Capillary Technologies, has made waves in the loyalty industry, thanks to its recent acquisitions of two prominent companies: Brierley and Tenerity’s Digital Connect Assets. Since its inception in 2012, Capillary has served companies worldwide with its customer data platform. Through the utilization of its AI-powered loyalty management platform, Capillary can enhance a brand’s loyalty program to improve the customer experience and enhance program strategies.In an exclusive interview with Loyalty360, Don Smith, the Global Consulting Officer and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Brierley – Capillary, gave an inside look at Capillary’s recent acquisitions. Smith also delved into the concept of generative loyalty and the potential impacts the latest technology will have on the future of the loyalty industry.Can you tell us a bit more about you and about your current role at Capillary?Smith: My passion is data-driven insights. I started my career as a university professor. For 11 years I was teaching people to analyze data, and I love doing that. I transitioned 16 years ago into consulting, and that’s specifically when I started with Brierley, and my passion grew as I started to build effective engagement solutions.Recently, Capillary acquired both Brierley and Tenerity’s Digital Connect Assets. Can you tell us about the integration, how it’s going, and what’s happened since the acquisition?Smith: It has moved at 1,000 mph, but I think these acquisitions were strategic. All of it comes together in a way that’s very complementary. We’re bringing the consultancy perspective. Tenerity’s Digital Connect Assets have been rebranded as Rewards Plus under the Capillary product catalog. Rewards Plus identifies sources and stores thousands of intelligence-based offers, like cash back or card-linked offers, vouchers, and discounts, focusing on experiences that members can enjoy.We want every reward to inspire greater customer loyalty and make it personalized for members. Brierley brings the consulting portion of our services, and Rewards Plus brings the platform. It all fits into a multi-faceted solution with Capillary’s Loyalty Plus, Engage Plus, and Insights Plus platforms.The Brierley name will remain, and you’ll be positioned at Capillary. Why are you most excited about this, and why keep the Brierley name?Smith: Brierley means consulting, and that involves analytics, strategy, and program design. That’s where we’ve had our highest reputational capital as a brand. We’ve been at it for over 35 years. People know us, and they trust us for consulting. It’s been a growth area for us over the past decade. It makes sense to keep the Brierley name with the reputational capital it has in Europe and North America. We’re keeping that consulting capability, and then, within Brierley, we’ve also incorporated Capillary’s digital platform. We’re one team now. We spend a lot of time designing or optimizing loyalty programs, and while we’re working on that process, we’re also able to start digital design work.While we’re refining the program mechanics and validating information and data through financial modeling and Voice of Customer (VoC) research, we’re also building clickable digital prototypes that start creating more digital assets. This makes the experience come to life as we design the program. (Loyalty360 Note: The challenge of not only having the right technology but having the right strategy and incentives, has many brands looking at the customer value proposition to make sure there’s alignment and that it’s driving engagement. This requires out-of-the-box thinking with an effective strategy company and the correct reward assets that can enhance personalization.)Rewards Plus is going to be rebranded to align with the other products in the Capillary suite. Can you talk about the value of Rewards Plus and how it complements what Capillary already has in its arsenal?Smith: The creation of Rewards Plus is the logical extension of the Capillary platform that already has baked-in analytics and AI. In fact, the Loyalty and Insight Plus modules mine data that can proactively improve campaigns and program performance. All of that is cast through decision models.This platform offers all these rewards and experiences, and that same type of AI is being used to create a constellation of personalized offers for consumers. It’s constantly learning, adapting, and building authenticity to help members find value in what a program offers. This provides more solutions that make loyalty programs work harder while delivering value to the consumer. When implemented correctly, there’s a monetization of loyalty assets that can occur as well.Can you give us a little bit of an introduction of this concept of Generative Loyalty? Can you explain what that is and what it means for the industry?Smith: Generative loyalty is a play on generative AI, which is clearly a trend. It’s artificial intelligence capable of generating texts, images, content, and other media using generative models. These models are algorithms that learn the structure and the pattern of input or training data. They take that information and populate new data. There is training and simulation that occurs that lead to greater optimization, which is the basis of AI.Looking at generative loyalty, that’s where these data assets are enabled by loyalty efforts. We can mine all the customer and transaction data points, and develop greater personalization at scale, so that every campaign, value proposition, and real-time inflection point to where we’re serving up content as part of this laboratory of data. Generative loyalty uncovers insights, optimizes the customer experience, and enables the next best actions. If we do it right, it’s a win-win solution.Customers see more value, and it feels more authentic. The brands enjoy greater loyalty and might even turn their loyalty programs into profit centers if they work in the right set of partner and affiliate networks.How does generative loyalty align with some of the most notable trends that you see within the industry today?Smith: Generative loyalty enables reward choice. One-size-fits-all loyalty programs aren’t nearly as exciting as programs that put members in the driver’s seat and allow them to select the right flavor of rewards. Generative loyalty is all about casting constellations of offers and benefits to customers. Let them pick the ones that are the best, then continue to offer them, tailoring those at the customer level to make them feel more authentic. Authenticity is the second trend that enables emotional loyalty.I think generative AI loyalty programs can be profit centers, too. There’s a lot of interest in paid memberships, and everyone wants to be the next Starbucks or the next American Airlines. However, that’s not going to work for every brand and for every vertical. But what brands can do is create partnership networks and find ways that they can build a good loyalty program. When members see value, partners will join in and serve up additional content and experiences.
