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EPISODE 013 : 06/03/2021

Merkle’s Jayme Gehrke on Retail Loyalty


Jayme Gehrke is a Senior Director of Business Development at Merkle, one of the world’s leading customer experience management companies. In an insightful conversation with Spark Plug, Jayme talks about the new 2021 Forrester report on retail loyalty, data analytics, rewards optimization, zero data collection, behavioral tracking, and SnowShoe‘s vital work as a partner with Merkle on loyalty programs worldwide.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Jayme Gehrke

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Merkle’s role as a leading player in product development and brand creation for major clients
  • The specific role of Jayme’s team in promotions, loyalty, and customer engagement
  • Why loyalty matters to companies large and small
  • Emerging trends in retail loyalty and personalized information delivery
  • Goals and objective options in loyalty and customer engagement
  • Marketing during COVID – what has changed, what has remained the same
  • SnowShoe’s leadership retail loyalty and partnership with Merkle

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:06] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe making mobile locations smarter. Jayme Gehrke is a senior director of business development at Merkle, one of the world’s leading customer experience management companies. The team at Merkle covers the gamut of brands interactions with consumers, from marketing to product development, positioning, placement, pricing and analysis of consumer behavior. So welcome to SparkPlug, Jayme.

Jayme Gehrke [00:00:37] Well, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here today. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:40] Yeah, thank you for being here, we’re so excited to talk with you. Jayme, let me start by asking you to introduce yourself. You’re with us a little bit about your long career at Merkle. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:00:50] Sure. So I’ve I’ve been here for 13 years and I started here as an account coordinator when we were EPrize and then a handful of years later, we changed our name to Hello World. And now we were recently acquired by Merkel, so we are the promotions and loyalty service line of Merkel. And so I started my career here as an account coordinator, recently out of college, and I’ve loved working here. I think being a part of this organization is fantastic. We work with amazing brands and I’ve just worked really hard to kind of be a senior account director owning my own business here at Merkel. 

Ashley Coates [00:01:28] Good for you. That’s an incredible career so far. And so Merkel does a lot of great work in loyalty. Can you tell us what really matters in the loyalty solution? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:01:39] Yeah, you know, I think the biggest thing that matters is making sure that we’re working in collaboration with our partners, that we’re creating these experiences that are really going to drive brand loyalty and help them achieve their goals and objectives. What are those things that are really keeping them up at night? And how do we take our solutions and help them create these great consumer experiences that are going to build brand loyalty and know? For me personally, I think we really want our clients to look at Merkel as a partner. We’re not just another vendor that they’re working with. We really want to be an extension of their core team and a team that they can wholeheartedly trust, right with their their business and helping them succeed. 

Ned Hayes [00:02:23] Well, it seems like the market really agrees because Forrester recently came out with a report in 2021 and Merkel was picked as one of the top 14. The matter was listed as the top five leader in loyalty solutions. So congratulations. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:02:38] Thank you. Thank you. We’re super excited on our team. This is our first time that Merkel’s been really named a leader in loyalty and and being recognized for our loyalty, experience, vision and the highest score and strategy. It’s something that we’re we’re really proud of, for sure. 

Ashley Coates [00:02:56] That’s really amazing, congratulations. Thank you. Actually, one of the points in the Forrester Report is that analytics and automation are really the future of loyalty, and I’m curious if you agree with that assessment or do you think that’s an overstatement of these two key areas in loyalty? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:03:15] You know, I will agree. I think any time we partner with our clients for a they don’t just do these programs because they just feel like doing them right. It’s it’s what what type of ROI are they going to get out of these programs? And what type of analytics are they going to receive from their consumers right? How many people are going to engage in the program? How often are they coming back? Where are they coming from or are they sharing the program with friends and family members? Right? So we take into consideration all of those analytics. You know, we have a real time dashboard that consumers can log into twenty four hours a day, seven days a week to see how their programs are performing. We have an amazing data and insights team that can help us with measurement plans and projections. And so, you know, again, we love creating these amazing experiences for consumers to engage with. But at the end of the day, it’s what is the, you know, the outcome for the our partners and what are they going to get out of the program? 

