Loyalty Leader Sam Hopgood – a love story of surfing, data, and a membership program that brings it all together!

An interview by Adam Posner with Sam Hopgood - Membership/Loyalty Manager at RIP CURL

This Loyalty Leader interview (#22) with Sam Hopgood - Membership/ Loyalty Manager at RIP CURL made me realise how inspiring it is to do what you love and love what you do.

For Sam, both surfing and data are what he loves and what he does. The reality is he works for one of the world’s premier surfing brands RIP CURL who have a saying … “no one's ever been fired for surfing too much”…. (oh my….really!!!)

If you love surfing, you will love Sam’s story.

If you love loyalty programs, you will love Sam’s insights (there are some brilliant one’s).

If you love both, you will jump out of your skin as this article brings them together (double the love)!

Enjoy (with love) …

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

I live in Torquay (Victoria, Australia for international readers) and have for about eight years. I grew up just outside of Geelong, not too far from Torquay so in terms of my connection to the beach and surfing lifestyle, I've always grown-up spending summers at the beach here and those beaches and surf breaks close by.

I remember jumping on a surfboard with Dad around age 7 or 8 and then pretty much every extended summer from then on. I've got two brothers and we had a lot of time in the water. With sibling competition common, we were always trying to one up each other!

I am a twin and the youngest by 10 minutes, so yeah, we had some we had some fun growing up near the beach and all the lifestyle that was a part of my life.

(Here comes the next love story)

I went to an all-boys school in Geelong, and I met my partner just down the road at the all-girls school. And we've been together since then!

When I finished my marketing degree, we moved to Melbourne and I started working for a digital agency, my first foray into the digital world and data! Facebook marketing and the use of data from a Google standpoint was really starting to take off and everything was being digitised.

At the time (circa 2013) it was my real entry into the use of data and getting information through the likes of Facebook and Google to then target off the back of that. It was an interesting time and something that I was passionate about.  (The love of data blossoms from here).

I really liked tweaking ads and changing segments to see what it meant for the businesses we were supporting through that agency.

After a year or so we decided to leave Melbourne and head back to the beach. You don't know what you've got until it's gone!

I started working in the marketing department at the local TAFE in Geelong and was also providing a bit of support to RIP CURL at the time, helping the e-commerce team with some Facebook ads, some targeting and how we could drive more strategic campaigns across the digital space.

As fate would have it as I was about to accept a new role at the local University, an offer came to me to join RIP CURL full-time and long-story, short…that’s what I did and here I am today 7 years later, working with what I love (data) and in a category I love (surfing).

Plus we also have the flexibility to surf when we want or especially when the waves are pumping as the beach is very close to work. You can surf as much as you want, with the understanding you've also got to do the work! Surfing is such an amazing release of stress and connection to the world…it’s the place to let it all ‘wash off’.

(Talk about surf/life balance)…WOW!

And to end on a more personal note… I am also a new dad, and this is my family, and Bowie!

2. Tell us about the Club RIPCURL – any stats you can share?

Firstly, we believe Club RIPCURL is more of a membership program. Also, the program is 9 months young and so we are now starting to see the power of the data we are gathering and to leverage that data and target consumers in a more strategic and personalized way.

The structure of our membership program is simple, however our vision for that program is to be the largest and most engaged surf and beach community on the planet.

(Love the fact they have a vision for their program)

In developing the program, we deep dived on both the external factors of what makes a good loyalty program, but also the internal factors of gathering qualitative and quantitative data within our own business to understand who our customers are and what will they engage with.

And from that we developed three clear goals:

  1. Build acquisition structures to capture the information we needed to talk to the customer on a 1 to 1 level by prompts at our point of sale.
  2. Like all good loyalty programs, we needed to drive frequency. We knew from our research that our consumer base was coming in annually, but the secondary purchase was only happening roughly 1 in 5 consumers.We knew that if we can target, personalise, and deliver more benefits in a structured communication, we could move that frequency from 1 in 5 to maybe 1 in 3 or 1 in 2. The commercial impact there is significant.
  3. We wanted to build a connected community. I think it's safe to say currently, loyalty is transactional. Our goal is to be a membership program that adds to the consumer's journey when it comes to surfing and empowering them with all the information regarding surf and beach and connecting with us during their beach and surf journey.

