CrowdTwist Tests Consumers’ — And Brands’ — Loyalty

Measuring and driving customer retention is still the big challenge for marketers.

Irvin Fain
CrowdTwist’s Irvin Fain

Getting consumers to share information about their interests, not to mention their location at a given moment, has never been easier — or more difficult. The technology and the rise of social media has created a smooth path for people to “check-in” and share details about their shopping experiences.

But at the same time, consumers are increasingly wary of efforts to target them with ads and access data in a way that can seem a bit too personal.

Balancing those opposite poles — consumers’ desire to share their info in some cases, while blocking it in others — comes to down to whether brands have earned a level of trust from their customers. CrowdTwist is a New York tech startup that bills itself as an “omni-channel loyalty and analytics provider.” In a conversation with GeoMarketing, the company’s CEO and co-founder Irving Fain says that inspiring loyalty is the main answer to solving marketers’ challenges these days, whether they’re trying to get a consumer to purchase packaged goods on a weekly basis or big ticket items every few years.

GeoMarketing: In terms of the digital marketing programs CrowdTwist runs, is the company essentially positioned as a social media marketing platform?

Irving Fain: We’re about loyalty, image, and ultimately, helping brands gain deeper insight into their customers. The questions we answer are, “How do their customers engage with them? Where do they engage — and when?” For brands, is social important? Absolutely, but is mobile important? Is email important? Is digital important? Is offline point-of-sale important? Absolutely. We say to clients all the time, “Listen, social is an important channel, but it is not the only channel.” For some folks, it’s much more important and for some folks it’s much less important. In today’s world, the critical piece is that brands understand the holistic view of how their customers engage across all these different channels in which they can spend time.

When the topic of “loyalty” is mentioned in a marketing context, that typically means “rewards” or “discounts” in exchange for shopping at a particular merchant. How does CrowdTwist define loyalty?

There are a couple ways to answer that. First of all, you can’t sell an emotion. If you figure out how, let me know, because that’s a good business and I want a part of it. That said, we can understand what drives the emotions behind loyalty. Fundamentally, it’s people creating a personal connection to the brand; it’s people trying to recognize that they’re appreciated for their patronage.

Then that becomes, how do you generate that feeling, that emotion, in an individual if you can’t sell it to them? You do it through relevant messaging, relevant communication. That can translate to contextually valuable recommendations or offers, or experiences in a store. When a consumer gets that kind of an experience, they feel like the brand knows who they are individually and appreciates the individual, and that generates loyalty.

Is loyalty then the foundational requirement for marketers looking to access and use sensitive information, like location-data?

Loyalty is a great way because it provides an extremely comprehensive set of first-party data of customers and how they engage. And it does it in a way that customers are comfortable with, because they’re gaining something in return for sharing that information. That’s where loyalty comes from.

Has there been a change in the way loyalty is perceived by marketers and consumers?

There’s been a massive shift in how we understand loyalty [in a marketing context]. A tectonic shift. That may sound hyperbolic, but it’s accurate and the reason is sort of two-fold.

Technology’s come in and played a role in the loyalty market that it never did before. Loyalty was dominated by a small set of agencies that charged an enormous amount of money to build a program. It takes an enormous amount of money to even create the structure of a program and then another enormous amount of money to maintain that data. It’s very costly, very time-consuming, to get involved in loyalty. Only a very select set of brands would be able to rationalize even going down that path.

The second side of it is that the folks that were out there building loyalty programs really had a competency in transactional programs. Previously, we wouldn’t have access to channel a program directly to the consumer. So we can’t reward them.

Technology changed all of this. The first thing technology did was it allowed us to build programs that, for the first time, were truly about the channel. So when you measure spending, it can be online spending or offline spending, we’re capable of measuring and really engaging with every point of engagement interaction across the system. Again, that’s social, that’s mobile, that’s email, that’s digital, that’s content, that’s e-commerce, that’s point-of-sale — everything can be incorporated.

The other thing that technology allows us to do, is that we can get to market much more quickly, we can design and build programs and launch them much more quickly. We can maintain these programs with substantially less resources because the tools, systems, and automated processes we now have available give companies an enormous amount of efficiency. None of this was possible five, 10 years ago.

For the most part, loyalty programs seem well-suited to regular purchases like apparel or a weekly visit to a drug store for various items. How do you develop loyalty marketing when it comes to more considered purchases, like a TV?

A good example is to look at our work with [connected television brand] Vizio. How frequently do you buy a television, right? Vizio is the antithesis of a Walgreens, which you might go to every other week or every other day. At best, you’re buying a TV every two years. In most cases, five years on average.

“Frequency” [of shopping] used to be an indicator of how relevant loyalty was or wasn’t. But now it doesn’t necessarily need to be. That’s because so many brands are spending time and money developing content, and channels, and programs to cultivate and maintain a relationship with you in those sort of off-peak, off-cycle purchase times.

For a TV manufacturer, is the idea to create the kind of aura like Apple products tend to have, where people wait a few years to purchase a new iPhone?

That’s part of it. But even beyond that, Vizio will build loyalty in a variety of ways over time. They’ll do sponsorships, which involve creating assets around the brand itself, not just its TVs. It helps consumers realize that that Vizio doesn’t just sell TVs. It sells audio products and other accessories that somebody may want to buy when they’re not buying a TV. Loyalty is a way to keep people engaged, to keep people involved, to keep people educated and informed about your brand, even if they’re not necessarily at that more than one purchasing state.