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: 10/07/2019

    What if stores innovated like restaurants?

    Restaurants were late to invest in customer relationships and loyalty and worse than that, they adopted a commoditized approach. Much like retailers. The difference is that leading brands in the restaurant industry figured out sooner than retailers that innovation was required given the rising consumer expectations that Amazon has set and that most retailers have snoozed on. While it surprises even me to have to write that, restaurants are hungrier (pun intended), apparently, than retailers. Or they are smarter. Or more paranoid. Regardless, there is a lot of excitement happening in that category.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2019

    Best Buy makes a big bet on health tech

    It's fascinating to see brands like Best Buy address what we've all known has been coming for more than 30 years: the greying of America. Most of the major brands we work with have health and wellness as a top priority for their business so this is not surprising at all and yes, of course, there is huge growth potential for Best Buy (and others) here. Best Buy has a lot of trust and the customer relationships - in part via Reward Zone - to make this work. Great to see them focused on customers, still.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2019

    Do retail metrics need to be reinvented?

    Very simply, the key retail metric should be what we have for years referred to as "comp customer" which is exactly what it sounds like: rather than retailers measuring same-store sales, they should measure same-customer sales. It easily extends to margin and as a baseline, reflects the strength of the brand and its customer marketing and how well that translates to monetizing the business's key asset: customers. Measuring comp customer sales and margin reflects the true health of the business, including its ability to acquire and grow customers. It reveals trends across channels, transactions or subscriptions and likewise it allows for a company to easily build a customer P&L. Not surprisingly, very few companies measure or publish these metrics. Among those that do are Amazon and Schwab.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2019

    Will Apple’s texting tool create more personalized shopping experiences at Burberry?

    It's great to see text messaging, now 25+ years old, "emerging" as a tool for retailers. The fact that it requires an app is not terribly time saving nor is it an easy - or the easiest - path for most customers. While Burberry was ahead of the curve with digital, we'll see if this brings it back to a place of leadership.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2019

    Glossier poaches Amazon exec to drive growth

    Glossier is smart to hire Melissa Eamer based simply on what she's experienced at Amazon. The fact that she observed that Glossier is "customer obsessed" is evidenced by her hiring. From observation and a bit of experience getting to know the company, this is a clear evolution. While there is nothing wrong with launching and achieving high growth through blogging (the origin of Glossier, Into the Gloss) and social media (Instagram), that is not sustainable in a brutally competitive field like beauty with a legacy of largely indirect distribution. This is Glossier's opportunity to legitimately show loyalty to its already loyal customer base and extend its differentiation.
  • Posted on: 09/04/2019

    Simple answers to fix retail’s loyalty marketing mess

    Good points by David and Michael but usage of the term "loyalty" isn't the problem nearly as much as the understanding of what loyalty is, and especially what it means to consumers. In our proprietary research (quantitative), consumers are very clear that they are indeed loyal and likewise they are clear on what it means: a willingness to pay a premium or go out of their way to do business with a brand. Consider this definition in the context of merchandise commoditization and a total lack of pricing discipline where even Nordstrom now is an everyday promotional retailer. Loyalty is a function of differentiation both for retailers and their brands but also for customers. Commoditization (and poor) merchandising combined with being overly promotional is not the answer, whether in the form of a "program" or not.
  • Posted on: 08/28/2019

    Innovation: Are retailers trying to do too much?

    Brian's closing sentence nails the obvious answer: retailers have lost focus not only on their core value propositions but have, more importantly, lost focus on their customers. Shopping most chains is painful in terms of the customer experience, especially when compared with emerging leaders who know exactly what they are, who their customers are and why their brand, CX and merchandise (oh, that!) are relevant.
  • 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.

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