Ned Hayes [00:04:15] Well, speaking of trends and engaging experiences, gamification is something that has been hot for quite a while. I mean, going all the way back to things like Pokémon Go, how does gamification work in business engagement with consumers and are you seeing this trend increase? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:04:35] I think in the past, clients used to think of promotions and loyalty and gamification as these like short term strategies, right to just drive sales. But I think now what we’re seeing is a shift in that the best marketers are really reconsidering them and tying them into their larger, larger digital and data transformation. So one of the biggest trends that I think we’re seeing is our engagement hub solution, and the engagement hub really combines a variety. Of promotional activities into what I like to call a digital community. Right, and it’s really focused on motivating a consumer over time. So part of this digital community will be a variety of activities and behaviors that are important for the brand. So having consumers answer survey questions right to gather more first party data, watching an educational video, sharing the content socially right each time they are completing these activities or behaviors, we reward that right with incremental chances to win, and we invite consumers to spend time with the brand by coming back multiple times and really kind of creating these high value tasks. One of my favorite experiences that we did as far as an engagement hub goes is one that we did in partnership with Royal Caribbean, and we developed an engagement hub that was really focused on the launch of the new ship. So, you know, how do you get consumers to book a trip right on a ship they’ve never been on? So we created in partnership with them an experience that was like an interactive ship tour. It unlocked new neighborhoods each month to showcase different parts of the ship so participants can come back. And they actually came back on average 5.5 times to explore the different neighborhoods and find out more about them and entering for the chance to win. And we also collected personalized preference data during the experience. So then that way that Royal Caribbean could actually start sending out our personalized and relevant information and follow ups to those consumers. And you know, typically we aren’t able to share metrics, but Royal Caribbean actually won a couple of awards for this program. And in the end, the engagement hub actually drove a 30% lift in email addresses added to their database. Yeah, and that’s 57% lift in the consumer, so it drove great success for them too, which was really exciting. 

Ashley Coates [00:06:56] Wow. Yeah, that’s huge. And actually, I was going to ask you about another trend which you just mentioned, which is personalization. Can you give us some other examples of what personalization looks like for both vendors and for consumers with loyalty programs? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:07:13] Absolutely provide an amazing and long term solution to not only collect purchase data. I think when we first started doing loyalty programs, it was purchased this get a code, get a point, redeem that point for prizes. It’s taken such a shift in that. Obviously, purchase based data is super important, but it’s also collecting that first party data about who that consumer is, right? Even basic information like your name, your email address, your age where you live and in. We collect this behavioral information through things like an engagement hub or a loyalty program or gamification experience to help create these unique identity graphs. So, you know, marketers and advertisers can view loyalty as really critical pieces to creating this identity management solution. And the reason for this is because these solutions developed. We develop them to provide consumers with engaging experiences that reward them but make it personal to them. We want to make sure that we’re creating these, these one to one conversations, because once a brand has gained that first party data through a loyalty program or a promotion, you know, the brand then is able to deliver those more unique and differentiated experiences based on who that person is, right, what chapter of life they’re in, who they are. And having, like I said before, kind of that more one to one conversation with them. 

Ned Hayes [00:08:38] Right. Well, to make that conversation really personalized, you need to collect data for it. Correct? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:08:44] Correct. Data has been collected by marketers through the past century, at least. But you know, data is now changing after the GDPR in Europe and then Vermont’s data broker registration laws. This makes collecting third party data difficult for some marketers to use, so some people are starting to use zero party data and really emphasize that just to distinguish the two, first party data is data about the consumer that the consumer may not know is being shared, such as like G.P.S., et cetera. And zero party data is data that is data shared intentionally by the consumer. Is that correct? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:09:22] Yep, I would. I would agree with you. 

Ned Hayes [00:09:24] OK. How are these two types of data used differently by Merkel and your partners? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:09:29] You know, I think with promotions and loyalty, you know, we’re typically capturing, like I said before, email name, age. And the great thing is, is that it’s the consumer themselves giving it to you, right? It’s not a brand getting it through a third party because obviously we’re going to see the deprecation of that third party cookie here pretty soon. But it’s the consumer themselves that are deciding, Yes, I want to engage with you, brand. And yes, I want to give you my data and they’re providing key information about themselves. And we collect that through know either things like, surveys or poll questions. And that’s what allows our partners to begin those more personalized, deeper identity crafts and begin to start to segment their serum outreaches based on who they are. Right. So for instance, you know, a travel brand might want to know that I’m Jayme Gehrke, I’m 37 and who’s married and has three kids. Her preferences are warm locations and potentially taking her kids to Disney in the next 6-12 months. Right. So if this travel brand knows that about me, then instead of just sending me mass communications about any property that they have, it allows them to start sending me more targeted information about their properties around Disney, or maybe special offers or discounts to book early. The first party data is key for brands to start having those more personalized and relevant conversations with their consumers. 

Ashley Coates [00:11:02] So, Jayme, I want to talk about measuring human behavior. Why is measuring human behavior a good thing, and what tools would you recommend for understanding and evaluating behavior? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:11:16] When we work with our partners, we kind of ask them first, like, what are your goals and objectives, right? Like, what are you trying to get your consumers to do or what are you trying to motivate them? Is it driving them into a retail location? Is it getting them to give you their email address? And so what we do is we try to develop our solutions around with those key behaviors are that a brand wants them to do. Right? So if it’s driving them in-store or driving them to a channel that maybe they’re not used to being engaging with, like maybe I’m a fan of a brand, but I don’t follow them on social will add enhancements to our loyalty programs or gamification experiences to motivate that behavior. So maybe we do like what we call like a secret word or we, you know, the brand says, OK, every week we’re going to post a secret word on our social channel and make sure to follow us, because if you do, you’re going to be able to find that word and enter it into the loyalty program or gamification experience for more chances to win, right? So it’s motivating that behavior. The brand wants them to do that. They may not be as used to doing. 

