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Rich Donahue of Ibotta on the Secret to Rewarding Customer Loyalty

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Rich Donahue of Ibotta on the Secret to Rewarding Customer Loyalty

Consumers have “50 different apps on the phone,” says Rich Donahue, chief marketing officer of the cashback app Ibotta. “They’re walking into a grocery store. Why are they thinking about Ibotta at that moment? Our ability to send them that gentle reminder, send them some relevant deals— it’s a pretty powerful ability to engage in that moment.”
Powerful, indeed. In this episode of CleverTap Engage—our podcast and video interview series spotlighting marketing leaders who are achieving meaningful and memorable customer engagement—co-hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier speak with Rich Donahue about the best ways for retailers and brands to partner in building customer loyalty.
Donahue leads the marketing organization at Ibotta, an app that offers shoppers monetary rewards for everyday purchases, and in turn gives retailers and brands a unique way to connect with customers and deepen loyalty. A consumer marketing veteran, Donahue has wide-ranging career experience including key roles at Kraft Heinz and Red Bull. 
Within Ibotta’s user base of 40 million and its incentivization of 2.5 billion purchases annually, there’s a trove of insights into loyalty in the mobile age. Donahue shares some of it with us.

Rewards as a Service

Ibotta partners with brands to offer its users (or “savers,” in Ibotta parlance) cash back on the items they buy at their favorite retailers. Because the app captures shopping behavior by asking savers to submit receipts or link to a retail loyalty card, the offers are timely and relevant.
This concept of rewards as a service not only helps Ibotta “ensure that we’re furthering our mission to make every purchase rewarding,” says Donahue, it also helps incentivize brand loyalty. “If we can offer you a new product in the category you’re interested in [and] give you a couple bucks back on that purchase, then you’re going to try it,” he adds. “If you try it and you like it, you’re going to come back for more.”
Brands appreciate the Ibotta platform because it offers them an opportunity to “get their message out in that moment when it makes sense,” notes Donahue. It’s also less intrusive than digital advertising. “Nobody wants to be interrupted when they’re reading a news article and have to click through and add [a product] to their list,” he continues. By contrast, consumers are in a shopping mindset when they’re in the Ibotta app. Thanks to this built-in relevance, brands are benefiting from “the volume they’re able to move and the engagement they’re able to get with our audience.”

Overcoming Data Privacy Challenges

App marketers are facing a growing number of challenges around digital privacy, including Apple’s App Tracking Privacy (ATT) feature, in which app developers must ask users for permission to be tracked. Donahue tells us that by maintaining a one-on-one relationship with its users, Ibotta maintains first-party data access. This makes the tracking restrictions less of an issue, and in fact gives Ibotta an advantage in helping brands and retailers target and engage the right consumers.
The emerging privacy-first realm has “opened up opportunities for us and our partners,” he says, “because traditional digital channels have become a little bit tougher to peer through and see what you’re getting. We have a direct relationship with consumers. And we’re able to provide that information back to [brand partners] in a pretty clear way.”

Adapting and Staying Relevant in the Covid Era

If the Covid era has proven one thing to marketers, it’s that “you’ve got to focus on the things that matter,” says Donahue. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the fun annual college basketball-themed promotion planned by Ibotta was canceled. Pivoting quickly, the company developed a program called Here to Help, in which partner brands stepped up their financial incentives to consumers. “One thing that didn’t change [during the pandemic] was that people needed to eat,” he explains. “Especially when people are worried about where their next paycheck might come from, cash back becomes a critical component.”
A similar Thanksgiving initiative delivered “what I would term the ultimate win-win,” he continues. Not only did the program help give “over 5 million people food on the table during the holiday,” it helped drive loyalty for Ibotta and participating partners.
For more marketing wisdom from Rich Donahue, including his takes on market segmentation, identifying high-intent customers, and the concept of “brandformance,” listen to the entire episode. (Full transcript is below.)

