PROFILE

Phil Rubin

CEO, rDialogue

Phil is CEO of rDialogue, an Atlanta-based customer marketing firm with clients ranging from mid-market to Fortune 100 and in industries including retail, travel and hospitality, telecommunications, dining, financial services and pharmaceuticals. Representative clients include Caribou Coffee, Cracker Barrel, Kimpton Hotels and Sprint, as well as a number of clients that can’t be named like a world famous customer-centric department store.

He has nearly 20 years of strategic marketing experience with an emphasis on customer loyalty and relationship marketing, integrated communications, partnership development, promotions and program development. He founded the loyalty practice at Loyaltyworks and led the spin-off of the practice to rDialogue. Prior to Loyaltyworks he was Group Vice President and General Manager of The Lacek Group, a loyalty marketing firm now part of OgilvyOne. While at Lacek he established the Atlanta office and was responsible for leading the development and implementation of relationship marketing strategies on behalf of clients such as Delta Air Lines, Cox Communications and UPS.

Phil has developed and managed loyalty and relationship marketing as a client both at Midway Airlines and at GTE Wireless (now Verizon). He began his career going through Macy’s Executive Training Program and working in store management.

Phil has an M.B.A. with a concentration in Marketing and Strategy from Tulane University and a B.S. in finance from L.S.U.

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  • Posted on: 08/19/2019

    Will a rental subscription program lift Banana Republic’s results?

    The pros include this being a new thing in retail (lbeit not pioneered by BR) and the flexibility it provides. The list of cons is more significant, starting with the BR brand and its currently lagging performance. Walking through a mall over the weekend it was hard not to see the markdowns offered at BR as well as other Gap brands. The price point of $85/month is probably too high for many, at least in terms of perception. If customers don't want to buy goods from BR, even with deep discounts, why are they going to pay a reasonably high subscription fee to rent them? This is, sadly, more retailers grasping at straws looking for silver bullets.
  • Posted on: 08/16/2019

    Can Jill Soltau rebuild J.C. Penney?

    At the risk of echoing what seems to be a consensus among BrainTrust members here, I'll simply say no. J.C. Penney has long since lost its relevance and like others who have failed to rebuild, the headwinds are just too strong and are likely to intensify over the next four to eight quarters. There is nothing special or unique about J.C. Penney other than its struggles.
  • Posted on: 08/15/2019

    Is it time for retailers to tier up their loyalty/reward programs?

    Peter and Sarah are spot on. Most retailers need to do more than upgrade their loyalty programs, they need to understand and practice loyalty marketing -- which is more than simply offering a loyalty program. More importantly, they must understand what customer loyalty actually means. Loyalty marketing is not about discounts. Customer loyalty -- as defined by customers (through rDialogue proprietary research) -- means a willingness to pay a premium or go out of one's way to do business with a brand. That's why loyal customer are willing to pay a membership fee or, alternatively, pay more for similar products. Case in point: Amazon for retail, Delta Airlines for travel. As a CFO at a client of ours aptly said, "great companies get their best customers to pay more." Retailers play one card in their hand, discounts, to the extent of their profitability.
  • Posted on: 08/14/2019

    Nordstrom’s Local concept needs work

    There are signs all over the Nordstrom HQ in Seattle with a quotes from John Nordstrom. On basically says that customer service is selling. Service-oriented showrooms don't shortchange customers if they are focused on customers, as the Nordstrom tradition also dictates. Apparently this is not the main focus of Local. How does a "local" outpost have limited hours? Limited (or missing) signage? I could go on but Patricia and the other comments do a great job of illustrating the opportunities for JWN here. And the misses. Among the best examples of a showroom concept is Bonobos. Nordstrom might want to study what they did to build not only their brand but also their business. It's a great experience and you walk out having spent more than you probably expected to but feeling good about it. Nordstrom is falling farther behind and it's a stark contrast to Kohl's and their continuing innovation focused on customers.
  • Posted on: 08/14/2019

    Will Kohl’s shoppers like the ‘emerging brands’ chosen by Facebook users?

    Notwithstanding my generally negative view on brands outsourcing much of their customer marketing to a platform like Facebook, at least Kohl's is smart enough to pay attention to customers. Our definition of loyalty marketing, "paying attention to customers and acting accordingly" mirrors this approach by Kohl's. Kohl's is doing a number of smart and innovative things, unlike so much of the rest of retail today. Many of these new tactics are really an outpouring of a focus on customers, which while so elementary, is still a differentiator.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2019

    Is private equity ownership killing retail?

    Retailers kill more retailers than PE firms do. Analogues to Paula recalling Asher Edelman, I started my career in the Macy's Executive Training Program in 1986. We were the first "training squad" (that's what we were called) to enter while Macy's was still public (NYSE: RHM) and finish after Macy's was taken private. This was a management-led LBO (leveraged buy out) that ultimately led to the company's demise and eventual "sale" to Federated, formerly known as "Darth Vader." If Ed Finkelstein and Mark Handler would have know what eventually happened with the bankruptcy and sale to Federated, I'm sure that they might have reconsidered the LBO strategy. But CEOs and boards get worn down trying to manage The Street and they also get greedy, which is where the PE firms some times enter. To blame this on PE firms lets hundreds if not thousands of retail "leaders" off the hook for not investing to deliver a better customer experience, leverage technology, create distinct merchandise offerings, move to digital or otherwise expand. Perhaps this is not as lame as an excuse as blaming weather for missing comps, though it could be, but it's easy to blame others for our own shortfalls. Sure there are vultures among investors, private equity included, but there is also plenty of greed -- along with beliefs in unicorns, fairies and other "silver bullets" -- among retail leaders.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2019

    Will Gap’s new loyalty program bring meaningful rewards?

