Loyalty Stories 22: Limoncello, Loyalty and Handwritten Letters – Gianfranco Cuzziol

This time on Antavo’s Loyalty Stories video podcast we welcome Gianfranco Cuzziol, who explains why internal alignment is so important

Antavo’s cover for its Loyalty Stories video podcast with Gianfranco Cuzziol


For the 22nd episode of the Loyalty Stories podcast, our expert guest will be Gianfranco Cuzziol, Business Lead (Head of Customer) at Dr. Martens plc.

The interview for this podcast has been a valuable source for Antavo’s Global Customer Loyalty Report 2024. Make sure to download it for over 30 statistics on loyalty program trends. 

In our latest episode, we explore Gianfranco’s favorite loyalty program: how Haeckels’ environmentally conscious authenticity shines through its propositions, and how Tesco’s Club Card is winning the digital data game. He also goes into detail about recent changes in the loyalty space and the accelerated move toward community-based programs

Highlights from our conversation with Gianfranco:

  • Why acquisition and retention should be looked at as a power couple
  • What type of value exchange loyalty programs really encourage
  • What issues brands should consider before going international with their programs
  • Heads up young professionals: Here’s your ticket to success

Learn more:

Podcast Transcription

Hi and welcome to Antavo Loyalty Stories, which is a podcast we’re running on customer loyalty and loyalty programs. I’m  Michelle Ellicott-Taylor and I head up the global partnership team at Antavo. And we are a technology vendor that powers loyalty programs all over the world. 

We work with various businesses such as KFC, Benefit Cosmetics, on all sorts of global campaigns. And we’re very excited to have you here with us today. In this podcast series called Loyalty Stories, we’re interviewing key experts in this region to talk about trends in the loyalty space. 

And today’s expert is Gianfranco. Welcome Gianfranco.


Thank you, Michelle. Nice to see you again after all these years.


It is really great to be reacquainted with an old pal / work colleague from over 10 years ago. So thank you very much for joining us today. Looking forward to seeing all the content you’ve got to share with us. But before we get started, would you like to give yourself a quick introduction?


Yeah, great. Thank you. Thank you for that. Thank you for having me again. So, yes, I guess I should start with an apology. You’re probably expecting someone to have a slightly more Italian accent than me with a name like Gianfranco Cuzzio. Trust me, I am. I do have Italian heritage. 

So I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been in the CRM data loyalty space for about 20, 25 years now. Majority of that time has been agency side, working across a variety of different agencies, working with brands such as BMW, Disney, EasyJet, Compare the Market, in the UK. 

I had the pleasure of working with Michelle when I was tech side. And as Michelle said, that was about 10 years ago now. And then fortunately, about five years ago, I had the opportunity to move brand side. So I got to work with the Natura &Co Group, which when I joined included four iconic brands, Aesop, The Body Shop, Avon International and Natura in Latin America. 

So I was global head of CRM at Aesop for a couple of years and went to work at Group. So looking after CRM and personalization and loyalty across those four brands and then got to work more recently with Avon International resetting their CRM and personalization capabilities. So quite a mixed, quite a mixed bag.


Oh, that’s great. You’ve got some really nice brands that you work with there. I love Aesop.


Yeah, I mean, yeah, I’ve been really lucky. Yeah. And, but within brand side, you get the opportunity to, it’s a bit of Wizard, Wizard of Oz moment when you reveal in reality, all the hard work that goes on behind what makes a brand so distinctive in the marketplace.


Yeah, and hopefully we’ll get to hear a little bit more about that later on. But I guess to get started and something that everyone gets excited about when they’re hearing from experts in this field is I’d like to ask you about your favourite loyalty programme, like what’s had a really big impact on you, Brandside, and why?


So I think I’m going to I’m going to be a little bit naughty and talk about two, which are probably at the opposite end of the scale in terms of size and complexity. And at one end, there’s a lovely skincare, body care, home care brand out of Margaret in the UK called Haeckels. And they’re all about sustainability and working with the local community. 