Mobile Marketing is Easier with Expert Guidance

Full Transcript

John Koetsier: What can you learn about customer buying behavior from giving away more than a billion dollars to consumers over the course of a decade? Welcome to “CleverTap Engage.” My name is John Koetsier.
Peggy Anne Salz: And I’m Peggy Anne Salz. Together, we profile the executives in companies achieving meaningful, memorable and clever customer engagement.
John Koetsier: In this episode, we’re chatting with a CMO in the exploding digital commerce space. They have more than 40 million users, they work with more than 5,000 brands and retailers, and see more than two-and-a-half billion purchases every single year.
Peggy Anne Salz: One of our goals here is to find out how targeting high-value customers and marketing together have changed during the last years, especially in the privacy revolution. Our guest today is Rich Donahue, Chief Marketing Officer at Ibotta, a cashback app that rewards shoppers for their everyday purchases, and provides retailers and brands with a unique way to connect with their customers and deepen loyalty. He’s held a lot of positions in the marketing space recently – as I said,  CMO – but also in the marketing organization at Ibotta for eight years. Prior to this role, he worked at Kraft Heinz and Red Bull. Welcome, Rich.
Rich Donahue: Nice to be here. Nice to see you both.
John Koetsier: Super pumped to have you. Let’s talk about Ibotta right off the top because it’s a bit of a beast. I mean, two-and-a-half billion purchases annually that you see. I’m almost wondering: That’s more shopping data than just about any other retailer outside of China. How’s it work?
Rich Donahue: It’s pretty simple, actually. We work with savers, and we ask them to send us their receipts or link a loyalty card to get their shopping behavior. Then we partner with brands to give them cash back on the items they buy. That can be anything from CPG goods like Oreos or Cheerios, or the household staples, up to their online purchases. Any of the electronics that they might be buying at Best Buy or do-it-yourself stuff that they might be buying at a Home Depot or something along those lines. Cutting them in on the deal so that they can get their cash back on just about anything that they’re looking to buy, helps us ensure that we’re furthering our mission to make every purchase rewarding. That’s really what it’s about. Especially right now, times are tough. For a lot of folks, we’re able to partner with them to make sure that they’re getting cash back on everything that they buy.
John Koetsier: Sounds great from the point of view of, “Me, I’m buying something.” That’s great. What’s the reason that brands or retailers work with you?
Rich Donahue: Well, their end goal is to sell more product. They want to get you to buy what they have, so they want to reach you at the point where you’re making that buying decision. Ultimately, one of the best ways to get you to try something is to give them an incentive. They want you to get it in your hands and they want you to try it. Then they hope that you’ll come back to get it the next time. And one of the best ways to do that is reach them when they’re at a shopping mindset. 
If you’re on Ibotta, you’re obviously thinking about going to the store. You’re thinking about what’s going to be on that list and what you’re going to be purchasing when you go. What am I going to put in the kids’ lunch? What am I going to make for dinner? If we can offer you a new product in the category that you’re interested in, something that’s relevant to you, something that you’re interested in, give you a couple bucks back on that purchase, then you’re going to try it. If you try it and you like it, you’re going to come back for more.
We’re really reaching them at a time and a place when they’re thinking about what they want to purchase. That’s why brands like it; they’re able to get their message out in that moment when it makes sense. Nobody wants to be interrupted when they’re reading a news article about something and have to click through and then add it to their list and go through all of that; they want to read their article. They want to do the thing that they’re there to do. When they’re with Ibotta, they’re in that mindset. So, it’s a pretty powerful engagement moment for the brands. They see that in the volume they’re able to move and the engagement they’re able to get with our audience, which is really exciting.
Peggy Anne Salz: Very interesting. It’s baked-in context, in a way.
Rich Donahue: Yeah. Totally.
John Koetsier: I was thinking the same thing, Peggy, because we talk a lot to advertisers, people who advertise, and brands, retailers and everything. This comes from the same budget; in some sense, it could. You’re right, it’s not interruptive. That’s quite interesting. I hadn’t thought of that perspective before.
