paula thomas loyalty

Conversations with TheCustomer: Paula Thomas

In this episode of “Conversations with TheCustomer“, Paula Thomas talks about where the most innovative approaches in loyalty are coming from, how some of those approaches are winning customer loyalty

For the past year plus, Paula Thomas has been hosting a weekly loyalty podcast with the notables who are leading the charge within that space.  One of the great things about this particular podcast is that, because it is hosted by a practitioner – with intimate knowledge of the mechanics of loyalty marketing – listeners are often treated to in-depth analyses and behind-the-scenes strategies that are driving some of the biggest loyalty programs in the world.

In the process of interviewing these bigger voices, Paula and her podcast, “Let’s Talk Loyalty“, have in fact become some of the leading voices in loyalty themselves.  That’s a testament both to Paula’s enthusiasm for the topic and her unique ability to attract the bigger names in the business.

In this episode of “Conversations with TheCustomer“, Paula Thomas talks about where the most innovative approaches in loyalty are coming from, how some of those approaches are winning customer loyalty, and dishes on a few of her favorite programs, both current and past.

Conversations with TheCustomer – Paula Thomas of “Let’s Talk Loyalty” from TheCustomer on Vimeo.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Hi everybody, this is Mike Giambattista, I’m the CEO and publisher of TheCustomer. I’m here today with Paula Thomas, who is the host of a brand-new podcast, but it’s been over a year or so that you’ve been live – and in the marketplace, you’ve gained an awful lot of traction with the podcast – by the way, what is it called?

Paula Thomas
“Let’s Talk Loyalty”

“Let’s Talk Loyalty”. And in the in the year that you’ve been live, speaking with the larger practitioners and the more important voices in this space, you’ve become yourself one of the more important voices in that space, which is no small thing.

Paula Thomas
Thank you very much, Mike. Great to be with you.

I was lucky enough to get on Paula’s calendar because she and I are in a fairly unique position in that, we are practitioners, but we also are media people. And as such, we get a view to a very broad perspective of what’s going on in the marketplace. So, I’m really excited to talk to Paula about what she sees, what she thinks about what she sees, and, and maybe some of the more unique things that are going on out there. So, I’m really looking forward to this.

Paula Thomas
Thanks a million, Mike. I love this question and there are loads of different ideas going on around the world. And for me, actually, I live in the Middle East and I’m from Ireland, so I do love to have a global perspective. I suppose what I’m really fascinated by at the moment is the evolution of paid loyalty programs.

That is something that has really struck me as quite unexpected was and is very effective in an awful lot of the challenges that we face as loyalty practitioners.

I think and we’re all very familiar with Amazon Prime, we’re all very familiar with Netflix. So digital products that we subscribe to as a business model – I think we’re all very comfortable with. But for example, and I’ve seen Coca Cola launching a paid subscription loyalty program, just a very small trial of case study, which I’ll talk to you about. I’ve seen Circle K launch a subscription program where you can have unlimited car washing. And I’ve also seen Panera Bread in the United States, which has just announced like 40 million members, and they launched an unlimited coffee subscription program to drive customer loyalty for $9 a month.

It’s extraordinary. I’ve seen it in China, for example, as well with Alibaba where you can access the Alibaba VIP program. But if you want the top discounts you actually need to pay to be a top subscriber. So I think it’s amazing for business owners to go, “Okay, first thing, it’s great if a customer gives us their data”. “Secondly, it’s great if they give us permission to market to them”. But really what we want is for them to give us their money and permission to sell them products on a recurring basis.

So yeah, I’m a big fan of that. And I think it’s very innovative. And I think it also addresses times of uncertainty, which is probably not something I would have realized in advance, But I think if you can say to people look, you can have all the coffee you want for $9 a month, for example, customers are going to say that’s a really good deal.  “I’m going to buy the coffee anyway. This is a brand I want to be loyal to.” And obviously then there are all the upsell benefits and cross sell.

