal of the program, or the initiative that you're trying to drive, from an executive standpoint. Sometimes brand love is it, and sometimes it's something else. 

Tamara Oliverio (25:46): 

But, I would say there is definitely much more interest in it. There's a lot of companies out there talking about it. But, I don't think anyone's quite cracked the code just yet. 

Paula Thomas (25:57): 

Totally, totally. It's ironic I suppose, but given the current challenges, for example, a pandemic does force a rethink, and it may be that we now have permission, as marketeers, to be braver and say, "Actually, you know what? I want to stand for something differently." Or, "I want to really show up for my customers now, in a bigger and better way." Yeah, it almost is a defining time, I think. As we know, the behavior is changing dramatically. But, it also is a unique window of opportunity to say, "This is how we want to manage our business, and to be loyal to our customers." 

Paula Thomas (26:37): 

Because, that's what I think is the opportunity. We've all talked about how do we get our customers to be loyal to us, but it sounds like you're helping people think the other way around, as well. 

Tamara Oliverio (26:46): 

Yeah. And I think what's exciting right now, too, especially for Epsilon because we were recently acquired by Publicis. 

Paula Thomas (26:53): 

Of course. 

Tamara Oliverio (26:54): 

This whole emotional loyalty question, from a strategic standpoint, is exciting to me because we now have [inaudible 00:27:02] of the art and science of it all. 

Paula Thomas (27:04): 


Tamara Oliverio (27:04): 

And, really come up and crack the code because I think the answer is a mixture, somewhere in between of using the art and science of it all. I think that, and the conversations we're having internally, and exploring, and some of the initiatives we're working on, I'm feeling that we're closer to understanding it than we have been in the past because of that. It's been a great mix. 

Paula Thomas (27:25): 

Absolutely. It's actually very reassuring, because again, I'm the one who's usually going, "I have no idea how we're going to make this transition into emotional loyalty," for example, "because there is no easy answers." Yes, I will be certainly watching with interest. 

Paula Thomas (27:40): 

The next thing I wanted to talk to you both about was I suppose you mentioned already about companies that want to evolve their programs, and that's actually something that's certainly happening here in the Middle East. We have some extraordinary loyalty programs, and again, they're working on their emotional loyalty propositions and evolving forward. But, what should they be doing, in terms of that complex procedure? It's one thing to say, "Yeah, we want to continually improve our perform against KPIs." But if you actually want to evolve a program rather than starting from scratch, how do you recommend they go about that? 

Tamara Oliverio (28:20): 

Well, I think you always have to start with the consumer. Start with the consumer, really understand the consumer. Sometimes, from an exercise standpoint this could be done through a customer journey map of some sort, or really understanding. And also, customer research, survey them, talk to them, focus groups. But also, if you happen to have data or access to data to help inform some of that. So, it really starts with the consumer and understanding where you're at. 

Tamara Oliverio (28:49): 

I always compare it, it's like planning a journey. "I want to go on a trip, but I don't know necessarily where." At least, first figure out where you are right now. 

Paula Thomas (28:58): 

Okay, sure. 

Tamara Oliverio (28:58): 

And then, figure out where you want to be, and then plan the journey to get there. So understanding where you are now is really, really critical to getting to the next place. That's probably the first step. And lean in, and let the consumers inform you because, I will guarantee, every time we go through this exercise in taking a deep dive into the consumer, there's always some surprises. 

Paula Thomas (29:22): 


Tamara Oliverio (29:22): 

That the brand doesn't know. Yeah, there's always something that comes up that you're like, "Oh, I didn't realize that was ..." That helps shift what the journey might be, and how to get to where you need to go. 

Paula Thomas (29:33): 

Okay. I like that. Look for surprises in your data? 

Tamara Oliverio (29:38): 

There's always going to be surprises. 

Paula Thomas (29:40): 

Wow. Again, I suppose it's a brave company that goes looking for those surprises, because sometimes it's easier to just continue as is. 

Tamara Oliverio (29:48): 

Yeah, absolutely. That's a good point, because sometimes there might be thing in the data you don't want to see. 

Paula Thomas (29:54): 


Tamara Oliverio (29:54): 

But, you have to know what it is and what you're up against, and what your consumers ... Because, at the end of the day, having loyalty is about instilling loyalty with your consumer, it's just like any other relationship. I know we've said that a million times as loyalty marketers, but you have to understand who it is that you're trying to connect with. The better you can understand, the better you can connect. 