Rich Donahue: It’s why it’s so much different than a lot of the stuff that people have put out historically in the traditional tactics that are breaking in while you’re doing something else. We’re inherently part of what they’re looking to do in that moment, which makes it more memorable, makes it more impactful for the consumer to think about it when they’re walking through the store later or in that moment, and for the brands when they’re trying to make that impression on people.
Peggy Anne Salz: At some level, you’re changing our habits, but that isn’t all that’s changing. Everything is changing where we are right now. We’re reopening. We’re slowly emerging from COVID, retailers have been D2C, mixing digital, physical, commerce. High inflation, you mentioned it yourself. Consumers think differently, approach those purchases differently. It’s challenging and confusing. Tell me about that. What are you seeing? What’s changing about e-commerce?
Rich Donahue: Everything is changing. So many more people are shopping just online. They’re making orders for groceries. When COVID hit, I think everybody scrambled to figure out what they would do. Consumers, brands, retailers, publishers, everybody was trying to figure out how to interact as their lives were changing in the moment and trying to figure out how they were going to interact with their customers. And if they were still going to have customers or how many more customers they were going to have. I think the biggest thing was, I mentioned a little bit before, you’ve got to reach people where they are, and you’ve got to make it relevant to them because you’ve got to focus on the things that matter.
As habits changed, we had to adjust with that. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were an in-store-only grocery shopping experience. We didn’t accept the e-receipts, we didn’t allow for the online grocery submission. And we realized that, listen, just about everybody is moving in this direction, we’ve got to support that. We created an initiative actually to replace the March Madness program that we had because there was no March Madness that year, something called Here to Help where we partnered with brands. To the brands’ credit, they stepped up and they said, “Hey, we know people are struggling. We’ve got to reach them and we’ve got to help them out in this way, and that’s going to garner goodwill.” We built that campaign in that way because everything was changing.
We didn’t have a basketball tournament to promote and brands to partner with for that, so we had to create this new initiative to roll with that and interact with consumers that way. I think the one thing that didn’t change was that people need to eat, and people always want to get cash back. Especially when people are worried about where their next paycheck might come from, cash back becomes a critical component to that. 
The reality is, there’s a lot of supply chain challenges right now that are making it difficult to get items that you want, the pieces of promotion that you want to put out there. Brands are looking for ways to talk to the consumer, even with those challenges. They might not have a perfect supply chain going on right now, but they still have to stay top of mind; they still have to continue to figure out how to promote their products and make sure that people are interested in buying them. 
Tack on that, plus the privacy changes with some of the biggest providers, whether it’s Apple – and Google’s got some changes coming down the pike – or just some of the challenges with some of those digital platforms and how people are starting to rethink how they measure and how they go to market. So much has changed in the last three years, it’s keeping you on your toes.
Peggy Anne Salz: Never a dull moment for you certainly, Rich. I have to ask that because you mentioned it yourself. In the midst of all that change, major change, advertising identifiers going away. How has Apple’s ATT impacted you?
Rich Donahue: It’s made it more challenging. I think everybody has experienced difficulty in targeting and reaching the right audiences. I think you can still reach them. You might have to pay a little bit more for it right now, but it’s opened up opportunities for us and our partners, because those traditional digital channels, those direct response channels have become a little bit tougher to peer through and see what you’re getting. We do have a direct relationship with consumers. And we’re able to provide that information back to people in a pretty clear way.
So as some of those issues have reared their head, we’ve benefited on our side as a partner for some of these brands and some of these retailers and some of these advertisers, which has been great. But it’s changing the way that people are having to think about their tactics. They’re having to think about how they’re going to reach these consumers in a different way, and how they really want to evaluate the health of their programs because it’s really easy to, at least before, say, “Hey, we’re going to spend on this audience, and this is who we’re going to get.” And it’s straight dial.
But if you’re not exactly sure how that audience goes, it goes a little bit back to where we might have been 10 years ago before the real heavy rise of identifiers and one-to-one, and then attribution, and you pick an audience, how you think you’re going to go reach them, and you find the right channels to go do that. Then you rely on the strength of the program that your team puts together to know that you’re going to move the business. It might not be as instantly gratifying because you don’t see that attribution day one, but you know that you’ve built the program the right way, and you’ve got to trust it. It’s a little bit different than it was a year ago, two years ago.
