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CRMC 2024 Conference Summary

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on May 30, 2024

The CRMC conference is the premier brand and loyalty marketing event in the US, and it took place May 20-22 in Chicago. This year’s theme was “Humanity>Technology,” and it was brought to life through many talks that framed up the concept of “Connecting Customer Behaviour to Emerging Applications in Marketing.”  

Over 300 brand marketers gathered to learn, share, and network with each other on topics ranging from Loyalty and Rewards to Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, ChatGPT, Experiential, Generative AI, Machine Learning, and Virtual Reality. Every aspect of strategy and technology that vectors towards changing, improving, and disrupting the customer journey was on the table.  

As part of the fun, The Wise Marketer’s Aaron Dauphinee was on-site conducting brand interviews, which we will publish progressively over the next few weeks.  

If you haven’t seen it before, the highlight reel from the 2023 event will give you an idea of what you missed. Better yet, since the team of Bill Hanifin, Aaron Dauphinee, and Phil Rubin were together at this year’s event, we collaborated to provide you with this written highlight reel. 

Overall, there was a welcoming feeling to the event. From the opening reception, the energy was positive and more upbeat than in other years post-covid. People seemed genuinely happy to be back together and there was a demonstrable priority on open communication and collaboration. 

In addition to well-curated, featured keynotes that served as leadership development for the g and attendees, the agenda was split nicely between programmatic loyalty and CRM. Importantly, there was a long roster of great brands on the agenda and the stage, ranging from Pepsi and Ford to Anthropologie, Harley Davidson, and Ulta. 

And lest we forget, Craig Wood turned in another stellar performance as master of ceremonies. Craig is a pro and facilitates this sizeable event as if it were an intimate gathering of close friends.  

A common thread, not surprisingly, was the emphasis on AI and its role for various brands and technologies. In the perfect wrap-up to the conference, the consensus was that AI’s benefits, while emerging, focus on two areas: 1) productivity and 2) effectiveness. For now, much of AI’s focus is on the former, though we definitely heard examples of brands leveraging AI to improve customer journey management and relevance. 

As appropriate from an event with CRM in its name, we heard lots about how brands are sharpening their use of data, both with and without the benefit of AI. Callouts included brand marketers who are well entrenched as leaders and innovators in loyalty and CRM, ranging from Panera to Ulta and Victoria’s Secret (in come-back mode).

One veteran attendee really appreciated the transparency from these brands in terms of what worked and what didn’t. Collating from multiple attendee sources, here are some agenda highlights from the brand marketers on stage: 

  • Panera was called out specifically for its “thoughtful” segmentation of lapsed, loyal, and at-risk customers.  
  • Ulta shared some eye-catching metrics evidencing the success of its rebranded loyalty program, Ulta Beauty Rewards. In that presentation, Nicole Bernhardt expressed the intimate connection between Ulta’s brand and the loyalty brand, saying “at Ulta Beauty, we are on a journey to win the hearts and minds of beauty enthusiasts – and Ulta Beauty Rewards is key to this journey.”   
  • Ulta also shared its efforts around gamification, and while not a new facet to loyalty and CRM, it also showed up in Pepsi’s presentation. 
  • Blain’s Farm and Fleet showcased how technology helped automate its journey management for puppy owners, including revealing other relevant categories. 
  • The always iconic Anthropologie, long a leader in specialty retail for a loyalty strategy built away from transactional rewards, shared how it blends art and science so its members have a reason to shop and a rewarding experience. 

Examples like these are really the nuts and bolts of leveraging loyalty, collecting customer data, driving more effective CRM, and, ultimately, more sales. 

Another important theme of the event was illustrating the value of owned versus paid channels as a core value component to brands. Customer acquisition costs are increasing while loyalty programs and memberships continue to rise. 

On the program side, there was no shortage of points and rewards, but this year, we are starting to see better integration. Two great examples from iconic brands in the world of mobility are Ford and Harley-Davidson. 

  • FordPass was a good showcase of a vehicle/driver-centric app focused on the drive/owner experience with information, recognition and rewards all part of the value proposition. While partners are limited in scope, the intent is to grow that component of the program to deliver a more robust offering over time. It reflects the continuation of Ford’s journey around the customer. 
  • Harley-Davidson reimagined its HOG community (Harley Owners Group), legendary in terms of brand loyalty, with a new membership proposition that is open to all, tiered, and includes a spend-/ride-and-get points-based component. Like Ford’s FordPass, it is integrated with its ownership and riding experience, but unlike FordPass, you actually earn points for riding. It’s a great example of loyalty going beyond transactional, like Ford’s, but even more so. 

Sam Rad, a Futurist, Anthropologist, and Entrepreneur; Erica Dhawan, an authority on Collaboration and Innovation; and Sylvie Di Giusto, an Executive Image Consultant, were welcome highlights of the show. On the final day, Sylvie spoke about how truly successful organizations are those that empower their employees to make deliberate and considerate choices in all aspects of their daily operations. She walked the attendees through an exercise that coached them on the power of choice and how images can be transformed to create truly transformative experiences.  

The final day wrapped up with a panel hosted by Wise Marketer’s Bill Hanifin. Panelists Allie Ferguson, Head of Customer Loyalty with American Honda Motor Company, Robin Ruttle, Senior Director @ Sonesta Hotels, and Alok Jain, Sr Director - CRM, Loyalty and Marketing Analytics at West Marine gathered to summarize their thoughts on hyper-personalization through AI and machine learning, integrating the loyalty experience with the loyalty program, leveraging brand assets for customer loyalty, journey orchestration, and community activation among member groups. There was also a discussion of how quickly customer loyalty is gaining recognition in the C-Suite. 

If you missed this event, make sure to join us in Chicago next year, June 4-6, 2025. Tune in and register for episodes of the CRMC / Wise Marketer webinar series throughout the balance of 2024.