Paula Thomas (30:18): 

Absolutely. Love it. 

Paula Thomas (30:19): 

Julie, from your side, what do you see in terms of programs that do want to evolve, from a technology perspective? 

Julie Smith (30:29): 

From the technology side, we probably focus more on just being ready to go where they need to go. So when they've decided, they've looked at where they are, and they've worked with Tamara and they understand where they want to go, having the right levers and the right consultation to work with them, to bring those experiences to life. To enable them to take that next step, introduce that new aspect of the program. Whether it's now surprise and delight, or whether it's a new gamification feature, or whatever it is, just being ready to equip them and arm them to enable the experience that they want to put in place. That's what we've been able to prepare our application to do, or our technology to do, is help them connect those dots with their systems and go to market with whatever those experiences are going to be. 

Paula Thomas (31:25): 

I really have to ask you the question, Julie, I alluded to at the start. I told you I worked for a technology start point, and every time I would go and meet a client, they would tell me they needed a new feature. I'm sure you guys have this constantly. How does that process work? If I was a client or a brand, and I'm pretty sure Epsilon does everything I would need it to do, but just let's say, I did have a big idea. How do you manage it, first of all, in terms of sometimes saying no? I guess there's plenty of you might have to say, "We can't do that right now." But, how does that technology planning process work? 

Julie Smith (32:01): 

Well, we listen and we pay attention to what's coming, and we start to draw parallels between common themes, or new ideas. We try to get ahead of it. Configuration and extension is huge. We've gotten skilled at being able to put slight extensions into certain parts of the application where needed, so that brands can be customer specific in that one area and still use the core platform. 

Julie Smith (32:37): 

Same way with the platform itself, there's a lot of levers and a lot of configurations that you can mix and max together to bring that, to have one technology platform go in and service multiple, multiple ideas. 

Paula Thomas (32:52): 


Julie Smith (32:52): 

We've gotten a little bit crafty there, to be able to do that. Yes. 

Paula Thomas (32:57): 

Oh, of course. 

Julie Smith (32:57): 

Because you want to say yes. 

Paula Thomas (32:59): 

I was going to say, you have to provide a solution and that's the right approach. Yes. 

Julie Smith (33:03): 

Yeah. Absolutely. 

Paula Thomas (33:06): 

I mean, Mitch Kennedy was brilliant. I know you guys powered the Dell loyalty program. He was like, "You know what? Anything I've ever asked for has always been available. Yes, there might be a cost associated with it." But, it is very much like that partnership approach of, how do we get to what we're ultimately trying to achieve on both sides? Yeah, that's pretty cool. 

Paula Thomas (33:27): 

Awesome. Yeah, I wanted to talk a bit about, then, just coming just towards the end of the show, just about future proofing. What do you think that clients should be doing to think about future proofing their loyalty programs? How should they be thinking ahead, do you think? Maybe Tamara you might come in, I suppose again, with the journey mapping approach that you're recommending? 

Tamara Oliverio (33:52): 

Sure. Well, journey mapping for sure, but I would say ... We're having these conversations with our current clients right now. So, any sort of journey mapping you may have done up until maybe six months ago, or data analysis, it's pretty much out the window right now. 

Paula Thomas (34:09): 

That's true. 

Tamara Oliverio (34:10): 

You need to redo it all right now, so I wouldn't lean too much in on that. 

Tamara Oliverio (34:15): 

In terms of future proofing, going back to we need to understand and level set where are we right now. 

Paula Thomas (34:19): 


Tamara Oliverio (34:20): 

And really understanding, to help guide that. But, in terms of future proofing strategies, first and foremost, you have to understand that your strategies are going to have to continuously evolve, because consumers continuously change. 

Paula Thomas (34:32): 


Tamara Oliverio (34:33): 

You're continuously getting more data that you can have access to, to help inform your decisions and be smarter. 

Paula Thomas (34:40): 


Tamara Oliverio (34:40): 

And then the journey mapping, like you had said, really understanding the whole experience of where a consumer happens to be, where's those moments that matter, really fine tuning that. But, it should necessarily be a document's one and done, it should be a living and breathing document that's constantly changing and evolving, and you're constantly looking at how you can improve experience. 