John Koetsier: The ATT is almost a curse and a blessing at the same time for many people, and I think for you as well because, in terms of acquisition and growth, it’s a bit of a curse, it makes it more challenging. But when you have that audience, when you have those people who are there, you’re first-party.
Rich Donahue: Absolutely.
John Koetsier: And now when brands need to come into that, you have that trusted one-on-one relationship with those consumers. All of a sudden, they have some challenges reaching the exact audience they need, but you’ve got great data on who shaves, who doesn’t.
Rich Donahue: Yep. Who doesn’t…
John Koetsier: Who does other things. Exactly. It makes it more challenging, especially direct-to-consumer brands, smaller brands, to narrow down a specific audience, but you’ve got that data. There’s a benefit there potentially as well.
Rich Donahue: No doubt. Anytime you can have access to your saver base, as we call them, our consumers. We can lend that credibility that we have as a rewards network with these savers and the ability to give them cash back. To those brands, we’re a trusted resource. Like I said, people are coming to us to find these items, find these offers. It makes for a really impactful, engaging relationship. The other thing that I was chiming in on a little bit was, it’s an opportunity for us to take a step away from that direct response advertising, and push into channels that aren’t as directly attributable, and trust that they are the right way to reach these consumers.
Whereas I think we’ve certainly done… A lot of companies have pushed hard into that direct response. I know exactly what I’m getting, and that’s where I’m going to put my dollar. The ability to open up and push into traditional tactics that may have been struggling with some of those instantly measurable things… I think you need a mix. We maybe, as an industry, lean really heavily into one side, whereas the appropriate way to do it is with a balance.
John Koetsier: That makes a ton of sense for you because you have a broad audience. You have customers from… It’s a wide swath of customers. You’re not going to rely necessarily on a whale, like in a digital game, to provide 90% of your monetization. So, that makes sense. You can do some broad targeting and get in some broad categories, and still serve them very well. That’s interesting.
Peggy Anne Salz: What’s really exciting is, you seem to be starting your own category, Rich. You’re talking about rewards as a service. What is that?
Rich Donahue: It’s really interesting. It’s something that we’ve been working on for a number of years as we partnered with these brands, as we partner with the retailers. Ironically, I just said they’re looking for different ways to move volume. They love what we’re getting. The ability to reach our audience, the ability to move products; we’re paid for performance. They weren’t paying for the impressions, they weren’t paying for the clicks; they knew that they were getting units moved with our model, which was awesome. They just wanted more. “Hey, give me more people, give me more targeting, give me more capability to close the quarter strong with a program, to drive that key seasonal window,” whatever it was.
We’ve done a great job of growing. We’ve got over 40 million, as John mentioned upfront. And that’s awesome. But you can never have enough, I guess is the answer. The best way for us to get more was really to go out and find those relevant moments, as I talked about before, where we can extend those rewards. Extend the rewards that we have, the cashback offers that we have, into those shopping moments. So we’re building out this network to distribute these rewards. Ultimately, what that’s going to do is offer over 100 million opportunities to reach consumers across this network so that wherever you’re shopping is the goal, you’re going to be able to get those rewards. Whether that’s on a retailer website like a Kroger or Walmart, or something like that, or a publisher site. Think about recipe sites where you’re looking for that recipe and you’re like, “Man, it would be great to get a couple bucks back on this casserole,” or whatever it is.
We can insert those rewards the right time in the right place. It all goes back to that, a little bit. You don’t want to just serve it up if it’s not interesting to people. You want to allow them to potentially save it for later. Nobody wants to read that article and get clipped off into loading a cart. That’s not what I’m there for in the moment. 
The goal is to present those rewards and make that experience a good one. Anytime, ultimately, that you want to end up going to the store and shopping, be it for groceries or be it for electronics or be it for clothes or whatnot, you’re going to be able to make that experience a rewarding one. The benefit of building out this network is that we’re going to be able to deliver at scale, unprecedented scale in the promotion space and the reward space, the ability for these brands to interact with these consumers.
