An interview with Stephanie Meltzer-Paul, Mastercard’s Executive Vice President of Global Loyalty
Stephanie Meltzer-Paul is Mastercard’s Executive Vice President of Global Loyalty, overseeing one of the world’s largest loyalty services operations in the company’s fast-growing Data & Services unit. Her tenure prior to Mastercard includes BJ’s Wholesale, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, American Express and most recently Inspire Brands, where she spearheaded robust digital and loyalty enhancements for Dunkin’ and was named to Brand Innovators Women to Watch in 2021 and the Nation’s Restaurant News 2020 Power List.
Having started her career in publishing and subscription marketing nearly 25 years ago, her journey through the loyalty business is rooted in building strong connections and has evolved with technology. “Even then, our job had all the markings of what we call CRM today,” said Meltzer-Paul. “We were looking to identify the right prospect, make the right offer to them and generate conversions. The goals were the same as now, but everything moved at a slower pace.”
A View from Both Sides
With experience as both a loyalty provider and a merchant, Meltzer-Paul’s vision of loyalty benefits from a dual perspective. “Consumers want to feel valued, special, and experience minimal friction in their brand interactions. Those are traits common to most consumers and should inform a customer-centric strategy no matter what industry you’re in,” she said. “For a long time, I was on the brand side of the table, seeking capabilities to support strategy execution. With Mastercard, it’s exciting to be on the leading edge of creating the new capabilities that brands can employ. Not everyone realizes what a leader Mastercard is in loyalty.”
Mastercard has expanded its suite of services to better help brands attract and retain consumers in part through strategic acquisitions – the company added measurement and optimization platform Test & Learn to its roster in 2015, loyalty platform SessionM in 2019, and personalization engine Dynamic Yield in 2022. “We’ve been way more than a payments company for a long time, delivering consulting, analytics technology and more,” said Meltzer-Paul. “We’re a best kept secret to some extent.”
With “about 800” programs under management across the world for both merchants and issuers, the company has extended its reach beyond payments, powering not only the transaction, but also every interaction.
Consumer Experience Over Everything
Loyalty as a marketing discipline can often be limited to explicitly structured currency-based programs. But the newer consumer-centric approach to loyalty endorsed by Wise Marketer has boardroom recognition and support and is governed by cross-functional collaboration among business leaders across the enterprise.
This is a sentiment reflected in the industry with many brands seeking to become truly customer centric. Meltzer-Paul agreed. “The definition of loyalty is expanding and Mastercard is working to bring impactful end to end solutions to meet current needs, keep pace with trends, but also to lead with innovation,” she said. “I view loyalty as any initiative that is making your relationship with your end customer better. This can be delivered through a formal loyalty program or new digital capabilities but in each case, the goal is to understand the customer better and be more proficient at personalized marketing.”
Mastercard’s approach begins with questions that identify both current and future needs. “We always start with an analysis,” said Meltzer-Paul. “Are you interested in [customer] acquisition? Or higher levels of engagement?” And with a foundational understanding of a client’s hierarchy of needs in hand, Mastercard develops a data-informed strategy that keeps the consumer at the center throughout the journey. “We always go back to the data. If you have really good data everything else becomes a lot easier,” she said. “And if you do it right, the customer will have conviction that the brand understands them and cares about them,” said Meltzer-Paul.
Caring about the consumer often extends even beyond their experience to align with their beliefs. ESG initiatives like Mastercard’s Priceless Planet Coalition, for example, go a long way to create organic connections. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but consumers are talking about it all the time,” says Meltzer-Paul. Offering consumers alternative ways to redeem their points is a differentiator for Mastercard, which can provide consumers ESG redemption methods to drive meaningful results that help save the planet.
In an increasingly digital age where there are countless ways to engage consumers, companies that prioritize loyalty will be able to build stronger, more effective relationships with their consumers. “Loyalty is not a set it and forget it area of business. It is an “everyday task” that is part of your company’s DNA and ecosystem,” said Meltzer-Paul.
What’s next for Mastercard? Stephanie was enthusiastic, saying, “We are so excited about what’s to come. It’s why I took the job, and I’m fortunate to have lots of great people on the team in markets around the world with diverse global experience. Combining all of these talents is powerful and working with this team is one of the greatest benefits of being here.”