All of their products are sea-based. And so seaweed. So for example, seaweed soaps and seaweed face washes, I actually subscribe to their innovation subscription box. So once a month I pay them some money. I have no idea what’s going to appear in the subscription box. 

But once a month I get a full-size product and two or three products that no one else, none of the regular customers get to see. It’s always a surprise and delight moment. But as part of that loyalty piece, I get a 15% discount on their normal products online or in store. But they do a great thing because they have a sense of community and want to protect our oceans and sea environments. 

So, so if you live within walking distance of their store in Margate, and you get a discount because they want to be part of the community. If you actually clear a beach or spend some time picking litter from a beach, tag that on social media, they’ll actually reward you with a 40% discount. If you take bottles or packaging into recycle again, they give you a discount for that. So they’re really trying to create that sense of community, and lower to the space around much more than just getting you to spend more money with them.


That’s really nice actually, I guess that’s linking in with the community side but also sustainability.


100%. Yeah, it’s really, really lovely brand. And at the other end of the scale, not to everyone’s taste, but you know, some of the stuff that the supermarkets are doing, in particular the likes of Tesco with their Club Card. I remember seeing a stat the other day that 21 million households in the UK have access to a Club Card and 14 million of those have now used that digitally. 

But the way that they collect data, and their ability to use that loyalty data across all of their digital, well, all of their retail touch points, whether that be digital or physical in store, I think is, it sets the standard in terms of how you can really use loyalty data, across all of your programs. 

So they’re making sure that loyalty doesn’t just sit there in one part of the business, but actually form as part of your overall brand strategy, how it works into your life cycle or CRM programs. I think that’s a real, it’s a real, a really good example of how you how you can work with that loyalty data.


Yeah, and those stats there, the number of households, that’s huge, isn’t it? And the amount of them using it digitally now.


It is, it is, it is. I mean, obviously, sometimes you need to take these stats with a pinch of salt. I mean, I have a Tesco Club Card, but I probably actually only use it once a year because when I go on holiday, I know that there’s a particular Tesco that was delivered to that property that we rent sometimes. But I do have access to that card.


Okay, so user experience first hand. Cool, and then from, I guess, thinking about brands that you’ve actually worked with, who would you say is one that really sticks in your head for something clever that they’ve done?


Well, so I think the example I’d like to give is that is well, to fall again when I was at the Natura, Natura &Co. So with Aesop, it was about when we started to think about loyalty. You’re not going to like this answer. But we know we overtly decided we decided not to have an overt points make prizes, loyalty program that everyone could see out there in the marketplace.

Obviously we were doing points behind the scenes, but we wanted to try and understand the real behaviors that we wanted to recognize and reward in some way, but it was more around recognition really. So we looked at, you know, what was important to the, to the brand and for the, for the brand, what was important was actually not so much how much you spent with us on a yearly basis, but the tenure of your business with us. So you may be in a customer of ours for five, 10 years.

And that to a certain extent was more important to us than if you spent lots of times over the last two years. Ten year was really important for us. So we wanted to reward that. And we started to think about actually how we might reward things like particular product loyalty. So we had customers who were very loyal to a particular product. It was the parsley seed, antioxidant serum. So how could you reward those customer segments?

And we did a very simple thing, which is, you know, we’ve talked about doing these things in many brands for years and years, but it was, well, when we reformulated the product, those customers that we saw had been buying that product for five, 10 years, they were invited in to give feedback on the new formulation. They told us about how it was applied, how it was working. We took that on board in terms of how we changed the how-to guides. And they were obviously the first customers who we made the product available to.

And they were the first customers who had an opportunity to have a digital or physical consultation with one of our retail consultants so that they could work through how to apply that and, and blend it in with their other parts of their, parts of their routine. 

And then I think the Love Your Body Club at, at The Body Shop is a, is a great example, if only because yes, we think about loyalty programs and the way that they impact customer lifetime value and net promoter scores and advocacy. We sometimes forget about the fact that the way that customer lifetime value is built up is on many, many legs, if you like. 

And, you know, so The Body Shop’s program, we were able to prove that actually the level of product discounts or the number of promotions we had to give customers could be reduced by effectively using loyalty program data. So I think that there are two really nice examples of the way that brands that I’ve worked with recently have really thought about loyalty in slightly different ways, but very applicable to the individual brand.