Ned Hayes [00:12:26] And as we look at the loyalty is face, a number of different companies have flourished in this space and and over time companies have been acquired. I know that you mentioned Helloworld was acquired by Merkel in 2018, what other acquisitions or consolidations do you see happening? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:12:44] You know, it’s it’s been a wild ride over here, right? Like I said, we started as EPrize and we really were just focused on promotions like sweepstakes, instant win chances to win. And but we saw the market changing, right. We knew that we had to grow ourselves in the solutions that we have for our brands. Otherwise we would be one of those ones that probably felt all the way to the wayside, which we didn’t want to do. So we started to acquire, you know, we acquired mobile companies we acquired, has started to extend our partnerships a lot, and then we rebranded ourselves to Helloworld. And then Helloworld was purchased by Merkel about four years ago and January of 2018. And we’ve really worked to kind of continue to build and integrate our loyalty solutions. And it’s been a great partnership, to be honest with with Merkel, you know, we’ve really been able to, you know, some of the times we’ve had brands overlap where Helloworld had brands that Merkel worked with and Merkel had brands that Helloworld worked with. And then we also had, you know, brands that Merkel never worked with, and they had brands that we never worked with. So it’s been a great partnership in all honesty. And we’ve we’ve really had a great acquisition between ourselves and and Merkel. And, you know, we’re excited to continue to grow our loyalty program and our loyalty platform, which we call loyalty plus. And it’s been a really great acquisition so far. 

Ashley Coates [00:14:09] That’s great to hear. So I’m guessing this past year looked a little different for you,. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:14:15] As it did for everybody right? 

Ashley Coates [00:14:17] As it did, as it did for everybody. And just curious to to talk about how loyalty programs engaged with consumers throughout COVID. Obviously, many things were canceled, changed, put on hold for the hurdles you ran into. And what were some of the successes?

Jayme Gehrke [00:14:39] Being in marketing during COVID has been very interesting and truly, honestly a learning experience, I think for everybody. You know, you have consumers who are being forced to work from home while still taking care of children who are at home to right. And you know, we have very limited human contact or social interaction, and it left some of us feeling really isolated and so then it’s like, OK, how does a brand help with these challenges and continue to engage with their consumers in meaningful ways? And, you know, we’re partnering with our clients, we really had to shift our focus and make sure that our programs help continue to create connections. I think for me personally, too. That was the hardest part. It’s like, OK, like I’m at home and I’m not being able to go out and connect with people or go to the store like I normally do. So we would help brands with things like creating virtual hangouts or fund digital experiences that were being considerate of social distancing or travel restrictions. You know, we work to reinforce habits or create new ones at home. And finally, we really look to find ways to help create experiences that promote a kind of that sense of calm or well-being and how to give back and share in the community. And one of my favorite examples for the community aspect of it was we did a program in partnership with American Girl and American Girl Dolls, said, Hey, we know that there are so many local heroes out there that are doing everything they can to keep your community safe we’d like you to nominate your favorite local hero. And so people would write in these submitted photos and then would American Girl did is they took the the nominations, judges them and the top winners actually got American Girl Dolls created to look just like them, which I just thought was so fun. And, you know, we probably would have done something like that without COVID, and it was just such a good, just such a good feel-good type of experience, right? Like making sure that our hometown local heroes felt thanked and cared for and thought it was such a fun program. 

Ned Hayes [00:16:55] Well, SnowShoe has also really pivoted and done a lot of interesting work during COVID to help our customers. Merkel’s partnership with SnowShoe has been really important for for our joint customers. So I’m curious if you could describe what Merkel has done with SnowShoe in a nutshell and describe what you see moving forward. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:17:14] We absolutely cannot say enough about SnowShoe and the partnership that we have with you and how you help our partners as well. I know for me personally, I work on a travel brand with you, and the SnowShoe functionality has really taking, you know, their their business to the next level, right? They’re seeing way more engagement with consumers going to the concierge service and starting to learn more about the property and booking tours and know they they wouldn’t have been able to do that without the SnowShoe functionality, right? It’s a it’s a very seamless experience touchless, right? You just hold your phone, you get your win or lose message. It’s it’s been fantastic for our for our partners and we’re looking really forward to expanding our relationship. We just recently had a meeting a couple of weeks ago that you guys have some new capabilities as well, and the team is really excited to start kind of brainstorming ways that we can start integrating that more into into our solutions. 

