An interview with Dave Canty - Head of Loyalty & Partnerships at BILT Rewards
I had the privilege of chatting with Dave Canty for my series on Loyalty Leaders.
Oh my…there was so much goodness in this interview!
I think I was a deer in headlights, a kid in a Canty (?) shop, a loyalty fanboy or simply just on the receiving end of so much insight, wisdom and experience in loyalty and loyalty programs.
Dave is a loyalty professional of 26+ years who has scored many loyalty goals (see later in the article why this is relevant) over his career and is now the Head of Loyalty and Partnerships at BILT Rewards.
BILT Rewards is a loyalty program solving a problem.
It makes the pain-point (or problem) of paying rent more rewarding (lots of detail to follow).
Solving a problem is where I believe loyalty programs need to move towards to lift themselves out of the sea of sameness.
BILT Rewards is one brilliant example of this.
The insights Dave shared both in respect of the BILT Rewards program and in general about his experience over the years with loyalty programs are inspiring and useful.
This is the longest Loyalty Leader article I have written to-date (>2000 words) and worth every minute of reading (fanboy again).
Enjoy the read.
(A note to readers of this article, read it with a beautiful Oorish Accent in your mind).
1. Who is Dave Canty (outside of work) and a little on your career to-date
I’m originally from Ireland.
I left Ireland back in the 80’s to go to London with the intent to see what was out there in the greater world…my mother is still waiting for me to come back!
I got myself involved in running data centres for Acxiom and then moved to the US in the mid 90’s and that’s where I found my feet in the loyalty space.
I joined ITT Sheraton to bring the Sheraton Club International in-house. After 5 years the hotel brands of ITT was purchased by Starwood who had also owned Westin Hotels with their programs. That was the beginning of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Our remit from the CEO was to build the best hotel loyalty program in the world. This we ultimately did with SPG. I went onto to other roles in loyalty including with JetBlue and so have had some extensive experience with loyalty programs over the years.
Outside of work my big passion is Liverpool Football Club. I am a fanatical Liverpool FC fan and have been since I was young boy. I used to save up my pocket money to get the train from Cork to Dublin and then the boat from Dublin to Liverpool to go and watch games.
That has stayed with me my whole life.
Believe it or not I have a man-cave dedicated to Liverpool FC…proof below!
Interestingly I use the example of Liverpool FC as an ardent passionate fan in sharing stories on how to create fans with your loyalty program members.
(Dave went on to tell a story of how Liverpool turned 3-0 score deficit into a 3-3 vs AC Milan in 2005 and ultimately won on penalties and the European Cup…mostly in response to how the fans got behind the team at the game with their chant ‘you’ll never walk alone’. That was a great example of how fans supported the team they loved so much. Fanatical Loyalty – Loyalty at its most passionate and purest form. Watch this video to get the feeling!)
2. Tell us about BILT Rewards?
I was involved with it before it was created and launched when the CEO and Founder Ankur Jain - an engaging, articulate, passionate and visionary entrepreneur, called me with the idea. While he was not entirely sure how to bring it to life, he knew I had some experience in loyalty programs, of which this idea was anchored in.
The idea…a loyalty program to make rent rewarding.
I was intrigued initially as this was something that I wondered why it had never been done before. Interestingly, usually the best ideas are those right in front of your face.
The more I researched it, the more it became apparent this was a huge opportunity especially for young people…Gen Z.
In the main, they are starting out on their life journey and their largest expense is rent. And they had nothing to show for it at the end of the day…it was literally like lighting your money on fire!! (Love this analogy).
We also realised as we were developing the structure of the program that these young renters’ largest monthly expense was not being reported to improve their credit rating. We felt that this was a missed opportunity (problem to solve).
On top of that, house prices were continuing to rise, making it even more difficult to own a home (another problem to solve).
So, we thought about creating a program that would allow renters to earn points on paying their rent and then being able to use those points towards their rent or save them towards a down payment on a home (help solving those problems).
This led us towards a bigger mission to create a pathway to home ownership! We felt ‘a pathway to home ownership’ was something worth aspiring for.
From here, we went a bit deeper to understand some of their other needs and desires such as travel and while this was an aspiration for them, it was without any attachment to any typical major travel loyalty program or travel brands.
So, we decided to build out a partner ecosystem to bring a younger audience to use their BILT points to travel, if they so wished to do so.
We approached airlines and hotel groups to offer them younger travellers who were ‘unattached’ to any travel brands and so be a feeder into their customer funnel.
We also wanted to develop an educational element around loyalty programs. For us the secret (not so much a secret but critical) for developing the partner ecosystem was to keep it simple. No fancy points calculations (or mental gymnastics as I call it), or complex terms and conditions.
