An interview by Adam Posner with Leela Sennitt - Head of Loyalty & eCommerce at Wesfarmers Health.
Oh my…the joy, delight, and insights I gain from interviewing Loyalty Leaders is bountiful!
This Loyalty Leader interview (#20) with Leela Sennitt of Wesfarmers Health was a gift that kept on giving.
With a love for reading biographies (so much chat about that) I realised after this interview Leela should write her own biography (my humble opinion) as her life outside of loyalty programs is full and fascinating.
However, let’s not forget why this series of interviews on Loyalty Leaders exists… helping loyalty marketers learn from Loyalty Leaders to lift their loyalty programs out of the sea of sameness!
With a career spanning some 20 years, Leela shares so many insights
Read and enjoy…
1. So, who is Leela (outside of work) + a little on your biography
I'm originally a New South Wales girl, I grew up on the south coast of New South Wales. I moved to Sydney for Uni as a 17-year-old and was living on top of my dad's pub – The Old Fitzroy in Woolloomooloo. He doesn’t own it anymore but when we took it over, we ripped out the pokies (unheard of in NSW!) and put a theatre in underneath. As a 17- and 18-year-old that was a really great place to live. I feel like hospitality was absolutely bred into me.
I studied an Arts degree and a Science degree at university majoring in psychology, and a Grad Dip of Criminology. I had a grand plans to work for ASIO as a profiler. I had a great lecturer in first year social psychology and he worked in victim support and as a profiler. And I just wanted to do that. So, I started studying criminology.
While studying I was also working full time in the wine industry at a business called The Wine Society (TWS). TWS was formed in the 1940s as a non-for-profit cooperative – originally a group of wine loving friends got together to act as a buying group to try to access better prices. Over the years this group grew to 60,000 members. It was a terrific business to cut my teeth on and I led the sales and marketing program across direct and digital, and it gave me my first taste of loyalty marketing.
During this time, I’d attend uni in the evenings, and whilst sitting in class I’d scribble ideas in the back of my book about marketing campaigns I was working on. It got to a point where I realised I really like my day job, so my dreams of working for ASIO were forgotten. So I guess you could say my career found me.
I have actually used my degree in my career. I studied statistics in all three of my degrees, and I think having a keen interest in human behaviour as a marketer is also really helpful.
Outside of work, I love reading biographies. I am fascinated about what motivates people – what makes them the person they are. (Some mentioned by Leela - Jelena Dokic, Jacinda Ardern, Phil Knight (Shoe Dog). Andre Agassi, Matthew McConaughey, and many others)
And what else?
Oh, look, unsurprisingly, I love wine and hospitality. So, I visit a lot of cellar doors. I also have a 7-year-old rescue Rottweiler named Ruby. She's just the best thing ever. I love her so much.
And then I guess another thing about me is I love a good karaoke bar. I can’t sing to save my life. I am absolutely tone deaf, but I'm very enthusiastic.
Back to work…
From The Wine Society, I went to work for Tyrrell's Wines to create their digital strategy and oversee their wine club. In 2012 I joined Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) to lead their direct-to-consumer function for Rosemount and five Victorian brands, which over the years evolved to leading TWE’s ANZ hospitality business, wine clubs and loyalty programs, eCommerce and outbound sales team.
In June 2022 after 10 years at Treasury, I moved out of the wine industry and into health and beauty joining API (now known as Wesfarmers Health) as Head of Loyalty and eCommerce.
So, now I work across Wesfarmers Health primarily focused on Priceline’s eCommerce and Sister Club loyalty program.
It’s a very exciting time with over 8 million members now part of our loyalty program.
2. Tell us about the Priceline Sister Club membership program
So, Priceline itself recently turned 40 years old and Priceline Sister Club is a 21-year-old loyalty program with over 8 million members.
The program has undergone several iterations, with the most recent in 2020, featuring three tiers: Sister Club, Diamond, and Pink Diamond (VIP).
Some of the features include tiered benefits, points, exclusive gifts, beauty boxes and more with increased access to benefits as members reach higher tiers.
3. What are the unique elements of the Sister Club program?
The most unique elements of the Sister Club program are its strategic partnerships and data-driven approach.
We deliberately partner with other leading health and wellness brands, such as 28 by Sam Wood, which has proved hugely successful with our members.
We also have our own Priceline Health Insurance, which is powered by nib. It has all the benefits you'd expect from a health insurance provider with added Sister Club benefits layered on top. Anyone who signs up for insurance is automatically upgraded to our Pink Diamond tier, which gives them a faster earn rate.
I think what's important is having partners aligned to our business values.
The other thing I'd mention is we're a data rich business. With over 8 million members and over 470 retail stores plus ecommerce, the program has an unparalleled understanding of the Australian health and beauty shopper. We're able to use insights to power what we do, how we engage with our members, and how we work with suppliers.
4. 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?
It’s still early days for me here. One challenge applicable across all the businesses I've worked for is staying on top of the data and knowing when it is time to review your program mechanics.
I think tiers might make sense at a particular point, however as your program evolves, it's important to review them to remain relevant.