Tamara Oliverio (34:59): 

So, in terms of future proofing from a strategic standpoint, it's about always being proactive, and always informing and leaning in on where those certain areas that you can improve and make things better. It's really about being proactive. And I think to that point, that can help you isolate those types of features that you should maybe add down the road, or which ones you shouldn't. Just because it's a shiny object doesn't necessarily mean you should have it. 

Paula Thomas (35:28): 

Totally, yeah. 

Tamara Oliverio (35:29): 

And having those types of conversations, and understanding and honing, and then letting that help guide what the technology solutions should be. 

Paula Thomas (35:39): 

Yeah. I know what I've also found to be quite useful, actually, is to bring in maybe other departments that aren't might traditionally, or let's say day-to-day involved with the running of the loyalty program. So, do you tend to find that your clients would be good at that? Or, do they need maybe to be reminded to do that from time to time? 

Tamara Oliverio (35:59): 

Yes. Especially if you're having a loyalty program, depending on the kind of program, there's so many departments that are involved in this. 

Paula Thomas (36:07): 


Tamara Oliverio (36:09): 

That touch it, in some way, shape, or form. I always recommend that, especially if you're going through these types of exercises, consumer journey mapping, bring in other groups because it really helps. One, from an ownership standpoint, these other teams that you're going to need to be involved, and have a stake in the game, for the success of your initiative, get them involved in the journey mapping process. Get them involved in the ideation sessions, because they'll have that sense of ownership of something when it comes to life. 

Paula Thomas (36:40): 


Tamara Oliverio (36:40): 

And, it really helps with alignment, overcoming any internal obstacles you might have with silos or all that, because when you have large organizations, it's everywhere. It's not just at one, it's at everywhere. Having that internal alignment out the gate helps internally, and also helps sell into the executives, too. If you can get the whole team aligned, it's easier to get the executives aligned, and makes it much less painful internally, as a client or as a brand. 

Paula Thomas (37:12): 

Yeah, yeah. Again, yes, I remember exactly and my own experience was exactly the same. Let's preempt any concerns that the leadership team may have by ensuring all of their people have had the opportunity to contribute, and challenge, and all of that. It is a very good approach because then everyone goes, "Okay, right. You've taken my requirements and my objectives into the overall scheme of things." Yeah, that's awesome. 

Paula Thomas (37:38): 

That's brilliant. The last real question I wanted to ask you both, I suppose, was much more around what do you recommend in terms of helping, again, listeners to this show to stay up to date? What kind of resources do you like, do you read, do you consume? Please, totally fill us in on what you recommend in terms of media resources. 

Julie Smith (37:59): 

Honestly, a lot of the things that I focused on from learning loyalty, to be honest, is through the clients. So, as I fold that into the application and technology, I learn a lot from our clients and what they want to do, and the challenges they have with operationalizing a program, and that helps me focus on how to streamline the application and help them do that. From a technology perspective, I get a lot of input from our clients and our experiences, and the different challenges that they have, and help to solve those problems. 

Julie Smith (38:38): 

I also listen to your loyalty podcast, and learning those different experiences. 

Paula Thomas (38:45): 


Julie Smith (38:45): 

A couple of business growth podcasts, like the Masters of Scale. Again, also listening to those challenges and how they've solved those problems, to help stay up to date, and help evolve our application. So, those are a couple of the things I've done. 

Paula Thomas (39:00): 

Wonderful. Well, I'm glad you're a podcast listener. Clearly, selfishly I'm happy you listen to mine. But yeah, I haven't listened to Masters of Scale, so that's definitely one will tune into. 

Paula Thomas (39:12): 

It's funny, I was talking to somebody, actually, just recently because I think podcasts probably had, initially, a bit of a dip when COVID came in and people stopped commuting, because that was, I suppose, the time of day a lot of people were consuming this type of content that I'm putting out, and that we're putting out. But actually, I think those people have found new times to listen, because they realize they value the content. But, I do believe there's a whole new audience as well, and I'm sure there's loads of Epsilon clients will be listening to this type of content, so there are a whole new range of people who are loving the audio format. So I think it's cool that you're in the early adopter group, Julie, that's brilliant. 

Julie Smith (39:52): 

I am. Thanks. 