Ultimately, it’s great for us because we’re able to extend the ability to get cash back and rewards. It’s great for retailers that participate because they’re offering more and more to their customers. They’re making each trip more valuable to them. And in this landscape, with inflation doing what it is and consumers trying to stretch their dollar, any opportunity for a retailer to offer a little bit more, stretch that dollar with them, at no cost to the retailers, all funded by the brands – that’s a win. Then these publishers are looking for ways to engage people. So if you can offer the right content to people in that moment, that’s going to make your experience more sticky. And they’re going to benefit from it.
We really see this as an opportunity to extend what we’ve already been doing, and allow retailers and publishers to take advantage of that as well. Ultimately, the advertisers of these brands are going to benefit from it because they’re going to get the rewards that we’ve been able to offer them historically through our platform, through not only Ibotta but through this network as well, which is really going to be exciting. We’re really…
John Koetsier: You see a ton of retail customers, and pretty frequently, I’m guessing. What are some of the key signals of high intent versus semi-random window shopping?
Rich Donahue: The biggest intent is when people, especially on our platform, unlock it. They activate that offer. They see something and they come through and they’re like, “Yeah, that is something of interest to me.” Now, that doesn’t always mean that they’re going to go out and purchase it right away. In some instances, they’ve got to go into the store, in an online shopping instance. They’ve still got to jump out of Ibotta and go to the site. One thing that we’ve seen as we’ve introduced our browser extension over the last year or so is that we’re able to toggle people into that purchase more effectively because they’re already on the site. We can allow them to understand that they are getting the best deal because one of the things that people never want to do is miss out on that deal.
We’ve introduced some price comparison technology that allows people to have that peace of mind. I think that’s the biggest trigger for “Am I going to window shop today?” Or, “Am I going to buy it?” They show that intent and then our ability to make sure that they get the right price, or that they have confidence in that purchase, is something that’s ultimately going to be the biggest signal or the biggest thing that drives them to be a buyer, which is always great for brands. 
We want to convert them in that moment because as soon as they walk away, we can reach back out, the brand can reach back out. We can say, “Hey, you’ve been in your cart,” and do that whole thing and get into the lifecycle of trying to get them back into that shopping mindset. If we’re able to move them in that moment and we understand that they have that interest, then we’re able to facilitate that purchase, I think more effectively than most, which is, again, why brands like working with us.
John Koetsier: It’s a good segue because we wanted to talk about engagement and keeping consumers engaged. You’ve recently started offering alerts for nearby deals. That’s interesting. Peggy and I will remember way back a decade ago, Bluetooth beacons, when that was all the rage. It seems so long in the past, and yet now it’s working. Talk about engagement and some of these new tips and tricks.
Rich Donahue: We started as a mobile app, first and foremost. So, one of our biggest challenges historically was always just making sure that people remembered to use us. They’ve got 50 different apps on the phone, they’re walking into a grocery store, they’ve got kids on each leg. Why are they thinking about Ibotta in that moment? Our ability to send them that gentle reminder, send them some relevant deals that we know because they’ve shared their personal shopping list with us in the past and said, “Hey, I like yogurt, I like eggs, I like these things.” Our ability to remind them, “Hey, you’ve got this cash waiting for you.” It’s a pretty powerful ability to engage in that moment. Again, they’re in that shopping mindset; they don’t want to miss out on that deal. Our ability to nudge them in that moment where they’ve got a million things going on is great. And because we are relevant to that experience, the brands are able to take advantage of that legitimacy as well.
We’re able to make sure that we’re on the top of their consideration set when they walk through that cereal aisle or down that pasta aisle. Whereas maybe their opportunities in the past were an aisle blade or a coupon dispenser, something like that. Not as impactful, not as engaging, not as legitimate. But yeah. The Bluetooth thing is… I remember when… I was laughing to myself when we were talking about putting some of those beacons on POS displays or something like that in order to engage the message and it’s like, “But who are they going to notify? And how are they going to notify? And what are they going to interact with in order to get that message in front of somebody?”
