Dennis Host, VP Marketing at Coborn’s Inc. discusses data, data insights, and actions that lead to personalized marketing

Dennis Host Speaker Xcelerate Interview with Dennis host, who presented at this year’s Xcelerate Retail Forum, and discussed Coborn’s journey to launching their personalized marketing and customer loyalty programs .

What is the most significant trend or influence that you feel is impacting retail today?

I believe it’s the incredible influx of new competition. Discounters, the significant influx of ecommerce into the retail space. Grocery shopping today is not what it used to be by any stretch of the imagination. Consumers now demand new formats, more personal service, more in the fresh department, in grab-and-go and convenience, all those sorts of things.

There are a lot of players out there that are trying to figure out how to combine all the current demands into an experience that makes us significantly different than the competitors. It’s challenging. We’re serving new audiences, but also rising to what our competitors are doing, and it’s requiring us be ever more mindful of being nimble and quick, and responding appropriately within our own business model, and our own business challenges.

Yes, there’s so much disruption. Last year, the Amazon Whole Foods acquisition, for example.

Yes, it was unexpected. It really highlights the point around how we respond to disruption in general. In fact, we met last week around this very topic, how to handle disruption, how to best position ourselves. How do we make ourselves distinctive and memorable, and provide an experience to our guests, that makes them to come back?

What is the most important change happening in marketing within retail?

If there’s one thing that we can learn from the Amazon world, it’s all about understanding our consumers for who they are and the kind of things they buy, and when they buy them, and how frequently they buy them. Getting to understand their purchasing habits.

From a marketing standpoint, for us certainly, it is all about getting to understand our customers significantly better than we ever have before. And we’re doing that through data, through big data, and putting all of that intelligence we have about our customers to work much harder for us in understanding what they want. Today, consumers want us to show them that we know them.

So, how do you show customers that you know them if you don’t have a way to collect information about them, and then cultivate that information and turn those insights into actions that make their shopping experience with you much more personal? That is where we are focusing a significant amount of our efforts and we are  just getting under the skin of the onion, if you will, in terms of what our customers are really purchasing and what they look like in terms of frequency and their spending habits, what they want from us. It’s all about understanding the data and then turning that into relevant, personalized offers that actively engage the customer much more than we’ve ever done before.

How do you really crank up the customer loyalty quotient?

We are relatively new in this space. We launched a loyalty program exactly two years ago. We’ve been working on just building the value of that program over the last year-and-a-half or so, and building our enrollment base, so we had enough in the bucket to really be able to understand and get to. We are now just at the point where we’re understanding who our customers are a little bit better, what they’re buying and what their purchasing journey with us looks like. I call it this lifetime journey and lifetime value equation of a customer.

Now, we’re looking for those insights that I mentioned earlier. How we use them to select the items for our weekly ad based on those insights. How we select items that we use for personalized offers in our store, and how we select the assortment and what that’s going to look like as we start to build new stores, or remodel existing stores. That our assortment decisions are based on data and not on gut feel. We know we have a lot to learn yet, but it’s been incredibly fun to just begin this journey and understand what our customers are doing and how we’re better able to understand their purchasing habits.

For the last year or so, we’ve been sending a large database of our customers, what I call, “snowflake offers.” No two are the same. Those are scored against that customer’s past purchase history with the relevant item that we put in front of them.

We’ve been doing a lot more personalization and have seen an uptick in purchasing. We monitor weekly and have got dozens of metrics in place. We certainly can tell a customer’s engagement with us. Customers who are digitally engaged spend more with us. They’re more active with us in our applications that we put in front of them, or the tools that we have allowed them to use to engage with us – our mobile app, dedicated website and those sorts of things.

It would be scary to think if we didn’t have this program over the last year or so, as we’ve had new competitors move into the market that has really tested us on a number of fronts. Sales have been so much better with this program.

How does AI play into your thinking?

I’m always baffled by that term when it’s called “artificial,” because it’s very real intelligence that we’re gathering from our transactional data as we understand our customers more and more. Without having AI, I just don’t know how a retailer would evolve in this new competitive landscape.

The data we’ve gotten from the Symphony RetailAI tools has really enlightened us on many, many fronts about who our primary shoppers are and the frequency of their shopping habits with us. We are very, very excited to have this new solution in front of us. Now we just have to optimize to help us be better operators.

Can you give a short summary of what you covered in your presentation at Xcelerate 2018?

Sure. I covered the journey we took to get us to the point we’re at today with our personalized marketing and customer loyalty program. I took everybody through the journey of how we launched and what our program looks like, the insights we’re learning and seeing right now about our primaries, our secondaries, our tertiary customers. I then got into our roadmap around how we intend to use our data and shared some benchmarks around some of our successes. We’ve got a very robust dashboard of details about all our customers and what we’ve been monitoring and what our plans are now for turning all this insight into action.

Can you share something interesting/personal that our readers might not know about you

I’m a brand-new grandfather. I’m an avid cyclist, a bike guy. Living in Minnesota, obviously, you have to love the outdoors. We have four seasons here, and there’s no way I can change that. You just have to embrace what Mother Nature hands you. That’s one of the things I love about living in Minnesota is there’s lots of things to do in the winter. We are in the land of 10,000 lakes. We spend a lot of time on the water and enjoy our kids and grandchild and just being outdoors.

Learn more about how retailers like Coborn’s are approaching personalized marketing in our recent survey with EIQ Research, Marketing 360: Personalizing the path to purchase.

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