Loyalty Stories 08: A Good Relationship or a Bad Marriage – Jayna Kothary

In our eighth episode of the Loyalty Stories video podcast we sat down with Jayna Kothary to talk about cross-industry loyalty experiences

Antavo’s cover for its Loyalty Stories video podcast with Jayna Kothary


Our expert guest for the eighth episode of the Loyalty Stories podcast is Jayna Kothary, Chief Solutions Officer at Interpublic Group (IPG).

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. 

This week, with Jayna’s help we take a look at loyalty from the perspective of technology, commerce, and consulting. She highlights fan-favorite loyalty programs from Sephora and Starbucks and talks about the innovative work she’s done throughout her career with brands like Nespresso. We explore recent changes and the reasons (or lack thereof) for people to be loyal and also take a closer look at future trends, like influencer involvement.

Highlights from our conversation with Jayna:

  • The reevaluation of loyalty in general
  • The rise of cross-industry expectations
  • Loyalty as a relationship and how to provide real value
  • Choosing the right vendor for your specific needs

Learn more:

Podcast Transcription

Welcome to Loyalty Stories, Antavo’s podcast on customer loyalty and loyalty programs. I’m Charlie Hawker, partner manager for UKI, Benelux and Nordics. Antavo is a technology vendor that powers loyalty programs all over the world. We help various great businesses such as KFC and Benefit Cosmetics, as well as global automotive, fashion companies and other amazing verticals. In this podcast, Loyalty Stories, we dive into the trends around customer loyalty and loyalty programs.

We talk with industry experts around the world to pick their brain to learn what’s next for loyalty. Today’s guest is Jayna. Morning, Jayna, how are you?


Good thank you. Thank you for having me.


No worries. Would you mind introducing yourself, the company you work for and kind of your role there? That would be great.


Yeah, of course. So my name is Jayna Kothary. And I sort of cover three broad areas. Our technology offering, including all of our technology partners and all the services we provide around that across the globe. So that’s everything from the West Coast of the US to Japan and China. 

Our commerce thinking and really we’re a relationships agency and I’ll come on to that more, but things like CRM, commerce, loyalty, experiences, they’re at the core of what we do. So I also run our commerce business and then finally consulting. So, you know, the world we live in right now, I think you’re no longer just, you don’t need to be a management consultancy firm to need to offer consulting, to just navigate the whole digital world. So the consulting piece as well. So technology, commerce and consulting is the remit my team covers.


Well, that is quite broad. That’s a huge rock. So, honoured to have you here today. So, thank you very much for joining. And I think we’re going to have some really, really good chats around diving into loyalty, because it must touch on all three of those areas. So, to kind of kick us off, I’m going to ask you what your favourite loyalty program is currently and why.


Okay, you’ve touched on a really strange question for me because we’re sort of moving away from thinking of loyalty and programs and rewards terms because we think customers are thinking of it quite differently. But I will answer your question. The ones that brings to mind really recently are Sephora and Starbucks. I’m sorry, you told me to pick one, but the reason is they’re quite personalised and they’ve both managed to take away from just this idea of rewards and points and coupons, which I feel a lot of brands are still in. 

So especially, you know, the airline industry, the hotel industry, I think they set the stall, but both Starbucks and Sephora have a very emotional side to the way they think about loyalty beyond those pieces. So I quite like those. 

They’ve also as I am a geek, and they’ve also embraced the technology innovation that’s out there. If we think of Sephora in particular, you know, they’ve embraced virtual reality and being able to do things like try ons and they’ve managed to connect the in store around the digital experience pretty well as well so it’d be some of my reasons if I had to like a loyalty program.


Perfect, perfect. No, and it’s definitely something a world that we work in as well, taking kind of pushing beyond, you know, points based loyalty. It’s got to mean more than that. It’s got to be emotional. Like, we do things around activity tracking and things like that. And our chief marketing officer, Zsuzsa, actually sat down with Sephora and talked about their gamified experience with Glossy magazine, actually.




It’s a great one to call out there. So it’s absolutely, I think it’s a really interesting one. And people have got to start doing more than the kind of what was the norm, say, I don’t know, even 10 years ago, 15 years ago. So from your role, and you’ve obviously got a very broad role, but a big role at the company, and it might be, we can talk about your career as well around kind of what’s the kind of the work that you’re most proud of. And you can mention the client’s name. You don’t need to, you can keep it vague. It’s absolutely fine. But yeah, I just want to kind of get a bit more of an understanding of kind of your work, I guess.