To-date, our commercial expectations from the program have been exceeded this year already which was really promising to see.

However as this is our first year of analysing the data and seeing the interactions. There's a lot more to learn.

3. What is the most unique element of your program?

Quite simply, it’s earning points for surfing!

Points for Passion. Personally, I think this is brilliant! Connecting a program proposition to a passion is what I call a Joyalty* Moment of Magic).

Members who have a Tide Watch (the volume is growing) are generating points from surfing. These surfers are surfing anywhere between once a month to every day. And so, we can see their data and the insights from the surfers is unique to our brand. No other surf brand in the world has this insight.

It elevates us compared to the noise and the competition that we must deal with.

We are unlocking benefits to members for doing something they love, not just buying something.

This is so unique because we just want to see surfers surf more.

The outcome of getting in the water more (surfing) is using our products, our technical equipment, and our apparel to enjoy and enhance the surfing experience.

With the points earned for surfing, there's every chance they will convert them and shop with us.

(The clarity of the purpose “We just want to see surfers surf more” is such a guiding light. Love that.)

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?

Internally, after only nine months it’s been like a duck above water. We've been kicking a lot underneath the water - fixing, refining, updating and closing loopholes.

  • The program can't thrive unless the systems and member experience are up to date. And we're constantly looking at it and trying to make it better. I think that’s been one of the challenges.

Some days it's a relatively easy thing to sight something and get the resource and the support to fix it. And then there are some days where we're scratching our heads trying to understand how something has happened or why a member is getting so many points as opposed to the general population of members.

  • The onboarding of a member is an important process. The impact that has across the consumer journey is extensive. We're constantly reviewing these journeys to see if there is anything we believe is clunky or doesn't make sense, we need to change it. It could be the difference between 2 or 3 purchases down the track versus someone not purchasing.

Externally, it’s important to make the program stand out as there is such a thing as loyalty creep. There are a lot of programs going live in Australia.

  • It's a constant challenge to remain relevant to the consumer, whether it be across benefits, processes, or communications. I think we see a lot of companies these days go to market with loyalty programs that are a dime a dozen. There's nothing unique or exciting.
  • We need to keep asking ourselves - what do we do to make our program better? What are the additional benefits that we can see, the trends we see emerging that in 2 or 3 years will become hygiene factors. They must be a part of the program now to continuously drive more acquisition and more engagement.

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

1.You've just got to do it and do it quickly.
There are right and wrong ways to go about it, but I think the fact of the matter remains is you can start personalised unique comms with benefits quickly. You don't have to have everything in place.

I would say just start and get a phase one out the door and then iterate and build and refine as you build out what you envision as the best kind of loyalty program for your brand and your customers.

2. Research and understand the customer.
For us, qualitative and quantitative data was the framework or the bedrock for creation of Club RIP CURL. One thing we realised, was we service our core very well – the dedicated surfers who buy our best wetsuits and all the technical equipment.

However, the data showed us we have a cohort of roughly 60% of customers, that may not be core, that may just enjoy the beach lifestyle. They don't get out and surf, but they love putting their feet in the sand. This insight made it clear that we can't just be sending the greatest and latest wetsuit communications to all consumers, we needed to be more segmented and targeted.

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

The biggest thing for me, is GDPR and data privacy. I think any brand worth their salt (said like a true surfer) should be thinking about the changing data landscape. They need to be agile in a world where laws and rules on how we talk to consumers will change. This should not be taken lightly.

It's being embedded in our business more and more which is good. For all our marketing communications, this is a talking point, as we are asking ourselves – is this privacy compliant?

