The data foundations underpinning Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group's loyalty transformation

Owner of brands such as Meat & Wine Co, Italian Street Kitchen and Ribs & Burgers shares its customer loyalty program overhaul and the personalisation it will deliver

Data-driven loyalty offers tailored to a segment of one and across multiple brands and regions is one step closer to reality for Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group after embarking on a major data and customer loyalty program transformation.

Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group is a multi-brand, multi-region restaurant owner with seven brands across Australia: Meat & Wine Co, Italian Street Kitchen, Ribs & Burgers, Hunter & Barrel, Five Guys, Alma’s and 6Head. Most brands boast of multiple venues, and locations encompass Australia, the UAE, South Africa and the UK.

Historically, each brand maintained its own customer loyalty program, Seagrass chief marketing officer, David Ovens, told CMO.

“It’s fundamentally impossible for us to achieve an outcome where customers will download seven different apps,” he said. “We know from our experience, trying to market seven loyalty programs is also commercially unworkable and not particularly relevant for the end user.”

With plans to open upwards of 10 venues a year across different brands and locations, the utility of a consolidated loyalty program will also continue to grow, Ovens said.

“We believe from a competitive advantage point of view that if we build one loyalty program, including all brands, locations and geographies, then there’s a much stronger proposition for the customer,” he said.

“For example, if you have a corporate lunch, you might go to Meat & Wine Co. Then when you’re at home, you might go with the family or friends to Italian Street Kitchen. We will have more usability of a program that covers all brands and locations.”  

To achieve this task, Seagrass has struck a partnership with Gratifii to adopt its Mosaic loyalty and rewards engine. The contract is expected to generate revenues of $400,000 in the initial 12 months. The all-encompassing ‘Dining Rewards Club’ will replace an existing card-based Meat & Wine Co loyalty program, along with distinct digital programs maintained across Seagrass’ other brands.

The overhaul starts with Meat & Wine Co, which has the most convoluted structure because of its history. Testing is slated across venues in June and July.

“If we solve for that first, that will naturally encompass all the other brands,” Ovens said.

The Dining Rewards Club program is then expected to be available across all Seagrass brands in Australia by the end of September.

The right mix of value

Loyalty program elements are being grouped into two camps: Always-on; and per-brand campaign elements. Previously, Seagrass offered a combination of cashback, offers and points-based programs.

“What we have learnt about what we won’t do is points,” Ovens said. “It has been very complicated for people to understand points relative to value. So we will have an always-on component, based on cashback. For example, if you spend $100, you get $5 added into your account, which can be redeemed on any future purchase. Every venue and every brand will have that cashback element.”

Each brand will then have individualised rewards. These could include featured wines available to certain diners based on their buying profile. Or it could be an end-of-financial year or Christmas offer, or incentives to try a new product available in one restaurant brand.

“Our first imperative has been how to make a simpler program for the customer to understand, that’s more exciting and that increases frequency and engagement,” Seagrass marketing manager, Maria Fernandez, said. “Secondly, it’s how we make it simple for us to manage and to use for the operator.

“Without those things in line, it’s hard to make any loyalty program successful. We realised we couldn’t even explain it properly to the third party, it was too complicated. If we can’t understand it, how will a customer or new staff member get it?”

Seagrass initially went to tender for a loyalty program partner to land on Gratifii’s Mosaic platform, and a front-end component built by its partner, Grade.

“The biggest thing for us was not just people and business, but tech that was agile and flexible. We can have a plug-and-play approach, for example, add in a new microservice. Gratifii has the tech, systems for that, it’s a very agile platform and it’s API-first. It was a no-brainer for those reasons,” Ovens said.

Data foundation imperative

Underpinning all of this is data. In advance of loyalty program transformation, Seagrass has spent the last year building a centralised first-party customer database. To do this, it’s scraping all systems, from online ordering to old loyalty systems to gain a 360-degree single view of the customer, down to the transaction level.

“Data is such an important asset. The way its managed, processed from a privacy and security point of view is very important,” Fernandez commented. “As we continue to grow, it’s easy to let that go and not be on top of that. We have strong growth plans as a business. We need to make sure we have proper systems in place, where we create a 360-view of the customer, aggregating all the data from all different platform.”