Yeah, of course. I think, look, just to set some context, I think the work that I’m certainly most proud of in my career, is not when you put loyalty in a bucket, right? So the client doesn’t necessarily come to you and say, hey, I have a loyalty problem. Actually, that’s very rarely the brief. 

You know, we find that purchase, so commerce as a whole, loyalty and the experience piece is really, really well linked and actually one feeds the other off the other. So just to touch on a few, I mentioned airlines being backwards in my programme definition, but actually we did work with an airline where we reimagined the whole customer journey. 

And we thought about where can we bring value into those people’s lives beyond the category in which they’re engaging us with. So they’re in the airline industry. They may be coffee lovers or pet lovers or have a number of other things that are important to them in their lives. So we did a piece of work to, one, reimagine the customer journey, but two, have a method to use data to understand them on a deeper level and then be able to bring value to them from into their lives in other parts. 

So really proud of that. We also worked with a major auto company who had their rewards program and a credit card that they launched very separate. And actually, we don’t live our lives in buckets and compartments. Actually, humans are quite complex. And so we worked with them to make a rewards program that brought both of those together and connected much more with the emotional and psychological aspects of why one might fall in love with a brand. So if you think of a car, you’re going to think of things like if you have a family, safety and security, and you may think of convenience if you’re time poor. 

And so really understanding the behavioral, motivational, emotional aspects of why someone has a need, and is with a brand and we re-engineered their way of thinking about loyalty to capture these things. So there are a couple that we’re really proud of.

There’s also a coffee capsules have become commoditized because there’s a lot of copies out there and things. So we did work with Nespresso as an example, to think of their reward program, placed in a different dimension and that’s tenure. So we thoughts about, okay, the length of the relationship one has with that brand, and how do you rewards that tenure, so yeah, just a few examples there. 


Yeah, no, it’s really interesting about how you, on all three examples where you’ve kind of moved a client from quite a transactional relationship to really actually showing what it can do on a more human level is very interesting. And often it’s a very hard message sometimes to start that conversation, but once people buy into it, always it’s proved by what you’ve been able to achieve that they are receptive of those messages and the bringing of with the auto example of credit card together with the rewards point. 

That’s no simple thing. That’s probably two very separate teams, uh, work together and you’ve got to sell it in. So it’s a really, it’s a fantastic achievement. So definitely something to, to be very proud of. That’s really.


Yeah, and you’ve touched on something really important. People always think about the external things that you have to do with a loyalty program, but there’s quite a lot in terms of emotional internal employee buy-in and then internal processes and ways of working that help you deliver that outward, you know, difference in the way that you work on loyalty.


Absolutely. So kind of zoning in on loyalty as an industry now, what are kind of the big changes that you’ve witnessed over recent years and that could be in any one of the three pillars of your role?


Yeah, absolutely. I think, look, we, and I believe really, like very strongly in it personally as well, which is, loyalty is not a program, it’s a relationship. Right? And people’s, and I don’t want to make this about COVID, but people’s relationship with things has changed, right, over time. 

So whether that’s your relationship with your own personal identity, your relationship with the internet, the way you shop, the way you work, our relationship with things has evolved in a really big way. And you know, that also includes our relationship with brands. And when you think about our relationship with brands, and you know, and who we’re loyal to, there is no, you have no reason to be loyal. Is that I think the starting point, right? 

So unless that brand is delivering value into your lives and that relationship with that brand is bringing value into their lives then I think brands have to work much harder to get that and I think some of the trends they’re seeing is first of all three things, three core components is our sort of point of view of recent times is one, people want the best possible experience that they can get and that kind of level setting of expectations is not coming from within your industry. 

It’s really the, the best last experience you had is what you’re going to expect from the next, right? So it doesn’t matter if that experience was with in a coffee shop or with Amazon, people are carrying the expectations across categories. So what’s sort of the best experience you can give people? 

The second one is building an emotional connection with a brand. And I’ll give you an example, and it’s stuck in my head from years ago, but Virgin is not where I mostly fly. I’m trapped in the British Airways point system and now I want to keep my status, I keep flying with them. I don’t think they’re the best. That’s a whole other debate we can have there. 