When you look at some of the key factors you see driving customer loyalty in today’s market, what are those factors, and what are effective strategies to address them?
Smith: There needs to be a marriage of value and brand. First, you must provide rational loyalty. You need to offer good products and services and keep a finger on the pulse of your customer. Members should enjoy your product, feel like the pricing is fair, and view customer service as reliable. If you have that, it’s a necessary precondition for emotional loyalty.Personalization is also at the heart of it, and it’s not just a buzzword. Think about all the marketing communications you receive from brands and programs. Are they truly personalized, or are they spray-and-pray initiatives? There’s still a lot of the latter. Meaningful personalization at scale is what builds an authentic relationship with consumers. If brands market to customers in a way that reflects their unique choices and preferences, transactions, and the data they’ve shared about themselves, something that feels authentic is crafted, and the experience is elevated to the next level.Customers will become more engaged with the loyalty program, and brands can build a customer-to-brand connection that leads to greater brand affinity.Simplicity is the final thing I’ll mention. You cannot overcomplicate a mechanic; it still has to be easy to understand for members to use. They want it to be quick, and they want gratification.What is one piece of advice you would give to a brand to adapt or innovate its loyalty program? Smith: Cracker Barrel has a great loyalty program. It has a currency called “pegs,” which plays into a fun game they have on restaurant tables — Peg Solitaire. The piece of advice that I usually give to marketers when they’re trying to optimize their programs is don’t boil the ocean. Too often, brands believe they have to check every box with every loyalty trend. The first thing you should do when you take stock of your loyalty program is ask, “What is the small set of most desired customer behaviors that would be game changers for us?” If you narrow down that set, start to leverage the structure of your program to incentivize, and enable those desired behaviors, it should be win-win.What’s the next big thing brands can expect in the way of technology opportunities and tools from your organization?Smith: There are quite a few facial recognition technologies that are going to be big. It is going to become the most secure form of customer identification and probably reduce friction points in a way that will be fantastic.Big zero party data propagation will be crucial. Google recently announced some of its changes for cookies. Customers will share information about themselves if we protect it. Generative loyalty is a big trend. Younger consumers want to feel that they’re aligned with the brand’s mission and purpose. They want a commitment to philanthropy; they want sustainability. Even some factors like corporate social responsibility (CSR) work into the calculus of consumers and programs, and we’ve been doing a lot of this in our design process.Do you have any closing thoughts about the market or where you see Capillary going forward?Smith: First, create value for your customer and your brand. That win-win is critically important. Every cent you invest in creating and cultivating emotional loyalty will be amortized over an extended customer lifetime value. We know it to be true, and that’s so incredibly important.Some of the things I’m focused on right now with my partners at Capillary is working on a real-time measurement of emotional loyalty and inflection. Pinpointing where customers are providing real-time feedback works into the scoring and complements the Brierley Loyalty Quotient (BLQ). Most of our customers use the BLQ.Finding new ways to deliver fun and enhance loyalty transcend the transaction. That’s what customers want, and it’s what gives loyalty a life and power of its own.Quick-fire questions. What is your favorite word? Smith: Win, then you should win with loyalty. What is your least favorite word? Smith: Impossible, because nothing is. What excites you? Smith: Innovation. What do you find tiresome? Smith: Analysis paralysis. What’s the best show you’ve ever attended? Smith: My favorite show that I attended last year in the industry was the Loyalty Expo, and I mean that sincerely. It was insight-laden and rich. If not for the position you have now, what other profession would you like to attempt? Smith: I’ve always wanted to be a professional actor. What profession would you avoid? Smith: Probably accounting. Who inspired you to become the person you are today? Smith: My mother and father, and a handful of powerful educators from high school through college. What do you typically think about at the end of the day? Smith: I do a gratitude check every night and think about what I’m grateful for. And last question, how do you want to be remembered by your friends and family? Smith: That I was hardworking and enthusiastic but ultimately empathetic and a good person.