Blockchain helping Brands to directly connect with customers, insights from William Parker
Blockchain can not only offer a new way to manage customers information but also empower customers to manage their own data and identity. We have interviewed William Parker, Chief Brand Officer and Co-Founder of A7 Core.
Pioneering his own analytic-centric approach to branding, William has consulted for some of the biggest brands in the business. William has shared his brand strategies for growth with prestigious companies including CVS Health Corp., Ford Motor Company, Home Depot Inc., LG Display Co. Ltd., Procter & Gamble Co. and United States Marine Corps. His work helped to fundamentally shift behaviors and consumer attitudes. William has led multiple international marketing seminars and teaches in the City College of New York’s Branding + Integrated Communications master’s program.
BM: How can blockchain be useful to brands and other major retailers in terms of reaching consumers, particularly millennials?
William: First, consumer data is passed to trusted sources, in a transparent manner without fear of fraud or abuse. Consumers are increasingly worried about their data being used by nefarious actors and now brands have a way of clearly communicating with consumers what data will be leveraged, how it will be leveraged, and pay consumers a fair value for that data.
Second, is the ability to leverage that data in new and interesting ways. Millennials do enjoy coupons but are also much more likely to use targeted offers from brands they are loyal to.
In an environment where brands are competing with heavily discounted private labels, they will need every opportunity available to develop personalized relationships with consumers. Because of the inherent trust within A7 Core’s blockchain, brands, consumers, and retailers are sharing more data than ever, and A7 Core’s AI integration is providing consumer’s personalized pricing based on historical shopping habits.
Traditional brick-and-mortar relationships were incredibly personal. You knew who your butcher was and over a period you developed a relationship, he began to understand your preferences and knew what you wanted before you entered his shop. He would also give you deals based on your loyalty. Maybe a little extra on a birthday, or a free sample of some new inventory, our parents grew up with these intrinsic relationships between them and their shopping supply chain. Brand consolidation has increased distribution of products and dramatically increased consumer choices at the grocery store, but we have lost that personalization.
A7 Core leverages blockchain to bring the benefits of relationships back into every consumer’s life. With trusted exchanges between consumers and brands, shoppers develop a more traditional relationship at their retailers. Brands will know who their best consumers are and reward loyalty.
They will also quickly identify consumers that switch out of their brand. What happens if you had an unpleasant experience with a product? Sometimes you will send an email or call a call center, but most of the time you’ll just buy the competition. With A7 Core, brands now reach out to consumers and ask them, “What happened?” Maybe the consumer changed their diet or went organic and didn’t know about the brand’s other options?
BM: How does blockchain allow brands to customize discounts? Is it based on a consumer’s shopping habits? How does it all work?
William: Our blockchain facilitates the data sharing, our AI is where the real magic happens. Traditional coupon fulfillment takes 30 to 90 days, making optimization impossible. A7 Core clears coupons within a day so brand managers know how their campaigns are doing in real-time. Optimizations take place in many forms, depending on the brand’s go-to-market strategy and objectives.
Discounts are more than just coupons. They are rebates, loyalty programs, temporary price reductions and overall – personalized pricing. The traditional model of couponing floods the market with a discounted product for temporary trial. When looking to drive habitual usage of a product, brands must get more sophisticated than simple product discounting.
Driving loyalty through continued purchases is a time-honored product discount strategy; Buy five pizzas, get one for free. Unfortunately, most brands do not own the point of purchase and therefore must force consumers to make all purchases at once to get the discount or activate cumbersome rebate or rewards programs based around entering numbers into a website. Because of A7 Core’s centralized personalized pricing, brands will track consumers throughout multiple retailers, purchases and products. Proctor & Gamble set a monthly goal of 10 products to reach a special monthly coupon for a consumer. This is tracked over time and unique to each consumer.
Brands can also manage incrementality. Many loyalty programs run the risk of incentivizing purchases that were going to happen regardless of a discount activity. Offering a consumer a $1 off a product they were going to buy anyway isn’t a very good business model for the brand.
Instead, brands incentivize cross-portfolio purchasing. Consumers that purchase $100 in Diet Pepsi each month are incredibly loyal but don’t need to be encouraged to buy more Pepsi. What if Pepsi-Co. instead gave that consumer a discount on Lays or other Pepsi products, introducing new product lines to this valuable consumer.
Beyond just shopping behavior, A7 Core predicts behavior based on other factors. Look-alike targeting opens prospecting for brands and potential consumers. Much of our behavior can be predicted based on our demographics, psychographics, and even geo-location. Based on the types of retailers consumers shop at and shopping patterns, A7 Core will deliver unique discounts to fit those needs.
Sometimes it’s not about what you bought, but what you didn’t buy. Trip consolidation is incredibly important to consumers – most try to put as much as they can into a single trip to the store. Based on the time of day, a consumer might get a coupon to pick up some Little Caesar’s on the ride home because they just spent the day shopping and just want a fun game night. Maybe it has been six months since the last oil check – there can be a coupon in a shopper’s inbox to stop by the Jiffy Lube on the way home. The goal is to live around the consumer’s life, not disrupt it. And all of this is managed through series of data permissions, so the consumer knows exactly who has their data and for what purpose.
BM: Tell me more about permission-based blockchain. How is it different from traditional blockchain?
