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Loyalty360 Interview: Auntie Anne’s CMO, Heather Neary

Auntie Anne’s, the world’s largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise, recently launched a new loyalty program. Currently one of the few primarily mall-based QSR brands in the loyalty space, Auntie Anne’s partnered with MICROS Systems, Inc. and mobile app development company Qubop, Inc. to introduce ‘My Pretzel Perks’ mobile loyalty app.

Auntie Anne’s new app is currently available in 80% of its more than 1,000 U.S. store locations, with plans to complete the remaining participating stores’ installations by the end of August.

Heather Neary, Auntie Anne’s Chief Marketing Officer, participated in an engaging Q&A with Loyalty360 to discuss the new loyalty program.

What factors prompted Auntie Anne’s to launch a new loyalty program and what are the goals for the program?

It’s important for Auntie Anne’s to constantly seek new ways to improve our business model, better connect with our guests, and continuously improve the experience of visiting an Auntie Anne’s location and enjoying a fresh, hot, golden brown pretzel. As we worked with our guests and our franchise partners and also looked around the competitive landscape, we realized there was a significant opportunity in the loyalty space to create a meaningful and “smart” experience for our savvy guests. Our goals for the program are very straightforward. In addition to sales goals, we hope to be able to connect with our loyal guests, create new loyal guests, and define a snacking experience unlike any other.

What led to a mobile-app based loyalty program, and did customer feedback play a role?

We piloted this program in Chicago and Long Island in Q4 2013. The feedback from guests in those markets was critical in helping us clearly define what the program looked like and what features our guests wanted to see in an Auntie Anne’s app.

How do you hope the new program will impact customer engagement levels?

We carefully developed this program to cater to our loyal guests–rewarding them for their patronage and encouraging repeat visits. Again, it is our hope that this new app provides a unique value to our guests that keeps them coming back to our counters time and time again. In addition to free products, we will reward our guests with fun Auntie Anne’s-branded premium gifts as they achieve milestones in the program.

How does Auntie Anne’s view Customer Experience and how does it factor in to the company’s customer-centric approach?

The Customer Experience is central in everything that we do at Auntie Anne’s. Whether it’s through a new loyalty program, our innovative menu options, or simply (and most importantly) through customer care, our focus is always on delivering exceptional service to each and every guest that approaches our counter. We feel that we have a responsibility at Auntie Anne’s to consistently try to improve the customer experience. We understand that guests have a lot of options in the snacking space. We want to make sure we go above and beyond to deliver an experience that is memorable, tasty and makes the guest feel special!

How do you stay on top of rapidly changing technologies and how do they factor in to the company’s customer engagement approach?

We are all responsible for monitoring the changing technology landscape. We reach out to our franchise partners on a regular basis to find out what they’re hearing and seeing in the environments where we have our stores–whether that be in a mall, a Walmart, or an airport. It’s important for us to listen to what’s happening and determine how we can best engage. The Auntie Anne’s loyalty app is our response to our guests’ desire to connect with our brand, earn points, and have fun as they enjoy our pretzels and lemonade!

As a marketer, what challenges keep you up at night?

We are very fortunate to have enjoyed a lot of success over the years. It’s important for us to stay ahead of trends, be relevant to our guests, and provide tasty hot, golden brown pretzels to our guests, all with a smile. Connecting with guests in 2014 is a lot different than when we opened our first location in a farmer’s market in Downingtown, PA in 1988. There are a lot of distractions, and we know that our guests have a choice. We aim to continue to listen to feedback from our guests, monitor trends, and identify new ways to engage with our guests moving forward.

What is your definition of customer loyalty and has it changed at all in recent years?

Customer loyalty is all about relationships. We believe very strongly that through exceptional service and a desire to consistently improve the guest experience, we will turn the world into pretzel lovers–one guest at a time! 

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