But I flew Virgin one day and it was a late night flight back from the US and I was the front seat of the business class cabin. And actually all I wanted to do was sleep, flat bed was the most important thing to me at that point, right? And everyone kept going to the bathroom and I couldn’t sleep. 

And I asked if there was a seat I could move to and there wasn’t. Two weeks later, they’d logged and remembered that they logged it somewhere. Because when I was, yeah, so when I was assigned that seat again, automatically for some reason, they proactively moved me and said, we’ve moved you because we remember that it affected your sleep two weeks ago. 

Now, that stayed with me from years and years ago. And that’s like, that’s what I mean by an emotional connection, right? Like that, I remember it, it’s, it completely changed my brand perception. So how do you build, you know, bring value into people’s lives, the people that are important to them themselves and build an emotional connection is the second sort of important factor. 

And then the final one is bringing value to them across their life ecosystem, so how do you, we call it life-syncing, how do you know that all the things that are important to want to somebody and build partnerships that allow you to deliver loyalty outside of category. So a great example is the partnership between Delta and Starbucks. Okay, they’re completely not in the same place whatsoever, the world’s apart, but you know. 

The feedback on that partnership is great because people feel that they know well, they’re getting things back in terms of value that are important to them outside of that category. So, you know, the emotional connection, the value across their life ecosystem and the outstanding experience and the intersection of that’s really modern loyalty versus programs.


Yeah, and I really, really loved that kind of way of kind of breaking down modern loyalty across those three areas. And I guess brands need to be so aware that their peripheral vision needs to be so much broader than it ever was before. It was kind of like, right, who’s my competitor set? Years ago, I used to work on one of the big six energy giants in a marketing and it was kind of like, right, what are the other five doing? Whereas now, like, for example, Amazon has made next day delivery.

The goal for absolutely everyone in retail and beyond, in grocery, everything now. So it’s kind of, yes, I love that kind of those three pillar way of thinking and kind of challenging brands to go, look, you’re doing something, you might be doing it well, but we can do it so much better if we look at these three areas where we can really impact our customers with experience, emotional loyalty and beyond into their lifestyle ecosystem as you call it. That’s a really fantastic way.


And you know what’s hard, right, Charlie? It’s easier to set up a program, a rewards program, than to do those three things. But what’s really interesting is when you work across like CRM and commerce and experience design, MarTech, all of those play a role in what we’ve just talked about, right? MarTech to scale and automate.

Thinking about commerce way beyond just the purchase. What’s the after sales, what’s the customer service that comes after that CRM? Like what channels do you want to talk to people in and how, and you know why? And so all those bits, so, you know, for us experiences, commerce and CRM are really core central services, MarTech too, so they all actually play a really big role to get that right, to build that sort of three pillar ecosystem.


Yeah. And the big thing is getting them started, right? So it’s kind of like, right, let’s change it. And then you can do lots of other tweaking down the line. I mean, even if I think about like the experience of when you, I think Apple changed the game with kind of boxes or kind of when you received the product, it was really nice to open that package and then see your phone was the first thing you see, not a manual or something like that. 

So yeah, I think it can go into, you can go really, really deep, but I think you’ve explained it very well at a top level of how to get people started thinking about this and then challenge and iterate and all those great things. So yeah, thank you about that. Thank you.


You’re bringing up all my favourite examples, like Apple, even aesthetic, the whole experience, the way someone feels when they open something. I still refuse to put a case on my iPhone because I think it’s just so beautiful that, okay, I might smash it, that’s not going to be fun, I have a one year old. But nonetheless, you know, it’s just the way it makes you feel is quite impactful.


Absolutely. Even like, just to go down this rabbit hole of like, you go to their Apple store, you go to the genius bar, so they’re empowering their employees with a status of being experts and geniuses. And it’s just, it’s really subliminal, but it’s also powerful, right? So I really, yeah, I really enjoy that. Great.


Yeah. And actually they’re nowhere like belaboring the point, but if you go to an, an Apple page on Amazon, and then you go to like a lot of Amazon pages, very commodity, right? It’s a, it’s a, it’s a picture, a shot of the product and some, and some blurb. But they even make the Amazon page consistent, right? In, in consistency, people then really believe. 

And so when we talk about the emotional side of things, and people really want to believe in who you are, what you stand for the experience you’re going to give them, you know, that they’re doing that even in the commodity, what can be a commodity chart.


Yeah, and it kind of hits those three pillars as well, doesn’t it? It’s consistency of experience, consistency across your ecosystem, wherever you’re, you know, interacting with your brand. Very interesting, very interesting. Thank you. 

