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Adapting Your Loyalty and Leadership Strategies – Featuring Total Retail [Interview]

As brands have dealt with various customer loyalty and data issues in the past two-plus years of the pandemic, previous business strategies are being tested by consumers with limitless options.  

Our CEO, Tom Caporaso, recently participated in a video interview with Hannah DeMaio, Vice President of Brand Strategy for Women Leading Travel & Hospitality and Women in Retail, as part of the recent Women in Retail and Total Retail Virtual Exchange. 

Women in Retail Leadership Circle (WIRLC) is an exclusive community for female leaders at top retailers and brands. Last year it launched its sister community, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality, which is a membership-based association that connects executive women across all sectors of the travel and hospitality industry. 

Hannah and Tom talked about how customer loyalty has changed in recent years, how brands need to adapt and pivot their loyalty strategies and leadership styles, and how to make diversity part of your company culture. 

Watch Tom’s interview with Hannah.

Hannah: Can you talk a little bit about customer loyalty and why it’s more important than ever right now, and how retailers can build more loyalty with their customers? 

Tom: We’re about to publish our Premium Loyalty Data Study for the fourth year and a couple of key things have come out of that. Loyalty is harder than ever, and everybody knows that, but two-thirds of consumers are saying that.  

Consumers are using all those options at their fingertips and they’re being less loyal than ever. So, as you think about what brands can do to kind of combat that, data is a huge part of it. When we started to dig in there, acquiring that data is harder than ever. 

According to our 2022 Customer Loyalty Data Study, 24% of consumers say they’ve filled out a survey with brands they’re loyal to. So that leaves three-quarters of brands that are not getting that valuable input. So that is challenging. You’ve got to keep working at it and talk to the consumer in different ways. 

You have to be flexible and one of the things that we do with brands is figure out what the right program is for those consumers. Whether that’s a points program or a premium loyalty solution that has a subscription and added value. And with testing and optimization, how do we find the right mix and bring those loyal customers in? 

One of the things we did last summer was acquire a promotions and engagement company and we’re finding interesting ways to drive promotions and sweepstakes. Those are high converters in terms of getting customers to take an action. 

And how do we layer promotions into loyalty programs for our partners? Because we know 74% of consumers will join a loyalty program if it’s driven by a sweepstakes offer. 

Hannah:  In addition to the testing and optimization, and then of course the acquisition that you just had, how can Clarus help retailers evolve their business to account for some of that behavior that we’ve seen during the pandemic too? 

Tom: We very much look through the lens of a partnership. I actually don’t like being called a vendor. A vendor to me is someone you can track to do a job, and then regardless of the outcome of that job, you still get paid if we were the vendor in that position.  

I truly believe in partnership and understanding what that brand’s KPIs are, what they’re trying to get out of this program, and viewing that specific situation through the lens of being an extension of that brand. 

Hannah: What traits should a loyalty/promotions partner possess? 

Tom: I think there are four traits that make up a partner.  

Trying to be nimble, especially in this world of rapid change, trying to understand what’s happening from the data, from what consumers are telling you, from how they’re engaging with the program, and reacting to that in real-time.  

Being relatable, having that voice of the brand that talks through the program to the end consumer, and there is a bit of that customization that we want to have, that every consumer feels like we’re talking directly to him or her. 

Being analytical, letting the data tell the story and help us understand. 

And then being trustworthy. Like we say here all the time, say what we’re going to do and then do it.  

Hannah: Saying what you’re going to do and then doing it is extremely important, and so how have you adapted your leadership style with all that’s transpired in the world over the last year-plus? 

Tom: The underlying theme is trying to lead with empathy and compassion. We always did that, but we’ve only done it better over the last few years and are trying to think of not only the team members, but also our partners. 

They’re going through a lot of change, supply chain issues, and trying to be empathetic to everything they’re going through and try to adjust how we work with them in a meaningful way. It’s been a great learning experience and a great example of, in real-time, how to deal with trauma and deal with a lot of things that are out of our control. 

Hannah: Well, it sounds like you are doing an amazing job with everything. Building the right company culture is super important too, so as a leader, what does that mean to you? 

Tom: I think for me, the questions I always ask the team, are we creating a culture of learning, coaching, and mentoring? Are we challenging our team members? Are we getting them enough of that training to get them to the next level? Are they excited about the work we’re doing? 

There’s a constant iteration of how we think about things, and we’ve changed over time, but we feel like everyone can make an impact every single day. I used to tell my kids when they left in elementary school, now they’re teenagers in high school and they roll their eyes, but I would tell them, “Do something great today. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but it could be holding the door for your teacher when her hands are full.” 

I truly believe that we can do something great every single day and it doesn’t have to be this huge, great idea or epic event. It can be the little things, but that ultimately moves the needle. 

I would also say that we’ve tried to think more through the lens of diversity. Over the past two years, a group called the ERG (Employee Resource Group), self-organized and came to me and said, “We have this idea. We want to put together this ERG to look at some of the things that are happening outside of our walls from a social perspective and have a forum that we can kind of listen, learn, and move forward.”  

And it was really cool because it’s self-organized, they created a board of directors, they created committees, and they have been doing a great job of introducing different topics, either through fireside chats, or even via email and newsletters to educate the teams. 

It was great to see this group take the lead and build out these committee structures and these team structures and this leadership structure with a motto to help, listen, learn, and move forward. That has been fantastic to see. 


Lead With Empathy and Compassion 

Especially since the pandemic began, it’s been vitally important to lead with empathy and compassion and let your employees know that their families come first. 

Whether that’s from a customer loyalty perspective, a leadership style, or diversity in the workplace, Tom is making sure his company keeps pace with consumer sentiments and conveys those insights to its partners. 

If you need a partner to help you engage your consumers or build a loyalty program, or if you’re interested in engagement and loyalty and how to engage with customers in a meaningful way, Clarus Commerce would love to hear from you.  


ebbo helps brands achieve their customer loyalty goals with full-service, end-to-end solutions and also creates original educational content straight from the experts to help loyalty marketers stay on the cutting edge of customer engagement.

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ebbo™ is an all-in-one loyalty company. With our data driven strategy, full-service approach, and the unwavering support of the people behind the platform, our dedicated team will work with you to understand your loyalty goals, innovate solutions and help you build customer engagement on repeat.

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