Emma Porter – A Loyalty Leader who passionately believes in the long-term power of a loyalty program as a pillar of business success

An interview by Adam Posner with Emma Porter – Snr. CRM & Loyalty Manager at Adairs

The Loyalty Leader interviews I do continue to shine a light on loyalty programs, delivering new insights and reminders of those that might have been forgotten.

This interview (#25) with Emma Porter – Snr. CRM & Loyalty Manager at Adairs delivers on both and is one I have been looking forward to, for a long time.

Linen Lovers is a loyalty program that has stood the test of time, nearly 30 years, as a retail (homewares) subscription program (unique in the category) and continues to evolve for the benefit of their members and the business it serves.

I hope you love this article as much as I loved interviewing Emma for it and learning more about Linen Lovers.

Enjoy the read!

  1. So, who is Emma (outside of work) + a little on your work biography

Originally I’m from the UK and from an Armed Forces Family so I moved every two years of my early life and lived overseas a lot including Germany, Cyprus and in the UK.

I wanted to be a photographer however my Dad thought I should have a skill I could use to get a ‘real job’ so I did business studies at University. Photography is still a passion, and it serves me well for one of my other keen interests - food blogging.

I am an OG* food blogger before it became the cool thing (check out foodieabouttown on Instagram).

*Original Gangster

I moved to Australia nearly 20 years ago and I’m now well settled into Melbourne … you might see me about town with my two sausage dogs – Bridget and Millie!

Over the past nearly 20 years, I've been lucky enough to work across some of the biggest brands in Australia and their loyalty programs.

These include Myer and MYER one – where I was part of the launch and management of the APP with your rewards cards and moving members from a physical reward card to a digital option, Country Road – where I was lucky enough to be part of the establishment of a loyalty hub rather than a loyalty island of just me! And T2, Coles Liquor, Decjuba, Brown Brothers Winery and now Adairs Linen Lovers Program.

Interestingly at T2, I learned how to launch products online when you can’t see, taste, or smell them and how to create visually enticing content that provides a feeling of all of those senses without experiencing them physically. It was a similar situation at Brown Brothers where we created imagery of craftsmanship and small batch exclusivity to reduce the ‘risk’ of a blind purchase.

And now I like to say I have found my home at Adairs.

  1. Tell us about Linen Lovers loyalty program. Any stats you can share?

The Linen Lovers loyalty program is available in Australia and New Zealand as a subscription program with over 1 million members.

It has had a compounded annual increase of membership of 8.4% over the last five years.

While Covid was obviously a time for everyone to make their homes their sanctuaries, we've continued that growth and Linen Lovers makes up for over 80% of Adairs’ sales.

So, the program is a massive part of our business and is something that every single part of the business is invested in. It’s one of our key strategic pillars is ‘Linen Lovers First’.

We love that everyone thinks about how we are applying what we're doing to include a Linen Lovers lens at all times, which means, everything we do, we know to ask ourselves - how does this affect Linen Lovers, what’s in it for the members, how can we make it more attractive for members?

Everyone from the top all the way through to stores believes in the program. We are invested in Linen Lovers. We are Linen Lovers crazy!

Comment: When I hear about a loyalty program being one of the strategic pillars of a business, this proves to me the power of a program as an asset of the business.

A little-known fact is the program has been in existence in various forms for nearly 30 years!

  1. What is the most unique element of the program?

We are one of the few, if not the only, retail homewares subscription loyalty programs in Australia.

  1. If you had to choose the most important measures of success for your program, what would they be?

I’ll start with our 1 million memberships. That's a huge focus for us to grow and maintain ensuring they are aware of the benefits so that we can help them understand what they're getting from their membership – making sure the value is really clear.

We really want to see our Linen Lovers actively redeeming and using the benefits. How often are they shopping? It’s the frequency that we're looking for.

  1. What are some of the challenges you face on an ongoing basis to keep the program relevant/fresh/thriving (internally and externally) and how do you overcome these?

As a subscription program with a two-year period, one of the unique problems that we have is with membership expiring every two years and keeping our retention rates high.

Over the last 12 to 18 months, we've had a real shift in focus on supporting the program and making sure our members are aware of all of their benefits.

While we thought we'd told people way too many times about the benefits, we realised we still hadn't told them enough. We still hear – “Oh, I didn’t know I get free standard delivery, whatever I buy as a Linen Lover”.

Comment: While the internal team might get concerned, we are over sharing the benefits with members, members do not, and we need to keep reminding them.

So, we've spent the last 12 months refreshing and revitalising the program. We have a new look and feel, and we introduced the new birthday benefit, probably surprising that we did not have one already.