So if we look kind of with our, get our crystal balls out and kind of look at kind of trends coming down the track. So for, and we’ll say around kind of loyalty, in general, not just as at a program level, what are the kind of things that you are seeing clients ask for maybe or things you expect to happen in the next 12-18 months.


Yeah, I think we’re gonna, things are gonna become more fluid. And what I mean by that is that there are a lot of new and emerging brands. People like, look at Glossier, you mentioned Glossier at the beginning. Brands come out of, can come out of nowhere. It’s completely democratized in terms of who can enter the market. Barriers to entry are really low. 

I could really build a Shopify site sitting in my enigma technologist to get me, you know, other people could, anyone can pretty much learn the Shopify basics, build something sitting on their dining table and launch product. And I’m oversimplifying point is the barriers to entries are low. And, I think one of the big trends is going to be the impact of influencers, macro and micro into the loyalty space because, you know, I started this saying loyalties, it’s a relationship, not a transaction.

Unless that those relationship foundations are built, you know, rig on like deep relationship science and we’re attacking all those three pillars I mentioned, people are going to continue to be really, really fluid. And I think one of the big things that we need to think about in the loyalty space is influences because barriers to entry are low. New brands are launching all the time.

People need much more reason to be loyal. And advocacy is, I think, coming from two places. It’s coming from, and advocacy would be the next trend I would talk about is, influences are being listened to quite a lot. And so brands are coming up from nowhere and growing market share. And then advocacy plays a really big part in loyalty as well. 

So I’m more likely to listen to my hairdresser about a hair product than I am, you know, some brand, maybe some random brand marketing that hasn’t affected my emotions. So, for example, my point is that advocates, and especially ones that you either consider experts or people you trust, are going to play a role, really big role and we need to sort of get after that. 

So L’Oreal, for example, works with a company called Expertly, which allows experts to become influencers of their products. And then they get rewarded, those experts get rewarded for sales. So I think influencing and advocacy is going to be a really big thing. 

And then the second trend, I think if brands are smart, there’s a lot of focus at the moment on customer acquisition. And there was a recent Bain report that showed the cost of customer acquisition, new customer acquisitions gone up 50%. And at the same time, if you get a customer to be loyal, the profit increase can range anything from 25 to 95%.


Wow, wow.


If you take those two things together, really shifting budgets from typically we’ve gone, I’m going to spend the most on getting new customers and then I’m going to spend quite a bit less on retaining retention. I think retaining.

I think brands will start getting smart to that and start investing more, whether that’s on technology or marketing, on retention and loyalty and with the fluidity and with the lower barriers to entry, I think it’s really important.


Very interesting, yeah, no, I love that. One on the kind of the influencer and advocacy side, it’s definitely something that people have been talking about it for a while, but it seems to have hit kind of, you know, critical mass now that people are kind of really doubling down and it’s definitely in kind of, when you see like a younger generation, that’s how they consume content. It’s short, sharp, and it’s kind of influencer led. And you’re like, oh my God, this is a thing now. This is really, really happening.

So yeah, and then I’ll be really interesting to see how that kind of transfers into kind of more mainstream and kind of bigger established brands with maybe a slightly older demographic.


Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, just on the advocacy point, I mean, Forrest did a report recently, and he was saying that there’s an 88% chance that people will stay with your brand if you’ve nurtured them and they feel valued and appreciated. I think there’s such an obsession with acquisition of new, yeah, that these things get missed.


Yeah, absolutely. No, it’s great. And then as we kind of bring it back to kind of you mentioned, you’re a technologist and that’s kind of your kind of heartland, I guess. When what do you look for in kind of tech vendors to support these sorts of, you know, trends and features that are coming down the track?


Yeah, typically when you think of the larger MarTech providers, you know, the Adobe, Salesforce of the world, in the past, it’s always been about automation and scale.

I’ve always said actually you need a very broad ecosystem of partners. You need the big monolithic platforms. Absolutely. You need the smaller medium enterprises that are really focused on, you know, you’re not trying to do everything. You’re, you’re focused on just a commerce offering or just loyalty offering, just CRM offering, and then the startup ecosystem because between in the last two, you get your competitive differentiation if you’ve really built the right ecosystem of partners. 