We’ve come a long way from those days. So, we’re happy to be able to take advantage of it. But again, we don’t want to abuse that just because we have that ability to hit people with the message. If we hit you 15 times, you’re going to turn it off or you’re going to go banner-blind to it. We want to make sure that we’re sensitive to the fact that you’ve given us this opportunity to engage with you. But we’ve got to be mindful of that, because if we abuse it then we’re going to lose that privilege.
Peggy Anne Salz: I’m listening to how you approach this at a high level. We’ve got these three Rs, and I love things like this. We’ve got rewards as a service, we have relevancy, we have recommendation. That comes together in a really powerful model. But you have to make certain, still, you’re getting it out to the people. Now, you talk a lot about your capability to target the shopper mindsets and moments. Tell me about that. What does that mean in the framework of segmentation?
Rich Donahue: At the end of the day, you want to reach an incremental customer. You want to reach somebody who’s new to your business. It’s great to reinforce for people who are already a category buyer, who are already interested in your product, who are loyalists. You don’t want to exclude them. I think a lot of brands make that mistake. They go, “Well, they’re already buying my product, so I can ignore them, and I’ll go after this other group.” Sure. Until they’re buying your competitor’s product because they’re talking to them. And everybody is trying to conquest everybody else’s shopper from the retailer side. They want you to go into their store, they want that foot traffic, they want that online traffic.
And brands are no different. If I’m a yogurt buyer, every yogurt company wants to talk to me. Just because I’m loyal to that one brand today, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to venture off to the other one because they give me an incentive, because they tell me something interesting about their product, because they’re supporting local dairies. I don’t know. Whatever the message is, that resonates with people. If you’re not talking to that person, even if they’re loyal, it’s probably a matter of time before they go and try something else. I think our ability to understand the nuance of how heavy you’re buying, what you’re buying, how often you’re buying, and all that, and that’s given to us by the consumer. Our savers are sharing that because we’re cutting them in on the deal with these advertisers.
That allows us a pretty powerful opportunity to work with brands to provide savers interesting deals and interesting cashback mechanisms. I think that segmentation is really powerful. And it’s because we have that shopper data that we’re able to offer that. You can segment into categories and reach an audience with a propensity to do a certain thing or a propensity to buy a certain product. But knowing the person has actually bought that product, knowing that they’ve bought the category or knowing that they haven’t but they bought an adjacent category that has a high propensity to cross over, that’s really powerful to a marketer.
That’s really powerful to how they think about building their audiences and building their brands, especially as you think about innovation products and being able to leverage the things that they’re buying already into those categories, creating new categories, anything along those lines. It just becomes a really interesting sort of way to start to construct your programs, and then leverage the information that we have and the way people are buying to build outside of Ibotta programs. How do you think about your media? How do you think about what these people look like? What are the insights that we can provide you to extend that?
We run some really interesting programs with some of our brand partners where they’ve taken the insights that we’re able to provide, and then extend that into some of their external media. The results have been super strong that way. It’s just information, insights that we can garner, I think too, about how difficult it is to run a survey or intercept people after they’ve bought a particular product, a new product, in particular, and get insights about how it’s working, what’s working, why people like it.
We know that people are buying a particular product. So, if you launch that product and you want to get quick feedback on what people like or don’t like, or how easy it is to find the store, we can send that survey out and get brands that information, which shortens the feedback loop on this new product introduction, or whatever it is. I remember one product that will go nameless, in this instance, but their packaging was such that people were expecting to find it, I think, in a bag versus a box, but it was packaged in a box. And because it was in a box, people were walking right past it on a shelf.
The ability to understand that insight, ultimately, led to that switch from that CPG manufacturer and got them on the right foot with this new launch. The ability to understand what people are doing, what their behaviors are, where they’re going, what they’re not doing, and maybe more importantly, what they’re not doing versus what they are doing, allows them to lean in on their future marketing efforts in a pretty big way, which is cool and something that’s not readily available from a bunch of different partners.
