5 lessons in how the best brands use customer data

June 2, 2019
Abhinav Kapur

Getting metaphysical up in here 🧘‍♂️

My biggest lesson from building Bikky is that time is preciously finite and fleeting.

Every choice has an opportunity cost. Time spent reading emails on a Saturday morning means no making pancakes for family breakfast (my one redeeming dish when it comes to cooking).

I try to filter most of my conscious decisions through this lens. Every day is about making the right moves to optimize time at work, time at home, and time to myself.

This approach also taught me to savor the little moments in life – whether it’s taking 20 minutes to enjoy a meal, or spending a comfortable hour watching a hyped-up (but oddly not too far off) version of my former profession on Billions:

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I try to treat every moment as if it matters. Time marches inexorably forward, so it’s on me to ensure I make the best of it.

Interestingly, I’ve cultivated this mentality in part by learning from my favorite restaurant brands.

We’re besieged today by an endless array of choices. And with the emergence of delivery, those choices have never been more accessible. For the best brands though, this competition fuels a mentality of making every meal or customer interaction mean something.

They cut through the noise of gimmicks, discounts, and limited time offers via a structured, proactive approach grounded in their brand’s values.

At Bikky, we’re fortunate enough to either work with or speak to these well-respected brands every single day. After hours of questions, conversations, and product iteration, these are the key principles regarding how they think about customer data and engagement.

To be clear, these vary in degree with respect to easiness of implementation. However, as my mentor Albus Dumbledore once said (shout-out to my fellow Harry Potter fans!):

Actually caring about comprehensive guest profiles 🧙‍♀️

Every channel – in-store, delivery, catering, wi-fi, loyalty – offers a distinct piece of the puzzle. Each one tells a story of how customers engage with your brand. Stitching together these various pieces offers a distinct competitive advantage – you’ll actually know who your customers are!

I know what some of you are thinking: theoretically, that sounds great, but what’s really the point? What are the practical implications of aggregating customer data – what the hell can I do with it, and how does it help my P&L?

Like you, I see waytoomanygeneric posts about “the importance of big data” and how it helps with “targeted marketing” (some of the tips in this one are literally ‘leverage email marketing and use emojis to boost your open rate” and “treat your favorite customers’ 😂).

This stock photo from yet another “importance of data” blog post of course mimics your own team’s all hands meetings, right?

These blog posts all mention the holy grail of the right message to the right person at the right time (i.e. pinging someone who orders the same entrée every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm). From our standpoint, that level of unique hyper-targeting is still in the distant future, given the sheer volume of customer data needed to predict and automate that level of specificity.

Still, the best brands understand the tangible benefits of a comprehensive guest profile, and how it translates into real revenue. It’s not quite 1:1 personalized engagement, but here’s how we’ve seen brands use Bikky’s comprehensive customer profiles:

  • Automatically welcoming new customers across any channel via an onboarding campaign (like the best e-commerce companies)
  • Automatically re-engaging lapsed customers across any channel via a win-back campaign that minimizes discounting (another page from the e-commerce playbook)
  • Automated campaigns for customers who either abandoned their carts or are inactive (i.e. they’ve registered on a native platform but never placed an order)
  • Automatically engaging customers who order 3 times in one month with a VIP automated flow designed to a) recognize their loyalty; and b) get SMS opt-in
  • Re-targeting third-party (Grubhub, DoorDash, Caviar, etc.) customers on social media to order via first-party channels
  • Identifying repeat wi-fi customers who don’t have the loyalty app and running a campaign to promote app downloads
  • Educating active in-store only customers about a newly launched native ordering platform so you can be a part of every potential ordering experience

These are direct, actionable ways in which we’ve seen brands use their customer data. Each starts with a specific cohort, then makes the food and associated experience mean something based on their data and behavior.

Beyond this, comprehensive guest profiles eliminate two cardinal sins of typical restaurant customer engagement.

One which we’ve spoken about passionately already is blanket discounting. If you don’t know your customers, the best you can do is spray and pray with promotions. This continuously cheapens your brand though, while simultaneously training customers to wait for special offers.

The other is redundant messaging. How can you ever know if a customer is lapsed without understanding the full range of their activity? If you’re extending your own brand across in-store, third-party, and first-party channels, then can you ever truly ensure that your messaging is targeted and relevant?

With comprehensive guest profiles, you’ll implement a critical piece your customer data + engagement + brand strategy.

Revamping loyalty tiers to reflect your brand’s values 🥇

Numerous brands launched or revamped their loyalty programs earlier this year. Many follow the traditional spend-based system, offering rewards on the 10-to-1 scale, (i.e. spend $99 and get something worth $9).

But the best loyalty programs we’ve seen use their tiers as an extension of their brand, with unique rewards that reflect their values.

This is relatively low-hanging fruit compared to the omni-channel guest profile tactics we outlined in the prior section. Your loyalty program can and should be the fullest expression of your brand.

Customers have already taken the trouble to put your app (literally a digital piece of your brand!) on their most precious piece of real estate: their phone. By aligning your loyalty tiers with your brand, you a) create a unique, built-in retention tool for your richest and most profitable source of customers; and b) further leverage your brand as a lead-gen tactic for new loyalty users.