Well, it’s interesting that you bring those up as examples. Because, and I confess, I’m an Amazon Prime member. But what’s really interesting to me about that program, and everybody uses an example – is that it’s essentially a one tier program. Yes, yeah, you’re an Amazon Prime member. And then you’re just an Amazon Prime member, along with everybody else. And I keep waiting for them to come out with prime gold or whatever they want to call it. And we start tiering this thing up and building something that would look more like actual brand loyalty, as opposed to just a really nice package of benefits. But you know, since you see all these different variations out there, what are some of the most interesting ways people are using paid loyalty programs?

Paula Thomas
Well, I think Coca Cola was one that totally surprised me because it’s in the FMCG sector. And we don’t really associate them with having points programs or traditional loyalty approaches. They don’t tend to have direct relationships with their customers, for example. They announced the insider’s club last year for Coca Cola, where, if they’re going to launch a new flavor, for example, and they’re probably doing sampling and giving the product away for free. Whereas now what they’re doing is saying, No, this is the insider club, this is an exclusive place to be only 1000 people were allowed to join, and you pay $10 a month, and you don’t even know what you’re getting. So, and it’s an extraordinary concept. And it builds the relationship, it builds some recurring revenue, even if it is a drop in the ocean, and it gives them a direct relationship with customers. So, Coca Cola is doing that in the US market, and we can definitely expect to see that in more countries around the world.

Personally, I don’t know what I would expect the gain out of a $10 month paid loyalty program from Coca Cola. But the fact that I’m one of 1000 people really speaks to my huge ego. Yeah, I want to be one of those people.

Paula Thomas
Exactly – it’s tapping into that underlying psychology of loyalty, which is the importance of exclusivity. So, you made the point about Amazon Prime. And what I love – actually, what Jeff Bezos actually says is – he is determined to build that product and that platform, to the extent that it would be irresponsible not to join. And I think when it comes to a laser focus on customer loyalty, that man has it in buckets, and we all enjoy the benefit so I’m sure they have great plans for the future. I’m sure there will be amazon prime gold, and but I have seen them starting to trial. So I think as time unfolds, Amazon is definitely only going to get bigger and better.

I love this next question because it offers you an opportunity for a shameless pitch. So, let me just put it out there. What are your favorite loyalty programs right now and why? And it’s okay if they’re ones that you work on.

Paula Thomas
So first and foremost, my favorite of all time is Vitality, and which is based out of South Africa. And one of the things I particularly love about Vitality is it’s been around for, I believe, over 25 years at this point.

Essentially, it is a loyalty program, but based on a win / win between a health insurance company and the members of that health insurance company, so it’s incentivizing people to take care of their own physical health in order to reduce their future health claims. There’s a whole range of benefits discounted and access to the gym, a free cup of coffee if you do your workout, etc. It’s just an extraordinarily well-built program. But I really love it’s the fact that the customer is at the core. So, there’s a real integrity around that.

And as much as it benefits reducing the health insurance claims, and their statisticians who are measuring, you know how much longer their customers live as a result of that loyalty program. Again, it’s a paid loyalty program, which is very interesting to know.


Paula, thank you so much for your time and your thinking and your perspective. I, you know, I enjoy talking to you period, for all those reasons. But here today, I think it’s really healthy for our readers and viewers to have a view on what’s happening in loyalty because it’s an area that we cover, but I can say, very transparently, we don’t really focus on it. So, thank you for your efforts, and congratulations on your traction, because I understand you’ve hit a couple of big milestones with your podcast.

Paula Thomas

I have absolutely Mike. Yes, yeah, I am over 14,000 plays now of shows that I’ve been releasing every week. So if anybody likes to listen and learn about loyalty – it’s called “Let’s Talk Loyalty.”

Paula thanks a million. Looking forward to our next conversation.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

Open Data Institute releases funding for ethical data sharing projects

Next Article
customer data & trust

Building Customer Data Protocols to Emphasize Trust

Related Posts

Subscribe to TheCustomer Report

Customer Enlightenment Delivered Daily.

    Get the latest insights, tips, and technologies to help you build and protect your customer estate.