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Get to Know Leaders in Loyalty | Thanx, Emily Rugaber | Q&A

A Big Thanx to Our Guest


Over the last year, Emily Rugaber's role as VP of Marketing at Thanx has transformed significantly as she's had to scale up the fast-growing company’s marketing engine. Thanx is a leading loyalty and guest engagement platform for restaurants. They help brands grow customer lifetime value with easy-to-use lifecycle marketing campaigns and automations, focusing customer loyalty tools on access, status, and personalization over generic rote discounts. Through better actionability of data, and a focus on non-discount loyalty, Thanx helps businesses retain customers and grow their lifetime value.


"During COVID, my focus was quite different than today. People were not buying technology that wasn't an urgent and immediate need. And loyalty was not an urgent and immediate need at that time," says Rugaber. Since the company knew no one would buy their technology during the early days of COVID, they pivoted and doubled down on helping their existing customers.


"Our team focused on coming up with recommendations and guidebooks to help

customers navigate the COVID crisis. We knew that some restaurants weren't going to survive,


but the ones that did would need a lot of help to be successful on the other side.


Coming out of the pandemic, Rugaber and her team are still helping brands innovate and focusing on the importance of data in a post-COVID world. See how they're taking that on as we dive into our Q&A below.





Dive into Data


Q. What are Thanx’s top three business objectives when it comes to supporting brands that are building loyalty programs in 2022.


A. There are actually only two. We're trying to help businesses get data, and we're trying to help businesses use data to improve outcomes. It's as simple as that. Obviously, a lot goes into those two objectives. Data capture is difficult in part because data spans many data sources and it can be difficult to know what to store and how to make sense of it. Similarly, knowing what to do with data – what to ignore and what to use, can be equally difficult. Helping merchants figure out what action to take based on the data is our other area of focus.


Q. When you look at brands who are just trying to get it done when it comes to loyalty, what is the biggest challenge that they face?


A. The biggest challenge that I see brands facing is knowing what to do. Historically, getting data has been most brands’ biggest challenge. But, with 51% of dining occasions happening digitally by 2025, I think the problem is shifting rapidly as businesses figure out how to capture that information (for example, by requiring guests to log in when they place an order and things like that). Now it's turning to -- “I have this data, how do I actually take advantage of it and how do I find the people who know how to help me do that?”


Q. Loyalty has a lot of beliefs that have been around for a long time. One of the more popular ones is that everyone's going through a digital transformation. For a lot of people, loyalty means they put a CDP in place and we're done. Does that work?


A. Most of the brands that I talk to aren't ready from an organizational standpoint to leverage a CDP. It almost feels like trying to solve for step five when they need to still solve for steps one, two, and three. There are a lot of benefits that can come from a CDP, don't get me wrong, but most brands don't know how to take advantage of the technology, so they really need to focus on the basics. I’d recommend asking the CDP vendor “describe the resourcing model used by your best customers” or “what internal resources do I need to be successful with your platform”. If you aren’t prepared to support that organizational structure internally, you may want to rethink your purchase.


Q. What's one commonly held belief in loyalty that you passionately disagree with?


A. Historically, brands have relied on rather friction-filled methods that require the consumer to do something every single time. And they're concerned that more modern ways of approaching loyalty will cause confusion among their customers. The reality is their customers are changing, and their customers are much more digitally savvy today. Brands should rethink some of their assumptions about their customers and take advantage of more modern approaches to loyalty.


Additionally, loyalty is often equated with many discounts and coupons, which can be brand devaluating. We believe that you don't have to rely on discounts. You probably need them in some part of your strategy, maybe to acquire that customer into the loyalty program initially to give them an incentive to opt in. Still, once you have an engaged customer, they don't need a coupon to engage with your business. It could be as simple as offering them access to an experience, a menu item, or a product you don't provide to everyone else. I see a lot of interesting examples of that happening in retail, and I haven't seen that transcend to the restaurant space just yet.

Q. One of the things we hear a lot about is that everyone is doing something with their MarTech stack. Now, typically it's CDPs, but we do hear about CRM. What is CRMs role in the MarTech stack and how can brands exploit that technology?