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

Internally for me, it's analysis. The importance of a data analyst team cannot be underestimated. You just don't realise how powerful it is until you get the analysis and take the action from the insights.

We work with our data team closely to refine our communications across multiple channels and mediums in which we engage. The analysis and insights they give us is the force behind our programs ongoing improvement.

Externally, the biggest thing for me is, the program must be simple.  

Simple for members to understand the program.

It’s got be simple for our team at point of sale.

If the team member needs to explain in detail what the benefits are, why it's important, what they're going to get and so on and if the consumer kind of glazes over or doesn't quite understand it. That's a loyalty killer.

So, you need to refine your message to be unique and exciting but clear as well.

It's such a small moment in time that the opportunity is there.

Keep it simple.

Talking about the team at store level, tell us about how you engaged them at the launch of the program?

When we were training and onboarding all our store teams to the program, we engaged them with a challenge.

We asked the store team to find fatal flaws in this program (hack the program) and how to possibly game it.

Knowing the team where young (18-19 yo and mostly male), a challenge like this hit the spot! It was exciting, competitive, and perfect for this demographic.

It immediately absorbed them!

(Another brilliant insight from Sam – loved this one as well)

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

  1. Be agile. Whether it's the bugs that appear day to day or wanting to pivot and capitalize on communications and engagements with members, it's important you can react and move quickly.
  2. Diligence with data is important. Reviewing and analysing the data with the understanding about what you're reviewing, the cohorts you're segmenting and how you're approaching the communication on a one-on-one basis.
  3. Live and breathe the program yourself and the lifestyle that the program comes with. I know with surfing it’s a bit easier especially if you love it like I do.  However, if you are let’s say creating a pet loyalty program, I think it’s important to understand what pet owners go through in their day to day, what they must deal with and how can your program elevate them.

9. If we are chatting again in (say) 2 years’ time, what do you predict would be the hot topic related to loyalty programs?

  • I think probably the obvious one is the continued talk about data and privacy.

It is not going away and will continue to evolve. It's going to be important how we approach that and remain agile to those changing landscapes.

  • Secondly, I think we will still be in the pursuit of 1 to 1 personalization.

Loyalty and membership programs can deliver personalized comms through the data that we receive. But true 1 to 1 communication is something I believe globally no one brand is nailing. So, it's important that we continue to whittle down our segments into this ultra-focused 1 to 1 communication that that maximizes the engagement.

  • And lastly its wearables.

This does connect to RIP CURL (points for surfing) more so than other brands, however it’s something that will be talked about a lot. We've sold 1000’s of GPS related watches in different forms, but we know that it is a drop in the ocean when it comes to GPS related devices or technological devices, in particular in the watch industry ie Garmin and Apple Watch. Apple has sold 100 million Apple watches.

I think as we wear more devices and use them more in our day to day, it's going to be interesting to see how brands capture that data, how it’s used in a valuable and engaging way, back to the consumer.

Not directly related to wearables, however I find it fascinating how brands who collect our data daily can make it useful and interesting to their audience. The example I have in mind is how Spotify provided their Spotify Wrapped proposition to celebrate its listeners music interests over a year and presented it back them as a list of personal favourites…brilliant!

(So simple, personal, and valuable!)

10. Leave us with a lasting loyalty thought

Loyalty doesn't happen overnight. You want to create a connection from the outset and then have the patience and strategy to build on it over the longer-term.


This interview with Sam was for me, an absolute delight. In case I have not said (love) enough times, I loved the insights and ideas shared, plus the wider discussions on wearables and the Spotify Wrapped example!

However, the standouts for me are:

  1. A program with a vision, has clarity of purpose. This is a powerful success factor.
  2. Engage your store-team in a way that resonates with who they are – give them a challenge (“Find Fatal Flaws” -> brilliant).
  3. Love your data! (Mandatory but never to be forgotten).
  4. Question communications on their potential impact on privacy.
  5. If you can, find a passion point to connect your program and your community (yes, not always easy, however still worth digging deeper).

Have a happy loyalty day!