Air Miles gets new CTO as it continues its transformation

From the C-Suite newsletter: Tech vet Rick Neuman will help the marketing team make better use of its data.

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By Will Novosedlik

An Air Miles loyalty card gets swiped a thousand times every minute. A redemption is made every two seconds.

“Our challenge,” says Rachel MacQueen, SVP, marketing and collector experience, “is to make sure that every one of those redemptions is as valuable to our collectors, and our partners, as possible.”

Making that happen requires technology and marketing to be in lockstep with each other. While the marketing half of that challenge rests with MacQueen and her team, the technology piece will now be in the hands of Rick Neuman, who was recently appointed chief technology officer.

Neuman and MacQueen’s efforts to lead the company’s digital transformation will be supported by a broader shake-up in the leadership ranks. Other new hires include Kat Carl-Musson, VP, program marketing; Jennifer Carson, VP, client success and partnerships; Sandeep Kawadkar, VP, client services; and Jonathan Gingerich, AVP, business development.

These changes are in large measure a reflection of AirMiles’ newly minted status as an independent enterprise. Last year it was spun off by its former owner, Bread Financial Holdings (formerly Alliance Data Systems Corporation). AirMiles is now publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange, putting it in greater control of its own destiny, while exposing it to shareholder pressure to accelerate growth.

Neuman comes to the role after two years as chief product and technology officer at Toronto-based retail technology and digital flyer company Flipp. Previous to that he spent eight years in tech leadership roles at Walmart. So he knows the ins and outs of digital transformation, and how to connect customers to retailers. Neuman describes his mandate as one which will accelerate the next phase of growth for Air Miles.

“The opportunities for our collectors to find rewards and feel rewarded are everywhere,” he says. “But we have work to do. For instance, I see some immediate opportunities on our mobile app. In the app store we only have a three-star rating, which means we might as well not even be there. It’s on us to own up to the fact that we are not meeting customer expectations. Same goes for partner expectations. Our task is to create an ecosystem where our partners succeed in reaching their customers and driving their businesses forward, while giving our collectors a compelling reason to come in on a weekly basis and get value from the exchange. We’re looking at both sides of that equation.”

To do that, AirMiles will continue to move from being a traditional loyalty program to an insights-driven data platform. Thirty years ago, loyalty programs were in their infancy, as were data analytics and personalization capabilities. But the good news is that, as a brand that’s been around for three decades, AirMiles is sitting on a lot of underutilized data.

“One of the transformations that we’re going through is opening up access to that data in ways that extend our partners’ marketing reach,” says MacQueen. “Married with our analytics and digital capabilities, that access puts incredible power in their hands to drive relevant and personalized offers and experiences to collectors. This increases the marketing effectiveness for our partners, while creating greater value for our collectors. That is really going to take us to the next level as a brand and as a program.”

That said, AirMiles has made other significant enhancements to its offering for consumers. For instance, it increased the value of every mile by reducing the number of miles required on both merchandise and flight redemptions. Collectors can now link any Canadian-issued MasterCard to their AirMiles card to earn points.

During the pandemic the brand’s long established Cash Miles program enabled collectors whose budgets were negatively impacted to use points for necessities like groceries and gas. Now that travel is back, it relaunched its flight program to offer more choice and flexibility.

“The other big change for us was going to retail-based pricing, which means if you see a flight on Expedia and you come to the AirMiles flight platform, you’ll see the exact same availability of inventory, class of service and fares. The added value is that you get AirMiles on top of it.”

To send a clear signal of change to the market, the company recently refreshed its visual identity and deployed the “It’s All Gravy” campaign last fall across TV, radio, OOH, social and digital channels.

“We also increased both our digital and ATL media reach to target our message to young families,” adds MacQueen. “Most recently, we partnered with Canada’s Got Talent as the official travel provider and this summer we are celebrating our 30th birthday with a national promotion that will reward collectors for the simple act of swiping and scanning their card, with millions of miles, merch, and bucket list trips up for grabs.”

The hope is that these changes will nudge Canadians – especially younger cohorts – to take a second look at the 30-year-old brand.