Also, we spent a lot of time, especially in our stores, making sure that our store teams are armed with all the right information making sure that members have an easy sign up and they understand what they've benefited from - proving the value, helping them understand what they're getting from their membership - making sure that it’s clear.

Our Linen Lovers save over $200 a year on average, and we are now communicating this to them to prove the value of membership.

Also, as part of the process, we've embarked on our personalisation journey. I think, I've been talking about personalisation for ten years and still never really been able to do it properly.

And one of the main things that I'm so excited about is just sending someone something as simple as an overview of what they've got from the program that month or that quarter and just showing them the value of their subscription.

We have so much great data, so let's finally use it to give them a more enjoyable experience.

On a simple level, don't tell me about products I'm not interested in, but damn well make sure that you tell me about something that's coming up and give me first dibs on it.

But yeah, just really adding that personal touch to all our comms, whichever channel they prefer.

Our mantra in my team is nothing new - right message to the right person at the right time through the right channel. And like I said, we've all been talking about this for such a long time, but I feel we are there this time.

Solving a customer experience problem with downstream impact

During a significant sales event or member offer, we solved the problem of receiving a high number of customer service calls from members looking for their membership number.

We did this by implementing a ‘What’s my Linen Lovers number’ call to action online with a Live Chat bot to help members who are online seamlessly gain their membership login details, without going through the friction of resetting passwords or even leaving the shopping experience because they could not recall their number.This is an example of everyone at Adairs keeping the member experience in mind and understanding that as members are ready to make a purchase online remove friction and make it easy to purchase.

This had a significant positive impact downstream with reducing enquiries to customers service and keeping the member online and ready to purchase.

6. What advice would you give to brands thinking about a loyalty program?

  1. You must have the whole business on the journey with you. Key sponsors across the business need to support you from concept to delivery, because it's not something easy to set up and it takes a lot of time and it's a significant investment.
  2. Make sure that your commercials are robust. Future proof them for two, five, ten year and more. One of the biggest mistakes I see across the industry are programs taking benefits away without replacing them with something even better. It's just not an option. It's so damaging to your brand and to your program.
  3. Make sure that your program is not just something you do for a couple of years. You're committing to something that you need to evolve and invest in and continue for the long term.
  4. A program is not a one-person focus. It takes a village. And that's your loyalty team having that support from legal, retail ops, eComm, tech, risk, finance and ... Everyone!

7. What do you think is creeping up on programs that could disrupt them for better or worse?

I think there’s this huge shift in appetite for AI and hyper personalisation but there is a danger of going too far that it becomes not authentic.

As an example, there was a rush to chat bots – as per the example shared earlier, however we still need to have a person to keep a close eye on the communications. I’ve also seen the mistakes made over the years where automations are fabulous, but they are not foolproof, and communications can become so horribly disingenuous.

We need to balance the robotic response versus the care and respect that our members deserve.

  1. What’s the most underestimated force behind a program’s performance?

The Loyalty Team!

Many businesses think that they just get a CRM or loyalty manager and they've ticked the box and it's all fine and off we go.

However, I’ve seen how my whole loyalty team have achieved great success by making positive shifts across the business to drive the program.

It’s the loyalty team that keeps the lights on for any program.

9. What are three important skills a loyalty program marketer needs?

  1. Be oddly obsessed to understand everything about your members. It's good to have a healthy obsession, but I think loyalty needs an oddly obsessive desire to understand every single part of what makes your membership tick.
  2. Excellent juggling skills. Especially for loyalty programs in the retail space. It's such a fast-paced environment that you need ten plates spinning at the same time. You can't let them fall. The wonderful thing about a loyalty program is that you think you might have solved one part of the puzzle and you might step away to fix another piece and you'll see that other piece starting to shift behind you just as you don't give it your full attention.
  3. Patience. I think a loyalty program is a long-term play. We all want to make all the improvements as quickly as we can. But because it impacts so many parts of the business, whether it's creative or legal or brand or digital or your platforms and solution, it takes time.

A previous leader of mine used to say, we're always fixing the plane, but we've still got to fly the plane.

And I think that's very much for a loyalty program. There's so much change and opportunity. You're just going to have to plan for the next couple of years and prioritise.

10. Leave us with a lasting loyalty thought

This interview with Emma Porter has so many insights and reminders with my top three being:

  1. Set the loyalty program as one of your brand’s strategic pillars. It was a delight to hear Emma share this… “one of our key strategic pillars is ‘Linen Lovers First’.”
  2. AI and automation will have an impact on customer service and communication, however … “We need to balance the robotic response versus the care and respect that our members deserve.’
  3. I do love Emma’s three skills loyalty marketers need, expressed in a unique and memorable way:

    - Be oddly obsessed to understand everything about your members
    - Excellent juggling skills.
    - Patience*

    *See Billboard quote!