Seagrass’ data marketing platform is built on Google Suite and Cloud and pulls all data into one place, restructure it and make it secure, then connected and accessible to all other systems.

“It was important we looked at this from the bottom up, and ensured our backbone is well oiled and structured before we built the loyalty front end. We want to ensure everything built on top has a strong data base to support it,” Fernandez said.  

“This gives us an agile, secure approach and means we can be very efficient with technical costs, as well as how we communicate with customers and personalise engagement with them.”

In complement, Seagrass has evolved the payment side to connect the dots between loyalty earnings and redeeming them and brought on new partner, DataMesh, to integrate loyalty with point-of-sale systems. This means if a customer redeems their reward at a restaurant or wants to pay with part of the cashback earned, it’s easily achieved. Loyalty membership also shows up in the POS and connects to the customer data marketing platform, linking it to individual profiles.

“Payment encrypted is encrypted so we know a loyalty member has activated from a loyalty account, opposed to just a credit card transaction,” Ovens said. Throughout the process, he cited strong collaboration between Google, Gratifii and Seagrass technical teams driven with a strategic customer and commercial lens.

Personalisation plan

In terms of what will be in the customer’s hands, Seagrass has opted for a progressive Web app (PWA) rather than native app.

“A PWA is a great way to start, it’s simpler to create but has the same build code for hybrid app, so if we want to go that way, we can do that,” Fernandez said. “Being website-based, it acts as an app - it’s still downloadable and a similar experience to an app. Plus you can access in any Web browser or device.”  

As to the level of personalisation planned, Fernandez pointed to a flexible, evolving approach that can go as deep as the Seagrass team feels is necessary.

“The idea is we can do whatever segmentation we want to do. It’s building a tool that allows anyone to go as deep as you want. For example, we could pull a segment from top performing stores for this brand, or lapsed customers but those who love burgers and are also gluten free. That’s the beauty of it,” she said.

There are nevertheless obvious segmentations Seagrass is pursuing initially using a recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM) model. It’s now mapping loyalty members against these segments to understand where they are in their lifecycle.

“Because we also have transactional data, we will know what they like, where they spend, if they’re more a dinner or lunch diner,” Fernandez said. “We’ll pre-build those, but after that it’s about building the ability to go as deep as we want to go.

“We will have reporting to understand how people’s engagement and behaviour changes based on offers and segments and we’ll constantly adjust so we’re providing the best experience against what customers want.”  

To measure short and long-term success, Seagrass is incorporating qualitative and quantitative insights. In phase one, the emphasis is on hearing from members and what they like and don’t like. That will inform phases two and three of the loyalty program.

“At the same time, tagging app for Google Analytics means we can understand how long it takes to get to where they want to go, reactions, plus ROI from program point of view – to make sure it’s incremental,” Fernandez said. “Understanding frequency is really important and how often we can get people coming back. Are we increasing cross-selling? Or we might discover we had a very loyal Meat & Wine Co that didn’t know about our other brands and now starts taking the kids to Ribs & Burgers.”  

Ovens stressed the importance of frequency of dining, whatever the brand, as a commercial imperative.

“If I have 10,000 existing members and get them to visit once more per year, that’s significantly more beneficial to the organisation than chasing non-users,” he said. “Geography and distance from store is often a barrier we cannot understand digitally. Because we scrape our reservation systems, we can talk to a vast majority of customers. But loyalty will always be a subset of totality. And for that group, frequency is more dominant, strategic goal than acquisition.”

Seagrass’ broader marketing strategy is to then employ social channels for more top of the funnel, awareness opportunities.

“We’re looking at all the marketing toolkit and which part we deploy at which part of the funnel,” Ovens said.

And plans to improve the program and front-end will continue. The next phase is going global including brands overseas.

“We are continuing to expand as business globally. It’s very scalable, and there is no limit to where we take it to,” Fernandez said. “We could also integrate partner offers and we’ll continue to review value for the customer.”  

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