Yeah. And you’re saying about thinking about that in a slightly different way. So what would you say over the last, I don’t know, 12 months, what have been the changes that you’ve seen in the loyalty industry?


So I think that, you know, we don’t like to talk about the pandemic anymore, but I think that what the pandemic did for a lot of brands was re-emphasize the need to think about existing customers. Right. And we, you know, we shall, we’ve been talking about this for, since we worked together 10 plus years ago. But for some reason, the COVID pandemic accelerated that thinking. 

We must, we have to think more about existing customers, if only because we’ve known this for years, but it is more expensive to acquire new customers. So placing more emphasis on existing customers makes a lot of financial sense. So there’s a lot more emphasis around how we do that. And I think that hence loyalty programs in whatever, in whatever guys have been more important and being brought to the fore in terms of conversations at C-suite.

I think there’s been a definite shift again, an acceleration of this move away from earn and burn programs to much more affinity community-based programs. Now I’m not in the camp that says one is better than the other, because I think that each has, each has a place depending on your brand, your brand values, your customers, what you’re trying to do with your customers and actually you don’t have, you don’t have to have one or the other that you can sit in the middle. 

You know, at the moment, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda are doing really well because they’re using their, their loyalty program to understand which of their households should be getting offers because they need that help during these, during these tough economic times. Whereas more luxury brands or brands that have more of a sense of community. So, you know, the likes of Aesop or Burberry or Boss or Adidas, for example, it’s much more around community. 

So I think that there’s been that slight shift or an emphasis on the affinity piece of loyalty. And obviously, because the majority of my life has been spent in the CRM and personalization space, so I think that the way that we are now able to use data much more effectively to deliver really, I’m not going to use the word necessarily personalized, but relevant and tailored, communications, offers, experiences has really accelerated again over the last 12 to 24 months.

Because two or three things really, I think one is, you know, 10 years ago, you could legitimately say it’s really difficult for me to get data from one part of the business to the other and to get my technology to work correctly. I think those days are gone now. I think it’s a lot easier to do that. And I’m plugging in a loyalty platform as well. It’s a lot easier than it, than it, than it used to be. 

And just the speed with which we can process data and how AI has helped us to do that at scale and at speed has made, if you like, all the stars are beginning to align in terms of how we can deliver these tailored and relevant experiences as part of life cycle marketing, but also as part of a loyalty.


I think what you said there about the changes in regard to the focus on acquisition and retention and businesses are understanding it’s very important to focus time and effort into looking after the customer that you have.


Yeah. And I think again, because I’ve had the opportunity to work agency side across a lot of, a lot of different brands. I think that again, you know, five, 10 years ago, acquisition teams and retention teams didn’t necessarily talk to each other. But I think now that as, as acquisition and retention work closer together and sometimes they’re, they’re under one banner of the head of growth, right, or chief growth officer.

I think that now brands realize that good acquisition helps retention and good retention helps acquisition. Because if you’re acquiring the right customers in the right way and the loyalty program might be the way of, as one of the tactics that you use to acquire customers, if you acquire the right customers, retention becomes a lot easier. 

And if you get your retention right, and we can return, customers into loyal customers and advocates, all of a sudden your retention, your acquisition becomes easier as well, because you’ve got these advocates that are essentially bringing, do new marketing for you, effectively.


Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think like things you’ve alluded to there, it’s not that the data is as siloed as it was before. And it’s not that the teams are as siloed as they were before. So people have got that better vision on all the data. It’s sitting within one team or teams that are actually talking with each other. So cool. 

And then with the, I guess the trends that are coming, I know you’ve touched on a few things, but what would you see as maybe one or two key trends that we will see in loyalty industry in the next 12 to 24 months?


I think so touching on the Haeckel’s piece from earlier, I think that the way that the way that people shop, I think will be recognised more by brands as part of loyalty and loyalty programmes. And by the way they shop, I mean, not only, you know, are they using are they buying products that are more likely to help with sustainability. So, you know, buying, using refillable vessels, but also how they’re recycling products and packaging, I think will become more important as part of loyalty programs. 