When I was with Treasury, we relaunched the Penfolds loyalty program. Originally there was just one tier – Kalimna – which required an annual spend of $1000 to access member benefits. We found we had a lot of members exceeding the tier and saw a need to reward and recognise our VIPs. So, in 2019 we introduced 2 more tiers, with the top tier requiring a spend of $10,000. At this point in time, it made a lot of sense. However, as the program matured, and we gave more reasons for our members to engage, we grew the top end of that tier significantly, leading us to question if the program mechanics needed to change again.
5. How do you recognise the signals to review the structure of your program?
The way I work with my teams is we have regular business reviews focussing on those inflection points, spending patterns and member journeys.
As an example, one of the wine clubs I worked on was tied to membership of a subscription program. It was a wonderful way of generating planned revenue. We also had a mailing list, with members spending more than our subscription members, but weren't getting the same level of benefits. So, after reviewing the data and our members behaviours we knew something needed to change with the model.
So, I think it's important to continuously evaluate the program to make sure what you're doing is relevant and effective.
6. What advice would you give to brands thinking about a loyalty program?
- Be clear about your reason for being – start with your brand's purpose and then look at ways your program can create a point of difference.
- Be crystal clear on how your program can add value to its prospective members. And it must be bigger than just a transactional benefit. There needs to be an emotional component to it.
- Whenever I've launched a new program, I’ve realised the importance of bringing the extended team on the journey. You'll get great ideas, and you'll also get challenges, and those challenges can be pretty bloody powerful. So, it's better to face into that. Don't act as a silo because you’re fearful of criticism. Make sure you engage with the right stakeholders who are going to challenge appropriately.
- Put a good tech stack in place. Make sure you're working with technology that's going to enable you to do your job, because while you could run a loyalty program off an Excel spreadsheet, you shouldn't.
7. What do you think is creeping up on programs that could disrupt them for better or worse?
- I think we're going to see more and more businesses seeing the value of loyalty programs, particularly when it comes to the loss of third-party cookies. So, it’s going to be critical to find ways to stand out and differentiate your program.
- Brands who typically sell through retailers (B2B) are also moving to sell direct to consumer (B2C), becoming direct competitors to their retail partners. I’ve sat on both sides of the fence and understand the power of a direct relationship for a brand like Penfolds, but also the competitive tension with retail partners like Dan Murphy’s. It'll be interesting to see what happens with health and beauty brands as they go direct.
- The boom in subscriptions, and their role in loyalty programs. Thanks to Covid and also the rise of streaming services, it’s become a popular tool for loyalty programs. The convenience for consumers is a great benefit, and for businesses, it's such a valuable way to have planned revenue.
- It would be remiss of me not to mention security and data privacy. I think the increased focus and responsibility is going to make it even more challenging for us as loyalty marketers. Consumers need a compelling reason to share their data with us.
8. What’s the most underestimated force behind a program’s performance?
Your customer facing teams – they are your best brand ambassadors. Customer service, social media, events, outbound sales and especially retail teams play such a significant role in building brand advocates.
They also are a direct line to get feedback, ideas and opportunities for improvements. I cannot understate this.
It is super important they believe in the program as much as you do.
9. What are three important skills a loyalty program marketer needs?
- Curiosity – a genuine interest in gaining a deeper understanding of your customer.
- Commercial skills – it’s important to know your numbers and the financial impact of the loyalty program on the business.
- Collaboration – loyalty needs to run through the business. It can't just sit with one person or one team. So you have to be able to partner effectively. And you should also be able to understand what's in it for the people that you're partnering with. It can't just be a one-way relationship. It has to be push-pull.
10. If we are chatting again in (say) 2 years’ time, what do you predict would be the hot topic related to loyalty programs
I'm hopeful we will be talking about machine learning and AI. And not just in the tech space, but how it is reshaping the in-store experience Ie through clientelling.
There's such a huge opportunity with the data that we collect and most of it is used at head office. I’d love to see it used more to augment both the online and offline experience.
Finally, I would hope we are not talking about this in two years’ time, however I think privacy and security concerns will continue to be a hot topic.
11. Leave us with a lasting loyalty thought
Loyalty runs deeper than driving behaviours. It is about the emotional connection a brand creates with its customers.
This interview was so full of personal and professional insights from Leela. Her wide-ranging interests makes Leela a very interesting person and her 20+ years of loyalty experience provides so many lessons and reminders.
Here are my pick of the bunch (among many):
- Stay on top of the data and know when you need to review your program mechanics.
- Bring the extended team on the journey. You'll get great ideas, and you'll also get challenges, and those challenges can be powerful. So, it's better to face into that.
- The three skills a loyalty program marketer needs were so clearly articulated – curiosity, commercial and collaborative. (I love this).
- If you are a retailer with other brands on your shelves, watch-out for the Direct-to-Consumer movement and consider how you can mitigate or leverage this.
- Your customer facing teams are the best ambassadors you can have. They are also a direct line to get feedback, ideas and opportunities for improvements.