Loyalty managers at work

How to build a career as a loyalty marketing expert?

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An interview with Emily Ong, a seasoned loyalty professional with a wide array of experience in the loyalty industry.

In our latest “Loyalty Managers at Work” series, we talked to Emily Ong about her career in the customer loyalty space and the way it has developed over the years alongside larger loyalty industry advancements. 

Emily also tells us more about the loyalty marketing manager role, such as their day-to-day, their set of responsibilities and business objectives, as well as what it takes to excel in the role amid a shifting digital landscape.

Keep reading to learn more!

How did your career as a loyalty expert start?

I started out running a chain of cafes in Singapore. Being in the service and frontline industry for years, I knew the importance of connecting with customers and having loyal, regular ones that would go the extra mile to come by your store. I’m a people-person, thus doing so came naturally to me. 

After a few career moves in the digital marketing & edutainment space, I landed a role developing a rewards & loyalty program from scratch, for the Health Promotion Board (a statutory board, government-related) in Singapore. That made me fall in love with this industry. I started investing in myself and picking up further knowledge as a loyalty professional. My entrepreneurship, verbal communication skills, and tech-savviness were probably the reasons why I landed this position at the time.

I later led the growth of a regional loyalty program in APAC for Sephora. At this point of writing, I’m about to move on to head a global loyalty program in another month’s time. 

Learning and networking never stop, these are part of my DNA.

How has your role as a loyalty marketer evolved over time?

For me, loyalty began with connecting with customers personally and offering the best product (in my case, quality food and beverages). Customers often took the effort to travel by bus to my stores daily to get their drinks - it was almost an addiction. I didn't even have to introduce reward stamp cards at the time. 

Later on, you would see other businesses introduce physical stamp cards, which then evolved to e-stamp cards, while more developed industries such as banks and airlines introduced rewards catalogues. Today, you hear much about the Web 3.0 space where loyalty is key to understanding how to define tokens and NFTs. 

I’m a member of the Loyalty Academy, where I’ve earned my CLMPᵀᴹ (Certified Loyalty Marketing Professionalᵀᴹ).

What does a loyalty manager’s day look like?

There will be one that looks after the strategy behind the business - customer analytics, strategy, customer lifecycle, ROI, program design, stakeholder management, strategic committee management etc. There will be another that will take care of execution and promotional campaigns, being more operational and on-the-ground. There needs to be one that works closely with the tech side and vendors, too, as loyalty programs these days can’t run away from being tech-enabled (in fact, I would say it’s a requirement to succeed).

To run a successful loyalty program, you will need a team that works well together, and that understands the business and customers’ needs.

What are the key ingredients of success in the loyalty industry?

Ability to move key stakeholders and the C-suite; resilience, and the ability to dream. You will need to have excellent business acumen and treat your part of the job like a business in itself.

Read anything. Capture information everywhere. But if I were to recommend a book, it would be Philip Shelper’s “Loyalty Programs: The Complete Guide”. 

For people starting out in this space? Know that customers are your everything. Do all you can to delight them, for when they keep coming back, that’s your success. Also, you need to be innovative and keep progressing. Learning never stops, and change is your constant. 

Also, please do not think that a rewards program equals a loyalty program. It’s often just a single element of a loyalty program. There are programs that do not have a rewards redemption feature.

You should be tech-savvy, but if you are a techie, that’s a huge bonus. Either way, it’s important to work well with both business and tech folks (it’s a known fact that oftentimes, business and tech folks speak a different language).

How do you see the future of the loyalty expert?

I definitely see Web 3.0 coming, and coming fast - which is why it’s very important to learn as much as possible about it. What you know of loyalty programs today (Web 2.0), will soon become the new “traditional loyalty program”. 

Even so, that does not mean companies cannot continue to excel with their current programs. A loyalty expert will be able to advise on what works for the business and their target audience, in turn boosting customer retention.

AI will help us use our data better, understand our customers and their needs on a more profound level. A good knowledge of the technology available out there will definitely be an asset for a loyalty program manager.

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