William: Public blockchain can work for purely public utilities like currency as it prioritizes transparency and immutability but falls short when it comes to scalability. When dealing with sensitive shopping behavior, immutability and scalability are incredibly important but transparency must be controlled. Permission-based blockchain bridges that gap. A7 Core validates trusted nodes within our blockchain so consumers know who is getting exactly what data. Brands and retailers that are trusted entities become points of validation to consumers, allowing A7 Core to keep the immutability that is so valuable in this data exchange without the data risks.
Many brand campaigns activate partnerships between multiple brands and fulfillment at a retailer. Permission-based blockchain ensures that the brand, consumer, and retailer data is appropriately managed. Consumers may earn free movie passes from buying Coca-Cola at Kroger. This multi-entity transaction is not only cumbersome but difficult to ensure data privacy between all parties. A7 Core manages this data sharing through explicit permission-based blockchain, allowing for third-party validation of transaction without sharing all sensitive data.
Scalability is also an issue. A7 Core is dedicated to the decentralization of data, but this decentralization should be thoughtful and focused. This led A7 Core to develop a unique permission-based blockchain that takes the best of everything, for everyone. For any solution to be practical, it must be scalable. A7 Core manages significant scale while maintaining trust, transparency, and immutability.
BM: Does blockchain help retailers with other issues related to the coupon industry?
A7 Core has also developed a Till Controller to specifically help retailers manage their inventory and consumer experience. From a single source, retailers are able to understand their total store – from inventory to register. This will facilitate purchasing, inventory management, and consumer relations.
When making brand purchases or walking into a shopper meeting (between the retailer and brand), retailers will know exactly what is selling, when it is selling, and where it is selling. This empowers the retailer to not only buy what is selling best but discuss product returns to brands when it’s not working.
Brands offer retailers performance-based discounts or rebates called scan-based offers. These reward a retailer for selling a certain amount or type of product and are incredibly profitable for retailers. Retailers will make decisions based on this and brands gain significant advantages. Unfortunately, it is very cumbersome and wrought with fraud. Many retailers are forced to manage to track these offers through paper receipts. This is difficult, time-consuming, and takes months to fulfill. Clearinghouses are available to manage these performance-based discounts but still, a significant amount of fraud happens. With the A7 Core Till Controller, both retailers and brands can track these scan-based offers in real time.
Retailers are also able to dynamically discount products based on inventory. If a product is hogging shelf space from better selling products and the brand won’t take it back, the retailer is able to control how that product is incentivized daily. Additionally, retailers can identify which products drive the greatest basket size and encourage users to purchase.
Retailers not only know what their products are doing, they will also know what their consumers are doing. A store manager will be able to identify a high-value shopper the moment they walk in the door. Imagine if you walked into your local grocery chain and the manager said, “Hello, Ms. Wilson. Great to have you back. How about a free turkey on us today, we can have it waiting at the checkout for you?” This is managed 100% within the A7 Core blockchain and the consumer never has to touch a paper coupon or lift a finger.
BM: Why are millennials more likely to use coupons versus other age groups?
William: Their lifecycle and individuality. Millennials are now parents and incredibly price sensitive. Trying to start a family is hard and now more than ever, people are looking for a little financial assistance.
A simple coupon is only part of the equation. Every generation has used a considerable number of coupons when starting a family but being raised on personalization makes millennials a little different. It’s not just the discount but how that discount is delivered. Millennials have crafted every aspect of their lives and many brands have encouraged this customizability in the products and experiences they craft for today’s consumer. Unfortunately, because of not owning the purchase experience, many CPG brands are unable to provide this robust personalization. A7 Core offers brands the opportunity to develop this personal experience with their consumer.
Additionally, millennials, like most generations, enjoy being rewarded for their actions. Through gamification, brands now offer these discount experiences based on milestones and rewards. Consumers are surprised and delighted by brands that they previously thought to be boring and old.
BM: What was the catalyst behind the launch of A7 Core? Please provide a brief story about how it all began and the problems the company hopes to address for everyday consumers.
William: Some of A7 Core has been together for quite some time. The CEO and CTO have been working on this technology for over ten years. When they saw how close their offering was to the blockchain, they saw the opportunity to evolve. What previously sat as a back-end data solution is not being offered directly to brands. With over 80 API’s and over 4.5 billion transactions through the platform, A7 Core is ready to take this offering to the next level.
The team has extensive research building radio-frequency identification (RFID) payments and independent grocery integration. 10 years learning the technological hurdles of bridging old systems with new makes this team the perfect ones to solve the brick-and-mortar retail problem. It is difficult to get clean and reliable transaction data from many points of sale (POS) systems, but this team continues to find success.
This has been the culmination of an incredible amount of work and the team just couldn’t leave it to someone else to finish.
From the beginning our premise was simple – there must be a way to bring ethical transformation to the data space. Blockchain technology is so revolutionary and provides solutions to so many encumbered systems. Through cautious, but expeditious growth A7 Core is bringing a solution that many brands have been yearning for quite some time. This has been the culmination of an incredible amount of work and the team just couldn’t leave it for someone else to finish.
BM: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you are so passionate about the future of A7 Core.
William: I’ve spent my career watching incredible engineering being lost to overpromises. In A7 Core there is a working product that will truly change the way in which consumers engage with brands. Doing this with a team that is so focused on the right solution, not the easiest, continues to grow my passion for this product.