CAMPAIGN DIRECT: CLIENT OF THE YEAR - STEPHEN TAYLOR. Hard as it is to single out any one individual in a collective enterprise like direct marketing, the entrepreneurial Stephen Taylor takes a bow for his Safeway work

Neither Stephen Taylor, Campaign Direct Client of the Year 1997, nor Safeway, his erstwhile employer, have ever made much fuss about their ABC membership card scheme.

Neither Stephen Taylor, Campaign Direct Client of the Year 1997,

nor Safeway, his erstwhile employer, have ever made much fuss about

their ABC membership card scheme.



While Tesco and Sainsbury’s make most of the running in the customer

loyalty stakes, Taylor and Safeway are the dark horses, coming up

swiftly but quietly on the rails.



’Safeway has never shouted about it,’ observes Martin Troughton, the

managing director of Bates Communications, which handles the

supermarket’s ABC business. ’But the fact is that it’s a much more

sophisticated product than anything else around and the payback from it

is phenomenally high.’



An entrepreneurial marketer who is quick to spot an opportunity, Taylor

left Safeway in December to help launch Loyalty Rewards, a rival to Air

Miles. But the ABC scheme will be his enduring legacy and a testament to

his strategy.



Adam Leigh, the Safeway board account director at Bates Dorland, says:

’Stephen has raised the profile of the loyalty card from a simple sales

promotion tool to an opportunity to involve customers and build

marketing programmes based on that involvement. He has shown loyalty

cards to be more than just electronic Green Shield stamps.’



Like an iceberg, there is a lot more to ABC than meets the eye. It is

visibly appealing to customers because, unlike its competitors, it

offers points that are redeemable for products at the till.



But its real beauty lies beneath the surface. For a start, it’s

economical. There is no need to send out quarterly mailings detailing

the rewards accumulated as Tesco has to do with eight million Clubcard

customers.



What’s more, it has enabled Safeway to communicate with its customers on

an unprecedented scale. A questionnaire mailed to 811,000 ABC

cardholders last summer produced 470,400 responses -28 per cent more

than expected - and resulted in pounds 725,000 worth of extra sales.



Another offer, which underscored Safeway’s positioning as the store for

young parents by taking 10 per cent off bills for families with a new

baby, claimed to have helped attract pounds 6.5 million of new business

in three months.



The reason is the meticulous research that went into the ABC scheme

prior to its launch in late 1995, wedged between Tesco’s Clubcard, which

had appeared in February that year, and the Sainsbury’s Reward card,

which made its debut the following summer.



The softly-softly approach reflects Taylor’s belief that too many

companies are jumping on the bandwagon with-out understanding what a

loyalty programme is and, more importantly, how its information could

drive a business.



His philosophy epitomises a new breed of marketer. At 34, he is more

interested in the challenge of a new job than its status. When he quit

as marketing director of Air Miles more than two years ago to join

Safeway, it was with the more prosaic title of electronic relationship

marketing controller.



It fits with what colleagues describe as a calm nature and a

well-ordered family life - wife, two daughters and a Tudor cottage near

Reading. ’Stephen doesn’t have a huge ego,’ Troughton says.



Taylor’s masterplan was to evolve a huge database of Safeway customers’

purchasing patterns. It will show who bought what and when in the kind

of detail many of its rivals would envy, the store claims. While

somebody else’s computer screen will record a shopper buying a packet of

cereal, the Safeway system will identify it as Kellogg’s.



Moreover, the system is versatile enough to influence customer

behaviour, allowing offers to be tailored to stimulate low-spending

shoppers, entice new ones across the threshold, and encourage loyal ones

to remain so.



It also allows Safeway to step inside its customers’ minds. Could the

vegetables be fresher? Should there be a wider range? ’By the time a

customer brings a concern to our attention, the chances are that we’re

already doing something about it,’ Troughton says.



Above all, ABC cards allow Safeway to develop a loyal customer base as

new marketing opportunities open up. Shop & Go, where shoppers can use

their cards to scan their own purchases, already offers a vision of the

future.



Of course, it will always be difficult to assess ABC’s true success.

Safeway plays its cards close to its chest lest competitors should see

its hand. But the fact that it has tripled its fee payments to Bates

Communications over the past year may be some guide.



But what of the year’s other direct marketing achievers? Honourable

mention must be made of Stelios Haji-Ioannou, chairman of the low-cost

airline, EasyJet, on course to fly six million passengers a year and

belying the received wisdom that direct marketing and the airline

industry don’t mix.



A controversial plaudit, too, for Ruth Blakemore, Bradford & Bingley’s

commercial director, whose surprise mid-year exit from Cable & Wireless

should not detract from her success at laying the foundations for the

CWC brand launch.



There are two final places on the roll of honour. One goes to Glen Ward,

director and general manager of HMV’s direct-sell music service, which

launched at the beginning of 1996 and is already boasting high-repeat

custom. The other is for Lauren Munton, marketing manager of the Tony

Stone Images picture library, whose innovative mailings through IMP

demonstrated real rapport with the creative mind.



Last year’s winner: Patrick Farrell, Daewoo.



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