You know, you have brands, fashion brands now that way it’s a lot easier for you to take in products that you no longer want and you get rewarded or recognized for doing that. I think that’s a really good example of how sustainability will be, much more important as part of loyalty programs. 

And I think that the community piece, I think will become more important for certain brands. And almost because of the flexibility of platforms and the data that you have, and also because customers are becoming much more demanding around the level of personalization and tailoring that they want, I think you almost, you’ll start seeing loyalty programs that become built around customers and not just built around brands and products. 

So, and you might call that, you might call that, you know, micro targeting, right? So I kind of go, well, actually, how smaller segment can we produce effective loyalty programs around so that individual customers or smaller group of customers start to sense that actually this loyalty program is made for me as an individual because it’s based on.

And if we take a sportswear brand, because they recognize the fact that, I cycle wearing their products or I rock climb using their products. I think that will become much more prevalent over the next, next few years. 

And again, building on that data and AI perspective, the speed with which we can do this across, across all touch point. Right. So this idea of, and we’ve talked about this for a long time now, but you know, this omnichannel piece. However, you might want to define omnichannel, but I think that delivering loyalty programs, delivering personalization across whatever channel a customer is, is touching the brand on will become more prevalent. And I’m buying because I’m, I’m saying touching the brand because customers are not always buying from you. Right. 

So I think loyalty is about how we understand, yes, getting a customer to buy from you is important, but there are other value exchanges, right? So, you know, we want, we want customers to engage with our content. We want customers to share our content, right? So it’s much more, you know, that, those reward dimensions are bigger and wider than just dollars or pounds or euros now.


Yeah, definitely it’s the bigger picture there. And I think some of the things you were saying there, touching on the, again, like the sustainability, but also the actual, the value exchange that you have there. 

People are getting rewarded for their healthy lifestyles, choices, things like that. Like we were talking about the sportswear brands and yeah, it’s not just about the earn and burn which works very well, you know, like you were saying in the grocery division but looking at what’s working for other brands as well. So great, so thanks for sharing that. 

And then I wanted to get your insight as well around the actual loyalty platform itself. So when you’re talking with brands or with the brands that you’re working with now and obviously previously think about the tech vendor, how they’re going to support the strategies that you have the ideas around and basically execute those concepts. 

So what are the main features do you think a loyalty program, the tech vendor needs to be having? What are the capabilities that people are thinking about? Is it omni-channel like you’ve mentioned? Is it no code, low code approach, gamification?


Yeah. So I think, I think there’s a whole, there’s a whole bunch, there’s a whole bunch of them. I think that, so omnichannel is definitely one because we need to, we need to meet the customer where they are, you know, and meet whatever they’re trying to do with that particular, on that particular channel or touch point. 

I think that the platforms of the future, whether you call it no code, they just, it just needs to be easier for marketeers to use. Right. So we don’t, we don’t necessarily have to go to a tech team to help us deliver a particular capability in terms of the loyalty program. So I think that making it easier for, for non techies to use platforms like this really important. 

Understanding customer psyche, right? So understanding that, you know, where, where does, where does, where does gamification play a part of this? Right. And it can, gamification can, you know, can take many, many forms. Some more cheesy than others. But I think that sense of gamification and whether it’s part of a leaderboard or spinner wheel or collecting points to make prizes or to get to the next tier, I think that’s still gonna be important. 

Because I think as well, one of the things that we need to understand is that customers sometimes want to be entertained, right? So as they’re doing something, it’s nice that, yes, sometimes we want a frictionless process, but if we can have fun shopping or fun researching a product or fun in terms of how we become advocates to a brand, I think that just adds to our love of the brand really. 

Sustainability focus we’ve talked about, I think that will become even more important. Integration, right? So again, how do we make sure that, you know, but I’ve talked about the fact that, no longer does data and technology not have the ability to talk to each other. But I think that sits also squarely with loyalty programs. 