Tailoring engagement to how customers view your brand 🙊

I read an article earlier this week about startup growth, and one section really resonated:

Here’s the reality. Your user has a big, complex life and you are fighting to be a tiny sliver of it. They have their job, their family, their apartment, their friends, their car, their sick mom, their dog, their insurance, their debt, the next holiday that’s coming up, their kids, the kids’ schools, their smartphone with 100 apps, etc.

You are somewhere buried in there. In your world, your product is everything. 12 hours per day, 6 days a week. In theirs, your product is just a tiny sliver (at best — if you’re great).

So the question you have to ask every day is “What is your product to them so that it deserves a place in their complex lives?”

Different brands mean different things to people, often grounded in how they lead their lives.  Taco Bell (don’t @ me) is a Friday night escape when we’re too tired to cook and need some Cheesy Gordita Crunch love. On Monday mornings though, my local salad chain occupies the typical “let’s be healthy this week” routine.

Brings back memories but still creepy AF

For a health-conscious fast casual chain, frequent engagement and community-building activities make sense, since you want your product to be an active part of your customer’s life. On the other hand, the trendy, slightly more expensive chain may want to scale back the frequency of onboarding emails to ~3 a month; a more laid-back engagement approach jives with the cool, not pushy, down-for-whatever aura.

This is one of the biggest tactical changes we made to our automated flows. We initially had success with automating engagement once every three days. However, as we grew, we realized that different brands had their own unique perceptions of how they fit into their customers’ lives. For some, every three days was far too overbearing – it seemed more desperate than engaging.

And who were we to tell them otherwise?

Ultimately, we needed to recognize that the brands themselves know way more than us about how their customers perceive them. They made understanding how they fit in their customers’ lives a cornerstone of their own engagement strategy. It influences everything – the look, tone, frequency, and even the content itself.

Separate your operations and marketing teams 🤹‍♀️

Restaurants – regardless of size – are hectic businesses to run. They’re labor-intensive, operationally complex, fiercely competitive, and resources always seem a bit stretched. And yet, all of these reinforce why it’s imperative to consciously define roles, split responsibilities, and hire accordingly.

We’ve seen brands where the head of operations handles staffing / store operations, retail expansion, market research, franchisee relationships, technology integrations, and marketing. I have immense respect for these folks, because handling these disparate, complex tasks is truly a herculean undertaking.

But I’d argue that their organizations aren’t doing them any favors, and in fact hamper their brand’s long-term growth. The most effective brands recognize there’s greater leverage in a divide-and-conquer strategy, with experts for distinct fields owning the responsibilities for their specific functions.

Practically speaking, customer data (regardless of channel) tells us five things about a diner:

  • What they order (menu items / preferences)
  • When they order (daypart)
  • Where they order (location and channel)
  • How often they order (frequency)
  • How much they order (spending / lifetime value)

Each of these come with operational and marketing implications. You can analyze menu items and daypart to optimize inventory and throughput at the brick-and-mortar level, or you can use them to target diners based on their specific preferences.

But you can’t fully optimize across both fronts simultaneously if you don’t have the right people focused on extracting the greatest amount of value from the data.

Which leads me to my final (and perhaps most important) lesson…

ROI rules everything around me 🤑

The most successful brands live and die by ROI.

They experiment relentlessly, testing new initiatives on small groups of customers. If the pay-off is large enough, they then scale it across the base to achieve massive ROI. And if it can’t be measured or doesn’t generate sufficient return, it’s on to the next idea.

When we initially launched Bikky, we believed that simply aggregating data itself would be enough to prove our worth. However, our mistake was in not offering a viable solution for how to best use the data.

Brands across the spectrum – from those who turned us down, to those brave enough to the take the leap – quickly helped us realize that data for data’s sake isn’t a strategy; without a way to generate consistent ROI on that data (as well as their partnership with Bikky), we’d be DOA.

Like the best brands, we constantly experimented and iterated on our application of the customer data, until we found success with our automated onboarding and lapsed flows.

Our partners’ search for ROI became our search for ROI, and it was great to repay their early faith with tangible proof (i.e. revenue). Below is a snapshot of how our lapsed customer flows perform relative to typical lapsed campaigns prior to Bikky:

We are legit performing almost 5x better on revenue per customer in our lapsed campaigns so far (and did we mention we don’t like discounting?)

These campaigns epitomize everything we’ve learned from our partners:

  • actively engaging guests across channels in a proactive, targeted manner;
  • using content that projects the brands values and beliefs, instead of cheapening the relationship with discounts;
  • modifying the order, frequency, and format of the automated flows according to how customers view each respective brand;
  • doubling-down on marketing as the specific application of the customer data; and
  • a relentless focus on proving our value and generating ROI for our partners

Getting metaphysical (again) 🙏

Everything flows from treating each moment with importance.

Every engagement, every operational tactic, or marketing campaign represents the best of what they have to offer.

Their engagements, perspectives, and experiences are things to hold on to amidst the hustle and bustle of today’s world. We’re drowning in relentless noise, suffering from perpetual attention deficit – but their voice shelters from the storm.

They take a data-driven, values-based approach, and ultimately reward our willingness to stick with them despite myriad choice.

They help you savor the little moments that maybe tend to get overlooked.

To harken back to my homie Dumbledore – they never compromise what’s right for what’s easy.