5 Questions for Hal Brierley
The loyalty-program pioneer and founder of e-Rewards talks about what's next.
“I can feel the pulse of America on any given day on any issue,” says Brierley, 66. He founded several Dallas market-research companies including e-Rewards, a by-invitation-only program that rewards people for participating in online surveys (or research “panels”) for clients including Dallas-based Blockbuster, Pizza Hut, and M/A/R/C Research, part of the Omnicom Group.
1. In December, e-Rewards completed its acquisition of London-based Research Now Ltd., which is in the same line of business, for about $140 million. Why Research Now?
Our U.S. clients want to know what’s happening in Asia and Europe, and Research Now has quality research panels in 38 countries worldwide.
2. You seem well-positioned to know exactly how consumers are feeling about things at any given time.
We’ve been tracking consumer confidence since October 2008, and calling it our Anxiety Index. The level of nervousness grew through last March. Then the [stock] market stopped collapsing, and there was a positive spin. Confidence started to decline again in June, but now it’s improving.
3. You virtually pioneered the “loyalty-program” industry. How did you get into the field?
Early in my career I co-founded Epsilon, a database for charities, and we worked with 400 not-for-profits. Over a period of 10 years we developed techniques for connecting with people: how you get them to be more philanthropic, what makes people give? Saying “thank you” helps, we learned; so does putting your name on a plaque.
I started wondering how we could help companies in other fields build closer relationships with their customers—develop more loyalty—as well. So I began helping airlines reward their people for flying by building a thank-you program. A classmate of mine at the Harvard Business School became the marketing head at American Airlines, and they’d been planning a similar program, so I became the only outside consultant working on AAdvantage.
4 . Do you have anything new up your sleeve?
Every day more than 100,000 people come to our web site to do surveys, 50,000 more than are “needed.” So we’ve started looking at capturing data from all these additional people. We can ask them, for instance, did you fly yesterday? Did you go shopping? Did you dine out? We can determine that 1,000 people dined at Friday’s or at Applebee’s yesterday, for example. We may package and market this program as “day-after” research, and offer it as a new product.
5. What marketing tips might you have for companies in general?
One of the keys in marketing is to set expectations appropriately—and then to over-deliver. Southwest Airlines does that very well. We also believe companies need to do more listening to the consumer than preaching to the consumer.