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
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
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
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
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.