Profile: Susan O’Neal, CEO, Dabbl
Susan O’Neal started her career in brand strategy, working for Grey Advertising in New York and conducting research to understand what consumers believed and how that correlated to behavior. After earning her MBA, she had a stint at Coolsavings.com in the early days of digital coupons. It was there that she realized the potential for technology to make marketing as a discipline not only more sophisticated but also more human. She joined Catalina Marketing in 2002 and spent nearly 12 years in various roles, eventually becoming responsible for most of its digital promotions products and services. In early 2015, she founded Dabbl and has served as its CEO ever since. She is one of three Women of Excellence honorees in the “Innovation” category.
What are your primary responsibilities?
O’Neal: My job is to attract talented human beings and make sure they have what they need to do the best job they can for our consumers and our clients.
Describe Downtime Dollars (the white label solution you offer to retailers).
O’Neal: Consumers are paid for engaging with brands in store credit that they can use to buy anything in their favorite store. For every $1 of store credit earned on Downtime Dollars, customers will spend an incremental $3.60 on groceries in their favorite store on average. The key is that the “rewards” are not in the form of product coupons or rebates, because those only have value if planning a shopping trip around them. Downtime Dollars is an incremental savings opportunity for those consumers who do plan their trips, and a new and preferred opportunity for consumers who don’t use them. Because consumers are a partner in the media chain, they actually pay attention to the brand content, and that attention translates to significantly above-average results for brands – amazing recall and affinity scores and ... return on ad spend.
Did you design the program?
O’Neal: Yes, Downtime Dollars was designed by me and my team as a way to add unique, high value to retailer loyalty programs. As dollars off anything in the store, Downtime Dollars complements digital coupons and increases incremental spending overall for both the brand and the retailer.
What qualities do you believe make a true innovator?
O’Neal: If you’re not facing opposition and resistance, you’re not really innovating. Things are the way they are for rational, valid reasons. An innovator challenges that rationality, and that kind of challenge generally turns people off. Given this, true innovators have to be motivated by something greater than themselves in order to have the resilience and persistence to keep going in the face of challenges.
What do you want to provide shoppers and consumers?
O’Neal: Every moment of every life is valuable, yet very little about the experience of being a consumer – especially as it relates to advertising – honors that truth. According to the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), brands in the U.S. spend more than $1 trillion on the various elements of marketing. Divide that by the 127 million households in the U.S. and marketers are spending nearly $8,000 per household trying to understand and influence consumers. Very little of that money goes toward improving the life or the shopping experience of a consumer. In fact, oftentimes we’re creating addictive digital media consumption patterns, increasing the time it takes a budget-conscious consumer to shop, and worse. When I realized this, I stopped enjoying my daily work as a loyalty marketer. I had to do something to get some of that money into the hands of the people who matter the most in the value chain, the consumer. Giving it to them as dollars off anything in their favorite store is what Downtime Dollars does. Figuring out how to make it happen in more retailers and with more brands is why I go to work every day.
What excites you most about where shopper marketing is heading?
O’Neal: The most effective sale happens when a knowledgeable salesperson (or shop keeper) is able to converse with a consumer because several valuable things happen concurrently in the course of that conversation – including mindshare because neither one of you is doing anything else. The second is insight, because the salesperson is learning about the consumer’s needs while the consumer is learning about the salesperson’s product or service offering. As both are happening, the information presented about a product is relevant, heard and understood, resulting in very high conversion-to-sale rates. Finally, if the time spent together was enjoyable or otherwise deemed worthwhile, then relationship (or brand) equity is established or enhanced. This is the real opportunity of technology – to bring the consumer authentically closer to the people who make and sell the products they need or want, and vice versa, so they can help each other.