John Koetsier: Let me ask this, Rich. We’re seeing a massive redefinition of marketing right now. You’ve touched on it already. It’s driven by regulation, GDPR, other things like that, by technology changing, Apple’s decisions, Google’s decisions, even Facebook on attribution, other things like that. How is life changing for you as a CMO and how is brand versus performance changing?
Rich Donahue: It’s top of mind every day, that brand versus performance dynamic. I was talking to somebody recently, and I’ll take credit for it. But they were like, “It’s brandformance now.” And it’s very true. Used to keep them very separate, whether it was separate siloed budgets, whether it was just different teams working on it. I think more and more brand teams are thinking about that bottom of the funnel, not that they didn’t think about trying to move units or trying to engage people, but it was more about that top, that impression, “How many eyeballs can we get? Are we making an impact that way?” And you had the performance marketers thinking, “I don’t care how many people see it, I just need to move product. I need to make sure that my metric is on point, and that I’m delivering on this key ROI goal that I have.”
I don’t think you can look at it in that siloed way anymore. It’s all merging together. You’re not going to have the audiences that you once had. So, you’re not going to be able to attribute quite the same way. I think anybody who’s not looking at that funnel holistically and going, “Listen, we may not be able to measure that, but we know it fits uniquely into the strategy that we’re trying to do and the people we’re trying to talk to.” A little bit of it is, you’ve got to trust that the pieces working together are going to be the sum of the parts that you need. And when you start to evaluate things in their silos, it probably just isn’t telling the whole story.
You’re going to have those gaps. And you need to – we’ve talked about this a lot with our team – trust that the ways that you used to reach people, the methods that you’re using probably aren’t working the same way and that you need to continue to reinvent the way you’re talking, the way you’re sending that message out. That’s B2C generally, but I think it’s B2B too. The way people are consuming media, the channels that they’re consuming it on and when they want to consume it is different. They’re going to opt into things and they’re going to care about the things that they opt into, and they’re going to care a little bit less about the things that are interruptive to their experience. You’ve got to have that right message out at the right time.
Balancing that with the things that are going to get them over the line at the end of the day is how you have to look at the entire equation. If you’re not looking at all the parts, you’re probably worse off than you were because of all these regulations, because you can’t lean as deeply into one area, and take advantage of that quite as strongly as you might have before. And you’re probably not going to have that relevance at the top of the funnel quite the same way without either end of that because you’re not going to get there. So, brandformance, that’s where it’s all merging together.
John Koetsier: I love it.
Rich Donahue: You’ve got to get it all together. And if you’re not, then you’re going to be left out in the cold a little bit.
John Koetsier: Brandformance. It’s new to me. I don’t know if it’s new to you, Peggy, but…
Rich Donahue: I’m taking credit for it, even though it’s not mine. Stealing shamelessly on that one.
John Koetsier: Officially, Rich Donahue, CMO of Ibotta’s phraseology, brandformance. Rich, thank you so much for this time. It’s been wonderful.
Rich Donahue: Thanks. This was fun. Appreciate it.
Peggy Anne Salz: Thanks so much, Rich. And we have a new word, we have a new vocabulary. Thanks just to you. Thanks for being here.
John Koetsier: This is “Three Top Retention Marketing Tips from Rich Donahue, Chief Marketing Officer at Ibotta.” Rich, your choice. Work or fun first?
Rich Donahue: Let’s go work first. Save the fun for the last.
John Koetsier: Work first. Your first tip about maximizing impact. How do you design mobile experiences for maximum impact?
Rich Donahue: I think the biggest thing is keep it simple. Best product, best idea, best anything – if you have to jump through a million hoops to get there or figure it out and it’s not intuitive, you’re just going to struggle. People don’t want to have to work to get to the end state; they want to just magically figure it out and get there and go, “Oh, that was nice. I like that.” That’s going to make them tell their friends about it, that’s going to make them use it more. You want people to just figure it out and get value out of it, because at the end of the day if the value they get out of it is more than the effort they put in, they’re probably going to come back. If it’s not, they’re probably going to not come back. And that’s the problem. You need them to have that good experience. I think you do that by just creating something that’s simple and impactful that they get value out of.