How easy do I bolt it onto my existing platform? And then again, just playing to what’s important to customers now. I think that this idea of, you know, we’ve all talked about the personalization privacy paradox, right? So actually, how do the loyalty platforms ensure that customers feel that their data is safe and that we’re transparent in how we’re collecting data and using data to drive loyalty, recognition, personalization program.


Yeah, okay. And then I guess with the brands that you’ve mentioned, obviously, there’s some UK focus and some wider international focus. So have you got experience of seeing more from a global perspective how different loyalty programs can resonate in different regions? Like, you know, there’s sometimes there’s commonalities there with the earns and burns and the points systems. But, yeah, do you see that?


Yeah, I think that you need to understand that there are regional variation, right? So the way that particular markets, particular cultures want to interact with a brand, whether that be their channel preference, how they look at promotions and discounting, how they want to be rewarded for their loyalty to you as a brand. 

When I was at Aesop, when we set up the new CRM vision, the new CRM and personalisation and recognition vision, we made it so that we created a global framework within which the regions would work. But I use this term around, but allowing the local markets to be architects of their own success.

All right, so within a within a framework, how can you give individual regions and markets some flexibility? Because there’s little point in me in London saying, well, this works in Rome, so I’m going to apply it to Seoul or Tokyo. And so again, it’s, it’s having that flexibility to understand that different markets will require different capabilities within that, without breaking the brand, if you like, that’s something that we did when I, when I did some work with Disney.

It was about creating a common view of what CRM and loyalty was across EMEA, that piece of work, but allowing individual markets and actually individual business units, so retail or cruises or theme parks to apply that in a slightly different way that was right for their target audience.


Yeah, okay. And I guess following on from that, talking about the assignments that you’re working on. So I guess seeing it from the bigger picture, like where you are now, but obviously with what you’ve been doing over the last 10 plus years. Are you seeing that there’s been a change with who’s involved with driving the loyalty assignments? Like, is it all coming still from the marketing division or like we were talking about earlier, the teams being less siloed?

Are you seeing that loyalty has got the eyes of the board and there’s more people from the executive level interested in what the loyalty manager is doing with a marketing team?


Yeah, I think, I think so. I think that, in general, for organisational structures, you know, they work better when, when teams don’t sit, you know, desperately and, and go off and do the, do their own thing. I think that normally the, the logic conversation does normally come out of the marketing teams because they see the value of that, you know. 

It’s often historically he would sometimes come out of the tech teams bizarrely because the tech teams we’re always been asked by the marketing teams to deliver some capability where, you know, every two months, can we do this? Can we do that? And so, you know, they were, and so the tech teams might’ve been going out to find a platform that would alleviate that issue for them, but if they didn’t have the marketing teams buy in that would often fall flat. 

So I, so I think that now it’s, it’s often a joint marketing, tech RFP. But I think one of the key things, and again, this is one of the key things that I learned having flipped brand side for four or five years was that actually before choosing the technology, you have to think about the use case, right? So what am I going to do with this? What is my strategic ambition with, whether it be CRM, personalization, loyalty.

Then think about how I want to wrap the organization around delivering this capability, then I can make sure that when I pick a platform, I’m buying the right platform for what I’m trying to deliver. And I think that mentality is now becoming much more widespread in organizations. It’s thinking about having that strategic thinking around, what am I gonna do with this? Then think about what technology do I need to enable that vision?


Yeah, great. And I want to see if you can be kind enough to offer a bit of advice. So in regards to imagining someone’s coming into a, say a loyalty manager role and they’re in their early 20s, but they’re aspiring to become head of loyalty. 

What are the kinds of things that you would be advising them to be aware of and considerations to help drive them to get into that more senior role? How does a loyalty manager succeed?


I think loyalty only works if all of the business is corralled around what you’re trying to do as a loyalty department or marketing department. And by that, you have to think about the fact that when you raise the bar by introducing a loyalty program, that often has a knock on effect in different parts of the business. 

So if I’m a customer, I am part of a VIP program or a loyalty program. I am asked to expect, well, I’m in the gold tier, right? So I don’t expect to pay for returns anymore, or I don’t expect to pay for deliveries, or I actually now don’t expect to have to wait two minutes on a call center call to get my problem resolved. And I don’t want to speak to two or three different people within the call center to get my issue resolved. 