So, we decided to create content and editorials that literally teaches them how to get the best value out of the BILT Rewards currency, be it for rent, down payment on a home or for travel, with the best ways to do it – finding the best value from partners.
3. What about some of the results to-date?
When we started, we developed the Bilt Alliance of real estate owners and landlords. By doing that we immediately had access to over 2,000,000 apartments (3.5M renters).
From experience with loyalty programs, we realised you cannot just rollout to such a large population (a good reminder) and so we decided to stagger the rollout and to-date and we are just over 500,000 members of BILT Rewards. We rollout to about 60,000 – 70,000 per month.
The enrolment to the program is about 30% and the activation in the first 30 days is about 70% - 80%.
4. What is the most unique element of the program?
The ability to earn points on rent. That is unique.
We will constantly look at ways to improve the experience. Also, we are intentionally trying to make it as easy as possible for members to use their points so they can realise their value. We want them to have choices.
They have the easy experience of a one click to realise the value of their points to reduce their rent or towards other options.
My summary = three most unique elements (an oxymoron):
- a proposition that solves a problem (if you’re not solving a problem you fade into grey)
- a seamless member experience and
5. What were the challenges you faced in getting the program to market?
- Convincing real estate owners that there was a need for a program like this. Gaining their buy-in around the proposition of earning points on rent. We focused on their problems such as finding renters (our program will bring new renters) and retaining renters (our program is an incentive to the renter to be a member of the program and stay renting). Once we crystallised the benefits to the real-estate owners, we then had the data and the value of the renters, and the real-estate owners would also get their rent on time (another problem solved).
- Building out the redemption ecosystem and partners was a challenge. This was a new proposition and these partners had other options to partner with. Yes, there are partners we wanted who are not in the ecosystem because they wanted to take a wait and see approach. Or maybe, I just did not do a good enough job selling it!!!!
- Overcoming regulatory challenges to allow renters to use points towards a down payment towards home ownership. (A long story short, – this was all due to the passion, persistence, and vision of the CEO Ankur Jain).
6. In your loyalty career, if you had your time again…
what would you not do; do better; do more of?
Not do: In my career, I would not doubt my intuition. We all have the ability to have great ideas, but we doubt ourselves in being able to realise them. I think there are some ideas I have had previously, and they have not scaled as hoped as there was self-doubt initially.
Do better and more of: I would have the courage to stand up for loyalty programs in the bigger organisations. I don’t think loyalty programs get the credit they deserve.
If I had my time again, I would be more assertive to challenge the exec levels to really believe in the power of loyalty programs. I think loyalty programs are continually asked to prove themselves and time and time again they do! I would be more of a loyalty program champion.
7. What advice would you give to brands thinking about a loyalty program?
Be very clear of why you need a program. In many cases the brands that call me to say they need a program, actually they don’t need a program, they need a better way to connect with their customers and a program might not be the answer.
Be crystal clear on your end goal and build back from there.
Be open to other people’s points of view. Great ideas are not formed in one meeting room brainstorm. Great ideas are formed when you listen to different perspectives and be vulnerable to other points of view.
8. What do you think is creeping up on loyalty programs that could disrupt them for better or worse?
People have not paid enough attention to Gen Z who are now the largest generation of consumers. For example, too many travel programs have not made enough changes to their programs to cater for the younger generations. They are outdated, a washed with t&c’s which younger generations are not interested in.
Programs cannot just be a cost for doing business. They must continuously evolve. They cannot be a response to a competitor. They must have a purpose within your organisation.
It’s like a flower, you don’t just plant it and leave it. It must be continuously nurtured and watered. At points in time, it must be refreshed (replanted). Programs should be planning two years at a time and be nimble to change the value proposition to be relevant to the needs of the market.
Plan for 5 years ahead and you are killing yourself.
9. What’s the most underestimated force behind a program’s performance?
The emotional connection that you can have with your customers. I think that gets lost sometimes. Being too focused on the facts and figures means you forget about loyalty being about a relationship.
10. What are three important skills a loyalty program marketer needs?
- A good handle on the financial models from the beginning. The financial fundamentals.
- You must be an advocate for your customers and stand up for them in your organisation.
- You gotta have fun….If you have fun, you can bring it to life in your program and you can bring people on the journey with you!
11. Leave us with a lasting loyalty thought
In your lifetime did you realise how much money you left on the table by not being a member of a loyalty program?
There are many insights, quotes and ideas that came from this interview with Loyalty Leader Dave Canty to help loyalty program marketers be better at their craft.
For me, the focus on solving problems is where every program needs to begin. There are three opportunities for a loyalty program to solve problems:
- Problems in the world around us
- Problems in the life of customer
- Problems your customers experience engaging with your brand
If your loyalty program can solve one, two or all of these, it will benefit the world, the members it serves and the business it belongs to - over the long term.
Have a happy loyalty day!