Peggy Anne Salz: Sustainable growth is also important. It’s one thing to grow, but to sustain it. And mobile growth has evolved. So, what do growth marketers most need to change today?
Rich Donahue: I think they’ve got to think about their mix. They’ve got to take the opportunities that they have to diversify where they’re placing their media, where they’re placing their marketing dollars, and they’ve got to figure out if it works. So, just don’t be afraid of new things. Lean into it, evaluate if you feel like it’s getting the impact that you want, and then either do more of it or move on to the next thing and figure out what that appropriate mix of elements is.
Peggy Anne Salz: At the end of the day, it’s about the user, it’s about the audience, it’s about engaging that audience. What is your golden rule of engagement?
Rich Donahue: Make it relevant. Make it impactful to them in the moment that they need it and leave them to their… Stay out of it if you’re not relevant in that time. Nobody wants to get a message about something that they have no interest in at that moment. Provide them the information that they want, provide them the value that they’re seeking, but do it at the right time and try and do it at the right place, and you’re going to maximize that impact. If you do it the wrong time, they’re going to discard you. And the more times you do it wrong, the less benefit and doubt you’re going to get. So, give it to them when they want it and stay away when they don’t.
John Koetsier: Perfect. So, you picked work first, and now we’re going to do fun. The best change you made during the COVID lockdown.
Rich Donahue: I moved houses. I have an office that I was able to work from home with, and I was able to do some home repair stuff, which I enjoy. So, that was nice. It gave me a new hobby to be able to spend some time at home and keep the work in the office and keep the building outside of it. That was a big change. That was a big change for me, which was great.
John Koetsier: Nice.
Peggy Anne Salz: Talk about work-life balance. Most rewarding marketing initiative you’ve ever created.
Rich Donahue: I would say that’s an easy one. It’s the free Thanksgiving campaign that Ibotta ran over the last couple years. It kicked off in 2020 in the height of the pandemic when people were figuring out where their next meal was going to come from, in some instances, how they were going to have a Thanksgiving. We were able to build what I would term the ultimate win-win. It was great for the business, it introduced a lot of people to Ibotta. And it gave over 5 million people food on the table during the holiday. It gave them a reason to come together. A lot of those were smaller gatherings in 2020, but people were together, they had food on the table and we were able to grow the business and it was really cool. It was something that the team concepted in the moment because of the way that everything was happening because of the lockdowns and because of that. Just seeing everybody come together and then create an initiative that was such a win-win was unbelievable. It was really great.
John Koetsier: Perfect. And finally, the funniest snafu you ever saw as a digital marketer?
Rich Donahue: That’s a tough one. I like to think we always get it right and that we never make mistakes. I’m going to dodge your question. The benefit of being a digital marketer is that any of the funniest snafus are just opportunities for optimization. So, we never actually get it wrong, we just get an opportunity to do it better.
John Koetsier: It was a test.
Rich Donahue: I’ve always loved seeing the big companies get it wrong just because everybody thinks that they’re so dialed and they’re so perfect. And whether it’s a broken link or whether it’s a typo or whatever, it just gives us the ability to laugh at ourselves in those moments that are really stressful because we get it wrong too. It doesn’t matter how big you are, we’re all human, we’re all going to make mistakes. We can fix it and move forward, and it allows us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves and try not to take it all so seriously. That’s kind of the biggest thing.
John Koetsier: Absolutely. And because it’s digital, you know what, it disappears and it can…
Rich Donahue: Fix it quick. Fix it quick and move on.
John Koetsier: Exactly. This has been “Three Top Retention Marketing Tips from Rich Donohue, Chief Marketing Officer at Ibotta.” Thank you so much, Rich. Do appreciate it.
Rich Donahue: Thanks, John. Thanks, Peggy.


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Last updated on March 29, 2024