So you need to understand, I think you need to understand the rest of the business, to make sure that the loyalty program works. And for you to be seen as successful in delivering loyalty programs within your within your business, you need to understand the different parts of the business, their capabilities and what they perceive, what they perceive loyalty to be all about as well. 

So if you can bring the rest of the business along with your thinking, I think the implementation becomes a lot easier and the capabilities required across the business become much more well understood and you’ve got more chance of the loyalty program being a success.


Yeah, great. Well, it’s almost time for us to wrap up. But I know you mentioned, I know it goes really quickly, doesn’t it? I’m sure there’s way more you and I can be talking about. So hopefully there’ll be a second series of this. But I just wanted to, yeah, as a final question, you’ve already actually touched on some surprises and surprise and delights. 

But is there something that’s, yeah, in the last 12 months in loyalty has really surprised you? Some people are saying to me that they haven’t really seen anything that’s been a wow factor in the last 12 to 18 months because there’s people still in adoption phase but yeah I’m interested to see if there’s something that’s really stood out to you.


Well, I’ll give you an example that I still want brands to aspire to. So I have a, I have a favorite Italian restaurant, part of a chain. I’m not going to mention it, but I’ve been there on several occasions. They make a really good lasagna, almost as good as my mother’s lasagna, not quite as good. And I walked past there one afternoon, just after, after lunch. 

And the general manager in the store was in the window, saw me walking past, came to the door and asked me to come in to share a limoncello with him, right, which mid afternoon is probably not a good idea to have a limoncello because that ended up having ended up having three limoncello. 

But it’s that level of surprise and delight, right? Where I wasn’t actually planning on going into that store. In fact, I didn’t have a meal there when I went in, but the fact that he recognized me as an individual, that I’d been there a few times and he made the effort just to come out and say hi and to bring me in for a free drink.

I think that’s, that’s where we want to get to with, with loyalty programs, which is what are those real surprise and delight moments that you can think? Wow. That’s, that’s amazing. I’ve really loved that. I haven’t seen too many of those. I’ve seen some, I’ve seen some, some evolution in the way that some brands are using data to recognize me as an individual, but nothing really that blows my mind in that, in that sense. Perhaps I’m asking too much. I don’t know. 


Okay. Let’s see, let’s see. But I think that’s nice. It’s obviously stuck in your mind. So, you know, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? That people are doing something that stands out from the norm and shows you.


It is. Yeah, it is. I mean, I did. I mean, I’ve not had it, but my wife. So she got an invitation from a perfume shop and she bought some product from there and she got a handwritten letter from the store inviting her in for a free shoulder massage one evening. 

Now, again, my wife has historically, not really liked direct marketing personalization because she thinks it’s a bit of a scam. But when this turned up, she loved it. And she kind of, she said to me, well, this is not direct marketing, this is just them appreciating my loyalty. 

So when you do it right, it doesn’t come across as direct marketing or use of data. It just feels like, wow, you do recognize me as a customer.


Yeah, that’s a really nice thing to have, isn’t it? That you don’t feel this generic message there, there’s something for you as the individual. So, look, that’s great. Thank you so much. I’m really sorry that we have to end this session today, but there’s gonna be lots more opportunity for us to hear a lot more of your expertise in the near future.


Well, hopefully next time we speak, my book will be out. So that will be an interesting conversation. We can talk about the book.


Yeah, that would be great. Yes, we’ll have to make sure the audience looks out for a book coming very soon from Gianfranco. 


In Pursuit of the Trivial, I think it’s going to be called.


In Pursuit of the Trivial. Okay, well, make sure, where is it going to be available?


Everywhere, in all good book shops.


Excellent, okay well everybody watch out for that and yeah thanks again so much for joining us and thank you. 


It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.


And thank you to all of you for watching and listening and please reach out to Gianfranco directly if you have any further questions you’d like to share with him or get some advice on some strategy in the loyalty space.

And also come along and visit us at antavo.com once again thanks a lot for listening and looking forward to seeing you on the next episode.