Ned Hayes [00:18:16] Thanks for your kind words. We’re looking forward as well to future engagements with Merkel. I assume we can’t yet share those exciting metrics from our successful engagements right now, 

Jayme Gehrke [00:18:27] Not for public consumption just yet, my friend, and hopefully one day soon. 

Ned Hayes [00:18:33] Thanks much. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:18:34] No problem. 

Ashley Coates [00:18:35] With all of these changes happening over this past year and retailers and loyalty programs figuring out how to continue to engage customers during COVID. Which trends do you think will continue after the pandemic and how will that play into retail coming back? And do you think people are going to be craving in-person interactions after last year? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:18:58] Absolutely craving interactions, for sure. I think in a post-pandemic world, getting getting closer to consumers, I think is more important than ever. Consumers have been forced to really change behaviors, and they’ve been forced to change brands, right? And I think the real challenge is that many brands were kind of blind, like before COVID of like, Oh yeah, we’re close to our consumers. We know a lot about them and then COVID hit, they’re like, Oh, shoot, like, I actually don’t know as much as I thought I did, right? Like, I need to know more about who these people are and where they are in their purchase journey and what’s motivating their purchases. And the other trend that I think we’ve personally seen a really big shift on is pricing and rewards. Right. So pre-COVID, brands love to give away trips right in these more experiential experiences that people couldn’t just go, go and go to the store and pay for it, like, Oh, you get an experience to go to the Grammys or you get VIP treatment at a salon like we really had to like, stop and think of why. OK. What are rewards that are still going to be thoughtful and meaningful, especially with the COVID guidelines? So brands that we’re giving away trips when COVID hit started to do things like extend the time someone had to take a trip or some even offered cash alternatives if people weren’t comfortable traveling right, we really had to think strategically on, gosh, this new post-COVID life, like what type of rewards are people going to want and what are they going to feel comfortable with? And all the other things that we’ve seen a new shift in. We used to do it quite a bit, and it can take the pause. I think after COVID, it’s kind of taken off again is is having prizes that support charity foundations, right? So you, for example, you know, X brand will donate a dollar for every consumer who registers or engages in the experience. And it’s really giving consumers that feeling of doing something good in in a super challenging time. 

Ned Hayes [00:20:59] So right now, we’re on the cusp of maybe retail coming back. That’s coming back, travel coming back. What signs have you seen in the loyalty industry of kind of the tide turning? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:21:13] To be honest, we are busier than ever, my friend, which is so nice to see. I think not only are our brands getting more comfortable with going back out into marketing, a lot of brands took a pause on marketing and just kind of just seeing how things progress. But we we’re definitely seeing more brands. And I think one of the trends that we’re also seeing is like the summer of travel. And so we were hoping to hold up for so long that lots of brands are like, we know people are ready to get on the road. What are people excited about? How can we give them trips, the trips that are safe? And so we’ve definitely been seeing seeing more of that of this like Summer of Travel, I think is probably the biggest trend that we’ve seen most recently, which is exciting because I know lots of people are ready to hit the road, that’s for sure. 

Ashley Coates [00:22:01] Well, that’s great to hear that you and your clients are busy right now. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:22:05] Yes, we’re so excited to kind of, and I hate to say that, but be back, right? It’s just it’s been it’s been a challenging year for everybody, work and professionally and personally. So I’m just so thankful that we’re we see a light at the end of the tunnel, that’s for sure. 

Ashley Coates [00:22:22] Yeah, absolutely. So Jayme, we have one last question for you, and that is what is your personal mission and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Jayme Gehrke [00:22:33] Well, that’s a good one. You know, honestly, for me, professionally, it’s about being a great partner for my clients, right? I want them to think of me as someone that they can go to who they trust, that they know that I’m not going to just sell them something to sell them something, right? I’m here to help grow their business, drive success. And like I said before, I want to help them sleep better at night, right? Like, I don’t want them up worried about, you know, how am I going to grow my email database? Or How do I drive sales, right? Like working together to make sure that they have a wonderful experience with Merkel again as a trusted partner and not just another vendor? Know, and I like I said, I’ve been here for 13 years, and one of my favorite things is seeing our programs in market, right? Like if I’m in the grocery store and I see someone pick up a box of cereal and they’re like, Oh, this looks so cool. Or I like just seeing being able to see consumers engage in our experiences and having a great experience with our brands is something that keeps me taking keeps me going for sure. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:39] Right. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Jayme really appreciated the conversation and all of your insights. 

Jayme Gehrke [00:23:45] Oh, it’s my pleasure. I was happy to do it, and I’m thankful for you guys asking me to be a part of this podcast. Thank you so much. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:55] Thanks for listening today to the SparkPlug podcast hosted by me, Ned Hayes and brought to you by SnowShoes for smarter mobile location. Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe All Content and copyright 2021 Spark Plug Media.