    If Gap can do something with its program members then maybe it can drive comp growth in the very low single digits. Clearly the company isn't expecting a lot more or they would not be guiding the Street as they are. Nor did they report how the stores in test markets performed but we can only infer that two years in they've got to expand to stem the declines. Gap's innovation is relative to Gap. Expanding a tender-only program to largely one-dimensional omni-tender is not exactly breaking new ground. Strip away the logos and this is utterly generic other than the ability to shop across its brands. Where is there anything experiential and non-transactional? Other than packaging discounts in the form of rewards, what will this do to drive a higher emotional attachment between customers and the Gap brands? Unless Gap becomes exceptionally good at ongoing customer management -- which this program enables but doesn't do on its own -- this program rollout is not going to make a long-term sustainable difference in its business.
  • Posted on: 06/24/2019

    REI scraps mail order catalog to publish a magazine

    Given REI's brand and authenticity, this seems like a smart move to engage its customer base in a relevant and credible way. CONTENT. It's not just for social media. When it is created and delivered in a way such as this it's much more valuable, especially for a brand like REI. The partnership with a publisher like Hearst should help address the profitability -- or cost -- question. Does it have to make money for REI? Not necessarily. But isn't it interesting to ask that question for something like this versus image advertising, online advertising or social? To the extent that it's not profitable, it's likely a good investment in customers, the brand and the business. It's not REI's style to pay hollow faux-influencers like the bright and shiny brands du jour do. I like their long view.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2019

    Shake Shack founder says, ‘Do it. Don’t talk about it (sustainability initiatives) until asked.’

    Danny Meyer has long been ahead of the curve for not only local sourcing and transparency, but also for other important lessons that retailers and brands should heed better than they currently do. His book, "Setting the Table" is a great illustration, including the stories referenced here, but they go further into what (he thinks) makes for great hospitality. It is great hospitality that retailers and brands need to learn and the point is perfectly made in the quote Tom used at the end of the piece above: "The thing that's going to make you fall in love with a place is to have stories. When you leave there, you feel better and we left you with something that you can share with your friends." If more brands and retailers did this, the retail world would be a far better place.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2019

    Macy’s balances plusses and minuses of free shipping to loyal customers

    Gene is right that free shipping is the ante that must be played but for which customers and under what terms/conditions? Leave it to retail to follow Amazon and obsess on free shipping without the other prerequisites in place, as Nikki aptly mentions. Loyalty marketing cannot and should not be one-dimensional, or two-dimensional as most retailers now focus on discounts AND free shipping. So whereas retailers have mostly focused on margin reducing "value" for customers, a select few have added focus on other loyalty drivers such as recognition, content and access. Amazon is one that delivers value across all these drivers but not as much on price as it used to. Free shipping absolutely needs to be in the context of customer value which is ultimately about the customer experience, not the promotion. As a client CFO said most eloquently: "great companies get their best customers to pay more, not less." Take a look at Macy's stock price and see how it compares to the S&P 500. Free shipping is not going to be a silver bullet for them, sorry.
  • Posted on: 05/29/2019

    What’s the secret to driving emotional connections with customers?

    These are some good and not surprising data points for Deloitte, echoing our views on the changes that need to take place with how brands show loyalty to customers. Yes, that's where loyalty starts, with the brand demonstrating loyalty to customers, not the other way around. In our research we've seen that 80%+ of US consumers view themselves as loyalists and yet a similar percentage feel that brands fail to recognize and be relevant to them. The challenge and opportunity to scale data is to both demonstrate loyalty from the brand in order to sustain and grow brand trust so that customers are willing to share data. Increasingly the data must go beyond transactional and be contextual, which Deloitte refers to in its findings. Customer loyalty is no longer driven by loyalty programs but rather by brands "paying attention to customers and acting accordingly." This means using data to be relevant in a human way, much as we treat each other when it matters so that we can similarly build relationships.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2019

    Should Kohl’s buy At Home?

    It's a smart move for Kohl's to diversify given its momentum lately. Its partnership with Amazon is strategic and assuming it leads to an acquisition, Kohl's would be smart to expand its footprint both in terms of doors and businesses. Given what's happened to traditional department stores, Kohl's occupies a nice middle ground between the legacy DSs and the big box mass merchants. That will fit Amazon nicely so it's going to be really interesting to see how this plays out.
  • Posted on: 04/25/2019

    Kohl’s goes all-in on Amazon returns

    It's a stark contrast to consider what Kohl's is doing with Amazon against JCP's move to stop accepting Apple Pay. It's Retail Darwinism and indicative of who will be around in the next 3-5 years and who will be gone or going.
  • Posted on: 04/22/2019

    Why is Petco doubling down on same-day delivery with Shipt and Instacart?

    We (rDialogue) found more than ample data to support the idea that "time is the new loyalty currency" in every wave of research we've conducted since 2017. This is not a new trend nor is it an option but rather it is what Jeff Bezos refers to when he writes about the continued escalation of consumer expectations. So the question is not either/or but rather "both and what else?" and smart retailers like Petco are rushing - pun intended - so address the expediency of the last three feet of retail: getting goods into customers' hands.
  • Posted on: 03/28/2019

    Is Dick’s making the right move by bringing its software development in-house?

    We've seen a few retailers (attempt to) do this before with customer marketing and loyalty applications with very mixed results. In one case, an in-house dev group developed an application for a pilot program and it worked reasonably well but was largely absent a rich feature set. In another case, a similar size retailer earmarked $15 million for a new platform and after spending $9 million pulled the plug. Whether Dick's is successful depends on its IT leadership and ability to attract talented people to their team. Starting with a hurdle rate of 10x incremental revenue for the business case is reasonable but spending 10 percent of incremental sales on new technology seems high for retail. Let's hope they got their incremental revenue right.

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