Paula Thomas (39:54): 

Wonderful. And Tamara, where do you go to, to stay up to date from your side? 

Tamara Oliverio (39:59): 

I second Let's Talk Loyalty podcast, so there you have it. 

Paula Thomas (40:03): 

Thank you for the plugs, ladies. 

Tamara Oliverio (40:04): 

Absolutely. I second that. Where I like it is it helps in terms of understanding what other loyalty practitioners are seeing, and having those conversations. Pre-COVID, we'd have conferences that we might go to with the Loyalty Academy, I'm still a member of the Loyalty Academy. 

Paula Thomas (40:26): 


Tamara Oliverio (40:27): 


Paula Thomas (40:28): 

Yes, yes. 

Tamara Oliverio (40:29): 

I've got your certification. With the Wise Marketer, that's a great resource in really help pushing a loyalty practitioner's thinking. And it's across different industries, and there's competitors in the room but we're all talking together, and really pushing our thinking and pushing the industry, which I think is really exciting. 

Tamara Oliverio (40:49): 

On top of that, of course talking to our clients. What are they experiencing, day-to-day? Looking at the data, what is the data telling us in terms of what consumers are seeing and saying. And on top of that, I've always been a bit of a geek for any kind of futuristic consumer trend stuff. 

Paula Thomas (41:07): 

Oh, cool. Yeah. 

Tamara Oliverio (41:09): 

There's a few different ... Trendspotters, Trend Hunters, there's a couple of really cool trending. Foresight Factory was another great one, that really hones in on interesting trends around the globe, so it's not just the US. But, there's always really cool inspiration that I might see in one market, say South Africa, that you could apply in Canada, or something like that. 

Paula Thomas (41:30): 


Tamara Oliverio (41:30): 

So there's always really great insights and trends around the world, just to get the creative juice going, helping inspire more loyalty, and keeping Julie really busy. 

Julie Smith (41:45): 

You're very good at that. 

Paula Thomas (41:46): 

Oh, I can only imagine the rivalry in the office. Oh, it must be hilarious. 

Paula Thomas (41:52): 

Genuinely, I know you create a lot of content as well, so what I'll do is I'll make sure that we link to the Epsilon's website, obviously both for Europe and also for the US, because you guys are putting out some extraordinary stuff yourselves. So, I do want to make sure that anybody who wants to stay up to date has access to the Epsilon content as well, so we'll make sure to include that in the show notes. 

Tamara Oliverio (42:14): 

Thank you. 

Paula Thomas (42:15): 

I think that's all the questions I had, ladies, from my side. Is there anything else that you wanted to contribute or comment on, before we wrap up? 

Julie Smith (42:23): 

I don't. But, thank you for having us, it's been great talking with you this morning. 

Paula Thomas (42:27): 


Julie Smith (42:28): 

A good way to start the week. 

Paula Thomas (42:28): 

Great, Julie. Thank you. Tamara, anything from your side? 

Tamara Oliverio (42:31): 

Yeah, same. Thank you for your time, this has been a lot of fun. And congratulations, on the success of the podcast. This is number 59? 

Paula Thomas (42:41): 

Exactly, exactly. 

Tamara Oliverio (42:42): 


Paula Thomas (42:43): 

Absolutely. Yes. Yeah, I think I signed up, in my own head, to do four. Between the jigs and the reels, my goodness, yeah it's been an extraordinary rollercoaster. And genuinely, you know how much I value the Epsilon partnership, so definitely want to acknowledge that. From my side, Julie Smith and Tamara Oliverio, thank you so much from Let's Talk Loyalty. 

Paula Thomas (43:09): 

This show is sponsored by The Wise Marketeer, the world's most popular source of loyalty marketing news, insights, and research. The Wise Marketeer also offers loyalty marketing training through its Loyalty Academy, which has already certified over 170 executives in 20 countries as Certified Loyalty Marketing professionals. For more information, check out thewisemarketeer.com and loyaltyacademy.org. 

Paula Thomas (43:44): 

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Let's Talk Loyalty. If you'd like me to send you the latest show each week, simply sign up for the show newsletter on letstalkloyalty.com and I'll send you the latest episode to your inbox, every Thursday. Or, just head to your favorite podcast platform, find Let's Talk Loyalty, and subscribe. Of course, I'd love your feedback and reviews, and thanks again for supporting the show.