Trusted Loyalty Partners has been a recognised player of the performance industry for just over a year, but that hasn’t stopped the company from racking up an impressive list of achievements.

From gaining PCI compliance to enlisting clients such as Argos, the team behind the card-linked offer platform enjoyed a fruitful 2014 as signs of early success continued to grow.

In conversation with PerformanceIN regarding the company’s Performance Marketing Award for Best New Entrant and some of the debates surrounding offline performance marketing, TLP director Chris Heather reflected on a hectic 12 months.  

Congrats on the win! Tell us why you’re the best newcomer in the performance space.

Chris Heather: You’d better ask the judges! But from our perspective, the fact we were able to achieve the level-1 PCI certification [a security standard for organisations that handle branded credit cards] after only four months is unique, and significant for us given that it would usually take a year for a company to gain that sort of accreditation. 

Having secured that, linking-up with a tier-one retailer in that same year, who had their own stringent security tests for data management, was another big moment for us. And then to follow, the launch of a very successful pre-Christmas campaign through TopCashback. 

When I look at those in a year-one position, I think any one of them is a good thing to have done. But to have accomplished all of these in the first year, when we put them down on paper it seemed like a genuinely significant achievement over a short period of time. 

For the PCI compliance, to what did you attribute getting that over so fast?

CH: Our technical director had some previous experience with applying for the standard, so that helped us in terms of setting expectations and understanding in advance of applying what it was that we were letting ourselves in for. 

Having that experience helped, but undoubtedly when it comes to passing something like this, there are some prescribed set-up arrangements and controls you just have to put in place. So, fundamentally, you gear yourself up to work through those while making sure that you’re working with your external assessing organisation in advance of doing the final tests. 

Card-linking tech is playing a huge role in getting online businesses into offline stores. Do you think we’re getting better at bridging the gap? 

CH: The simple answer is yes. I’d say the technical capability has moved on a lot. But having said that, there are still a couple of reasons why the industry hasn’t moved forward as quickly as it could have done. 

From a retailer point of view, it’s essential that they are able to demonstrate incrementality in the space, which is the first requirement when you talk to a merchant. They need to be able to secure the budget to support the offers. That in itself can be a problem for some companies as they’ll often work on an annual planning cycle and you’ll talk to them in the middle of that. So it could be weeks or months away before they’re able to free up the necessary funds. 

Secondly, we have the ability to access the data from the retailers and the third-parties that process the retailer’s point-of-sale information. That alone has a significant level of complexity and approval in order to run the offers and service.

All of this means the partners involved aren’t necessarily able to move as quickly as the technical capabilities will allow. For us, that means we need to be a lot more ‘merchant-focused’. 

In practical terms, we need to be able to support short-term, regional and even store-specific offers, which we’re now able to do. As a merchant, being able to work in such an open way really helps them get the business case approved from an incrementality point of view.    

The consensus among certain sections of the retail industry is that a move away from incentivisation will pay off in the long term. Will this affect performance’s move into the offline space?

CH: I understand why the retail industry would talk about that, and in reality I get it. But it’s an extremely complex issue which has a lot of facets to it.

One of those in particular is that there is an almost ingrained expectation of a consumer to get a good deal. The ‘Pandora’s box’ is already open, in a way. 

Another one of the factors is the increased cost of marketing and the need to show a positive ROI. I believe what our own company is doing is enabling retailers to perform something that is extremely cost-effective and transparent to everybody. It offers a strong alternative to some of the traditional methods of promotion and advertising that have been used by retailers in the past. 

So, to recap, I understand the move away from incentivisation. But from a customer perspective, retailers need to show ‘something’, because that’s just what they’ll ultimately expect. And it’s how they do this in a way that remains cost-effective.

What is the value of winning your prize?

CH: The award will give Trusted Loyalty Partners real credibility and profile. When you’re new to a market, something like this really helps to compliment and support those efforts, and that’s why we were so happy to have won.

I think internally, as well, when you’re aware that a panel of experts have sat down and gone through some very tough competition, it gives you the confidence that you’re on the right track and doing the right things.

How will you ensure this year will be even bigger than the one it follows?

CH: Our advances on the technical front with merchant-centric offer capabilities will be paramount to how we see this year and the next unfolding. Aside from that, it’s about working hard and continuing to listen to what our retailer partners and clients are saying to us about their own members and customers. 

In my experience, you make your own luck. Just having a good idea and waiting for something to happen just doesn’t cut it. Sitting here with this award, we’re delighted with the progress we’ve made. But even in this short space of time, we’ve already faced a series of challenges we didn’t necessarily expect and we’ve had to work around them. 

Yet I think the fact we’ve already secured a number of new merchants for this year, with more to follow, it runs in tandem with our belief that we’re seeing the opportunity get bigger.