A. I think that the terms CRM and CDP, in reality, are different, but they get conflated, and very few people know the difference between them. For most restaurants in particular, and for many brands that don't have data architects and engineers on their internal teams, a CRM and marketing technology is more than sufficient to capture customer data from your primary customer data channels. Whereas CDPs tend to be better at capturing data from a variety of sources and preparing data for downstream systems, CRMs, along with marketing automation technologies, are better at making that data actionable. Thanx, for example, offers technology for lifecycle marketing and AB testing. You can run a campaign to your first purchasers and try to convert them to a second purchase and your second purchasers to a third purchase. If you can get someone to come in that third time, they are ten times more likely to come back than somebody who has only come in once. Another way to think about it is that a CDP is a technology for IT, whereas CRM, loyalty, and marketing automation tools are designed for marketers. If you plan on buying a CDP, then you will need an internal team at the ready to implement and maintain integrations with your downstream marketing technologies.





Q. One of the things that I hear a lot about is that I can't take advantage of my data. And it comes down to one of three things, it's a data problem, a data science problem, or a scale problem. Which one of those do you think it is? Or is it something else and how would you solve it?


A. I think a lot is knowing how to think about taking action. You may have technology that allows you to report on data or allows you to slice and dice data, but if it's not clear how to use that technology in a way that actually drives business outcomes, then it's not serving you well. For example, suppose you are trying to understand your customer data. In many cases, brands will say, I want to capture everything into a database, dump it into an analytics tool, and then I want to be able to slice and dice it in any way I possibly can. The reality is you're going to end up with a massive table of data that doesn't load very quickly, and you still aren't going to be driving actual business outcomes. I always recommend thinking about it like you're building a product. Who is the target audience and what question do they want to answer? What business outcome do they want to achieve? Start with a relatively small use case. For example, as a marketer, I want to understand how to get more of my loyalty members to make three purchases. Start by looking at baselines of current loyalty members and then create targets for how to get more members to move through the activation funnel. Create a hypothesis for how to improve conversion and then test your hypothesis. A simple dashboard that shows you just that basic information and allows you to test and review outcomes could have a massive impact on revenue. If you take the approach of, ‘I want to see everything because I haven't decided yet how I want to use the data’ you're going to end up spending a lot of time on a data project, and you're not going to have the outcomes to show for it. That internally is going to create a problem because, at some point, the CFO is going to say, why am I paying half a million dollars for this technology that's not actually driving a tangible business outcome?


Q. One of the constant trends that we hear about is the holy grail is personalization. Do you think the brands that you deal with are on that journey, and how would you grade them?


A. The brands we work with are starting to do a great job with this because we've designed our technology to make it really easy. We recommend how we suggest they personalize their marketing to a particular segment. Generally speaking, I would say the restaurant industry (where we have a focus) is not at all savvy and not at all doing this. You see some excellent examples with Chipotle, Domino's, and Starbucks, but even those brands don't always get it right. I think many folks feel like they have to go from zero to 60. The reality is even if you can do two different types of omnichannel communications, one to your engaged customers and one to everybody else, and in those two groups, you do two AB tests, you're doing much more effective marketing than if you were just to send a blast email. With a simple AB test, you can say this one works better than that. You can automate the one that works better. And then when you have time, you can move on to the next thing. I would say now the challenge is less about capturing the data and more about ‘what do I do with this data’ and having technology that helps you do it easily.


Q. What's one loyalty experience, whether positive or negative, that's had a major impact on you?


A. Everyone in my company knows that I'm a huge Starbucks fan. I go there every single day. Some days I go there twice a day. I have a store two blocks from my house, and I'm absolutely fascinated with how they do their loyalty. And while they still have room to improve, they do a fantastic job in terms of technology and how they operationalize loyalty in their stores. Every single person in their store knows my name. Every single person in the store greets me by name. When I come in, they know the name of my son. They even jokingly offered to put his picture up on the board as the junior Starbucks staff member. They operationalize loyalty really well, which is very difficult to do. Then they mimic that experience in their digital experience and have the business results to prove it. It's quite impressive.

Do More with Data

As customer loyalty, CDPs, and technology continue to be hot topics, leaders like Emily Rugaber understand that every brand is on its own journey. And even brands that are not yet tech-savvy can start to utilize modern tools and technologies to create more effective marketing and customer experiences. If you’d like to learn more about Thanx, you can request a demo on their website.