A Taste for Coalition
The Plenti program launched last year, becoming the first coalition loyalty program of note in the United States. It just added restaurant chain Chili’s to the partner menu – and is hungry for more growth.
A year and a half after its debut, Plenti continues to have a big appetite. The coalition loyalty program – which lets members earn and redeem rewards from a network of partner companies including Macy’s, Rite Aid and ExxonMobil – just added casual dining chain Chili’s to its fold, its 12th partner and first restaurant. Popular in much of the world, coalition loyalty hasn’t gained much traction in the United States, but Plenti is gathering steam. It now counts 36 million active members – that is, those who have used their Plenti Card in the last 12 months. They have earned more than 40 billion points, worth $400 million in value, and redeemed those points for more than 90 million offers. Josh Berwitz, senior vice president and general manager of Plenti, serves up details in a Q&A, excerpted here:
COLLOQUY: Talk about the addition of Chili’s to the program.
Plenti: In a broad sense, casual dining is a very compelling category for consumers, and one with which they engage frequently. Chili’s already had a successful loyalty program (My Chili’s Rewards) predating Plenti. They’re also very active in the digital space, very progressive, which is something we’ve been able to leverage as we’ve rolled out with them. (The restaurants have) Ziosk tablets at every table, which is a great opportunity to engage customers for a significant amount of time and provide them with information about Chili’s or loyalty, as well as facilitating payment. And we’ve built a sign-up process through it. We’re also running a Plenti media spot on the Ziosk tablets with Chili’s, through December and into January.
COLLOQUY: Why is a restaurant important?
Plenti: If you think about an average consumer, there are a number of industries they engage with some consistency – gas, pharmacy, dining. On the dining front, we were looking for a partner with a national footprint but also a level of frequency with their customer base. … We can’t share partners’ specific numbers … but the number of people who have signed up for Plenti through Chili’s and are using Ziosk has been very strong. Collectively we’re very pleased with the early results.
COLLOQUY: Are other restaurants likely on the horizon, in different formats?
Plenti: There are a set of categories that we’ll continue to be focused on as we grow the program, and dining will continue to be a focus. QSR (quick service restaurants) would be a category that has a large consumer base, frequency and a large footprint.
COLLOQUY: Conventional wisdom holds that a coalition can’t thrive without a national grocer. Plenti has added Harveys Supermarket, a chain in several southern states. What about a larger chain?
Plenti: Obviously we believe and are seeing that we can run a very successful coalition based on the partners we have, but we do believe grocery would be very valued by our consumers. … If you look at coalitions globally, generally where they operate there is a national grocery chain. The U.S. market is more regionalized … but that doesn’t lessen our interest in the category.
COLLOQUY: Plenti members have earned 40 billion points. What does this mean to you?
Plenti: If you take what we call the base proposition that each partner put forward – what you’re offered when you walk in the store – that 40 billion in points far exceeds what’s in the base. It’s being earned in additional offers being put forward to consumers. It’s a sign that consumers are getting a lot of value, well beyond just the base proposition from the partners.
It also shows that our partners are seeing value in the program and saying, “Hey, these points change behavior; let’s get valuable offers in front of people.” Chili’s is a great example. Their base proposition is that you get one point for every $2 spent, but right now there’s an offer for 500 points for $25 in spend. … Our partners make targeted offers to groups of customers based on desired behaviors, and they’re willing to invest very heavily.
We’re seeing a lot of testing into different strategies and learning what is the best way to deliver offers to different sets of consumers to drive behavior. We want to continue to bring in partners who customers engage with regularly who are in proximity (to partners’ retail locations) to drive the coalition effect. (Plenti says 71% of all U.S. households are within five miles of at least two companies in the program.)
COLLOQUY: Have you made changes to the app?
Plenti: Digital engagement is a strong part of the program – members look to the app for information and functionality. We’re always looking to increase the functionality of the app, how we present and curate information on it and the utility of it. We’re continuing to enhance (the digital experience); for example, you can now store your Plenti points in your Apple Wallet or in Android Pay.
COLLOQUY: Partners do not share transactional data, but they do share best practices. Talk about that.
Plenti: Leadership members from all of our partners get together on a very regular basis to discuss best practices and future opportunities, and we have a number of cross-functional teams. Partners have come together to discuss cross-marketing programs that promote multiple brands, as well as best practices around training and the education of customers about coalition.
The partners are now starting to work bilaterally to create opportunities that go beyond Plenti. One good example: If you sign up for Direct Energy (utility) service, you get free Hulu for a year. That’s not a Plenti program per se, but it is a result of their leadership getting together.
COLLOQUY: What’s next?
Plenti: We bucket it into three spaces:
1) We’re still educating customers about what a coalition is and all the different drivers of value they can get.
2) We’ll continue to refine our customer experience and how we engage.
3) We’re continuing to grow the program. We’ve given them a taste of the value, and they’re looking for us to grow it.