Mike Ainsworth – a Loyalty Leader cooking up a legendary loyalty program

An interview with Mike Ainsworth – GM, Marketing and Customer: Barbeques Galore

I had the pleasure and delight of chatting with Mike Ainsworth for my series on Loyalty Leaders.

I am a huge fan of the approach Barbeques Galore have taken with their program – The Barbeque Legends Club (launched in September 2021) and I was excited to interview Mike to get under the hood (sorry) of the story behind this ‘legendary’ program.

Mike is an experienced marketer with an uncompromising commitment to the customer. It was so refreshing to hear his view on loyalty programs and how the Barbeque Legends Club is so clearly connected to the customer.

This interview and the insights he shared are worth every minute of the 9 minutes (about) it will take to read it.

It is a reminder to every loyalty program marketer that programs need and must focus from the outside in (what the customer wants), not inside out (what the business needs)!

Also, if you believe loyalty programs need to go beyond points, discounts perks and savings, then this interview is for you. Enjoy!

1. Who is Mike Ainsworth (outside of work)

I love solving problems in different ways and it’s something that’s always driven me. In fact, when I was 7 years old (so my mum tells the story) the lengths I would go to prevent my sister entering my room! Armed with some wires, a battery and hobby speaker, I’d solved my problems with a MacGyvered alarm to ensure my nosey little sister stood no chance of entering without me knowing!

For me, I like this story (however true it is…) as it’s grounds for my curiosity to go deep on problems and solve them. Outside of work, I’m a gamer, love sport and family – my three young girls keep me very busy.

I’ve been at Barbeques Galore for five years now and previously worked in the travel industry. Before that I was a cook, funnily enough, at a steakhouse!

(Interesting how Mike is now working with a brand that has cooking at its core and a purpose of ‘bringing people together around a flame’.)

2. Tell us about The Barbeque Legends Club

The Club itself is an evolutionary view on how to deliver customer loyalty.

Typically, most businesses reward their customers for spending more and you end up creating a shallow relationship with your customers when it’s purely predicated on spend. In that case, the customer’s benefit from the brand is a saving and your reason to talk to them is to purely to make more money no matter which way you view it.

In my view, that engagement has a limited lifetime and is not something rich and long lasting.

Our approach to The Barbeque Legends Club was all around building a club to reward engagement in the category.

It’s not only about rewarding customers for connecting with us, it’s about rewarding them for connecting with the category.

By doing so, we are continuing to position ourselves as the category leader.

Our products are highly experiential, and we are leveraging that in the club we have created.

Since launch we have seen club membership and acquisition growth of 43%, and we have also more than doubled our instore conversion rate, signing up those who walk into a store.

This has been successful because our customers have a reason to join the club. This is not a spend and save program. This is an engagement program. It has 36 free BBQ classes and access to an online community to converse and share with other like-minded people and get inspiration.

There’s a rich reason to join it!

When our store salespeople are selling a BBQ, they have a simple conversation with the customer. “Join the Barbeque Legends Club to learn how to use it and get the most from it”. As opposed to x% off.  This is engaging!

3. Why did you decide to set up and launch The Barbeque Legends Club?

Being in business for 45 years, we have a rich history of innovation. This is a critical part of our DNA and differentiating ourselves in the market, in particular with our products.

As consumer behaviours mature, we are now seeing the role our brand plays in the overall experience as a key point of difference.

Addressing loyalty was important for this and through an extensive research study we identified the motivating factors in our customers’ decision making.

The research results also changed our customer framework and segmentation and importantly it highlighted the need for higher levels of customer engagement in the outdoor and entertainment category.

In summary, customers had a greater need for an engaging platform. They engage heavily with the product (BBQ). This gave us the opportunity to engage with them with a program.

So, we flipped the old loyalty model of rewards based on spend to rewards based on engagement.

4. What’s unique about the Barbeque Legends Club?

The approach to the program from the beginning is unique. The reason to join is different. It’s not points or savings, it’s about community and connection.

This is a perfect proof point of our brand purpose, which is about ‘bringing people together around the flame’ and so you are not going to bring people together by bringing them discounts.

Our focus around engagement is critical and core to our brand purpose.

5. What are the main challenges you face with making The Barbeque Legends Club valuable to your business and meaningful for your members?

Our program’s value to business is not like other programs which focus on the direct sales return, which is easy (easier) to prove. For this program it’s not as straight-line as that, as this is about engagement.

Because we positioned the program around engagement within the community, that is what we measure.

How active they are is a key measure, and as it stands, over 90% of our online community are actively engaging with us, with an engagement rate of nearly 30%.

In the future we will be tracking the lifetime value of a member. Right now, members of the Barbeque Legends Club are nearly 2x more likely to purchase from us again, so we know it has a profound impact on a repeat purchase, which is important.

Often business goals and customer goals can be at odds, however with our program we have a perfect alignment with our program and business…engagement!

We measure engagement. We deliver engagement. Simple!

6. If you could start fresh with a new program, what would you not do again, do better or do more of?

I’ve launched many customer (engagement) platforms and I believe with this one I am the most satisfied with the way it came together and launched, I would not change anything.

We gained internal buy in across the business and stores.

When we launched it went well. We then got braver and launched more content.

In hindsight, if we had launched bigger, I believe it would have been even more successful. The learning here is be brave, be bold, launch big vs launching soft, then going big.

Looking ahead, it’s all about creating more content for the members to consume. We are learning from our customers. In future we want to connect this experience across all stages of the customer journey, and all touchpoints, such as our paid media channels and website content that is personalised and relevant. Expect more content, competitions, and courses through more channels, along with face-to-face classes, which will be back again.

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

Super simple! Listen to what your customers want and not what your business wants.

(Ok, don’t be reckless, make sure the business case counts.)

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

The sheer volume of programs is causing confusion and clutter. Customers cannot be a part of everything. They must pick and choose which program to belong to. If programs focus too heavily on a ‘spend and save scheme’, it becomes a dreaded race to the bottom.

Acquisition costs are increasing and so the desire for a loyalty program as a base of known customers to talk to, is making the run for programs more popular.

The BBQ legend club is an example of program that is built differently.

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

Consistency. No matter how a program is designed, consistency is something that is more and more important to consumers in today’s changing world. Consistent communications, offers and helping the customer understand what they get next, makes a difference.

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

  1. Creativity
  2. Keep a keen eye on research and data
  3. Patience! Keep going if you get it wrong. Have patience for self and others. (Love this)          

11. Leave us with a lasting loyalty thought (what do you think loyalty is?)

Loyalty based on spend behaviour is not demonstrating any kind of loyalty. What is loyalty? Loyalty is about connection and engagement.

Summary of learnings

There are too many valuable insights in this article to mention them all, so for me (you can choose your own pearls of wisdom), here are four.

  1. Flip the loyalty program model. Move from points for purchase to engagement and community connection
  2. Listen to what the customer wants, not what the business needs. When you start outside in, the business will benefit.
  3. Connect the program promise to the brand purpose.
  4. Be creative, keep a keen eye on data and research and above all else be patient!

Have a happy loyalty day!