And so we talk to clients in a very tech agnostic way and say, there isn’t one answer. So we’re not an Adobe partner or a Salesforce partner or a Google partner. We’re actually a partner of many. And we sort of help say, actually, for your needs state, where do we need to go? 

And I think in the loyalty space, the niche category is going to do pretty well because what happens with the larger players sometimes is people don’t know how to use, say there’s sales, customer service, sales, commerce, marketing, how to take the different elements of that to really affect loyalty. So I think there is a place really for niche players like yourselves who are 100% focused on loyalty. I can also see, a world and look, I, we’ve not talked about AI once. And we’ve gone through a whole interview, which is quite, quite amazing. 

But data is going to play the biggest role, I think. And, and every, no matter what category of those three you’re in, the having data as a foundation is going to be really cool because if we go back to the three pillars, you have to know the person to build emotional connection.

You quite want to make the experience reasonably personalized. Buzzword, I don’t want to go too far down there, but again, you need data. And again, to understand the rest of their life ecosystem, you need data. So I think the data as a foundation is going to be important for any technology player in this space.

And then whether it’s part and parcel of a big, you know, multi-cloud offering, or it’s a niche, you know, there’s space for both. I think also having the right partners who can implement the technologies and service of the client. So really bringing together brand and marketing with technology is gonna be important in loyalty, right?

Because oftentimes when you, especially in some of these large clients that we work with, you know, a L’Oreal, a Nestle, a Reket, a General Motors, a MasterCard, big, these are big, big companies. Your technology and IT department is separate to your marketing department, to your sales department. And we often end up being the glue, right? Partners, partners end up being the glue. 

And so having partners in the big enterprises that really know how to use the technology to bridge those, those organisational and department silos, I think is going to be really important as well.


Yeah, no, totally. I think that’s really great to hear kind of that. And we definitely believe in the niching down on do one thing really, really well. And then there is a space for, for that, within loyalty, because you’re right. Some of the, the big, monoliths, as you call them, they, they do, they have offerings, but they’re not, you know, from what you’ve talked about kind of building that emotional and being fluid and being kind of, you know, innovative to the changing behaviors of a loyalty base within a brand. 

They simply aren’t able to do that whereas, you know, niching down and our partner network is powerful across the marketing automation platforms and all sorts of things, so you know thank you very much for that, I think it’s a really really great way. And that’s a wrap. That’s the final question.

I think the best bit was when we were talking around, trends and things that are coming down the track around kind of the, our experiences with Apple of being very kind of aligned and then kind of how they take that forward with influencers and stuff like that. It’s so interesting. I mean, you, it’s an amazing position that you see this world in, from, you know, you’re, I mean, you are a very senior member of your company. And you can see this across a breadth of clients that you’ve been doing it for a long time as well. So it’s kind of like, there’s a lot of kind of knowledge there, you’ve done it.


It’s funny, right, because it suddenly becomes sexy. Like, we’ve been, you know, doing CRM and experiences and commerce and all these things for a long time. And if you think about relationships, the relationships are about loyalty, right? You build, it’s like having a good friend over several years and you nurture that friendship and they are inherently more loyal. 

It’s no different to that. And we’ve sort of been working on it for so long. But now suddenly, I don’t know if it’s COVID effects or some new revenue streams for people, but people are just talking about it more, which is great. But it’s not new territory, right? It’s humanity. I mean, if we take the friend parallel.


Yeah, yeah, no, I think it’s really good. And then, but I think another interesting point of what you said is like, you still fly with BA because you’ve got, there’s something within that emotional connection of I can’t lose out. How do I transfer this tier to Virgin? And then I can, yeah, it’s kind of working out that mechanic, but it’s, you’ve got some like, what do you call it? An emotional investment, but there’s another term for it where you’ve invested so much in that thing that you can’t walk away from it now. Yeah.


Yeah, and I’m looking for ways and if you’re a brand, the last thing you want is a customer actively looking for ways and so you want someone to be in a relationship with you because they want to be in a relationship with you, not because it’s like a bad marriage or something. It’s like, I’m here because I have to be here versus I’m here because I really want to be here and that’s the distinction, right?


It’s like going to a wedding as a plus one, like, I don’t need to be here, I don’t want to be here. Okay brilliant. Thank you very much.

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Antavo is a next-gen loyalty program technology vendor used by global companies like KFC and Benefit Cosmetics and other global brands. Also visit Jane’s website discover how they could help you. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll catch you next time.

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