FIVE Take Aways From The BIG Handshake – Loyalty 2023

On 16th and 17th October, The Gift Club held their third in-person event. And even if we do say so ourselves, this one was most definitely the best one yet for more than one reason!

We unveiled a brand-new loyalty-specific membership organisation

Created solely for loyalty practitioners at brands and retail businesses, this new members-only space will provide learning, networking, and development opportunities. With a focus on education and support for the day-to-day programme and engagement teams, the European Loyalty Association will offer a roster of online and offline activity. 

You can read the official press release over on our website.

We held the event in Amsterdam

Venturing over to the continent was a big deal for us. We listened to the feedback from our previous event participants and set out to make attendance as easy as possible for those travelling internationally. Amsterdam was the most popular vote, so our team made it happen!

“Bringing together the first ever loyalty-specific event in Europe feels like a triumph. The large majority of the feedback we’ve received indicates that our chosen content and speakers were spot on for the audience, which sets a wonderfully high bar for our future events. Launching the European Loyalty Association was the icing on the cake as we take the next steps to provide more value to an ever-expanding audience.” – Hadie Perkas, CEO and Founder of The Gift Club, The BIG Handshake, and the European Loyalty Association.

We spread The BIG Handshake over more than one day

These events are getting bigger and better every time – we’ve gone from a single afternoon of networking to a full-blown conference in just 12 months. And the feedback tells us you want even MORE!

“Loved talking to new people and understanding how they would build loyalty products and services” – Aleks Kaczmarek, VP of Loyalty, CarTrawler

To sum up the event, we’ve pulled together some of the biggest takeaways from just five of the excellent panel sessions and interactive debates held across the two days. 

1. Loyalty programmes are the most important marketing discipline of the 21st century

Highlights from Philip Shelper and Ryan de Boer’s (Loyalty & Reward Co) workshop on Loyalty Program Optimisation.

In this session, Philip and Ryan asked the audience to reflect on how their existing loyalty programmes rate against best practice principles. Sharing the reasons and most effective ways to approach loyalty programme optimisation, these two industry powerhouses presented an eight-point model that can be used to support digital transformation and the journey to omnichannel personalisation.

With more red tape and new challenges popping up all the time, the key takeaway from this session just has to be the concept that a loyalty programme is now the most important marketing discipline available to a brand.

Loyalty programme membership circumvents the issues caused by:

  • The death of cookies
  • Walled garden data
  • Tightening privacy regulations
  • Recession-related behaviour change

Loyalty & Reward Co’s research has identified eight principles that are seen replicated across all best practice loyalty programmes. These range from programmes being simple yet stimulating and cost-effective yet valuable. A well-optimised programme that has all eight will provide the opportunity for detailed data collection and analysis, as well as creating the feeling of advocacy for its members (emotional loyalty).

Of course, it is important to collect the right kind of data and then make sure that this is widely accessible within your business for everyone who needs to use it, to ensure programme optimisation. This allows for better lifecycle management and a clearer path to delivering omnichannel personalisation – a feature that a whopping 71% of consumers now expect to experience.

When asking the audience how advanced their omnichannel personalisation is at the moment, 73% said that they had started the journey. Interestingly, no company in the room felt that they were well advanced in this field, demonstrating a huge gap for industry growth over the next few years.

2. Make a good first impression and then build the relationship using data

Highlights from panel session: “Creating a loyalty life cycle and a loyal customer from day one”. Moderated by Bojan Radlovic at Fortenova Group.

Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of any loyalty strategy is the life cycle management of each customer. Our panel believes that this actually starts before acquisition, at the point of forming the first impression.

The crux of creating loyalty is to make customers feel special and then learn from the data they give you in return. Our panellists advised to pay close attention to your segmentation and to ensure that you are educating your customers on who you are as a brand and what you stand for. It even comes down to clearly communicating what it is you are offering them.

We polled the audience in the room to ask at which stage of the customer lifecycle they think loyalty programs are most effective:

  • Retention – 41%
  • Building frequency – 27%
  • New joiner – 23%
  • Other – 8%

The panel largely agreed with the outcome of the poll, with some of our panellists going on to talk about further tactics that contribute to the loyalty lifecycle. Personalisation, gamification, and incentivisation to create habits have all been tried and tested within the panellists’ own programmes. 

The final takeaway shared in this session was to look at the bigger picture. When things go wrong, you need to look at how you treat your customers and have a strategy in place to flip negative experiences into something that will ultimately be remembered in a positive way. 

Thank you to our session panellists: Marta Dragović (IKEA Retail), Sarah Turner (Marketing Lounge Partnership), Alexander Béhar-Bannelier (Velux), and Martín Villanueva (Adidas).

3. Subscription models are best used to enhance value for existing customers

Highlights from our debate on the pros and cons of subscription-based loyalty models. Moderated by Ryan De Boer at Loyalty & Reward Co.

With more subscription-based products and services launching every week, we wanted to understand whether a paid model is the most effective loyalty marketing strategy or not. In a world of increased competition and skyrocketing acquisition costs, there’s a valid argument for both sides.

To start the session we asked the audience’s opinion, which resulted in 78% opting for the very pragmatic ‘it depends’ and just 9% leaning towards it being ‘more effective’. 6% voted for ‘less effective’ and 7% felt that they weren’t sure.

In the panel’s view, we first have to define whether a subscription service is in fact a loyalty programme. Lia Grimberg of Radicle Loyalty shared her four ‘R’s framework that she uses to understand loyalty programmes: Reward, relevance, recognition, and relationship. The basis is that if a subscription offers all four, then it is a loyalty programme.

A real balance of pros and cons were discussed throughout the debate with lots of case studies highlighted to illustrate each opinion.


Whilst it’s harder to get customers to sign up and part with their hard-earned money, subscription models do provide a predictable cashflow and big data opportunities. These benefits allow a brand to spend more on future acquisition and programme optimisations. Of course, it was noted that paid programmes may well have smaller enrolment numbers, but the likelihood is that these people will be far more engaged. It’s the psychological concept that by spending money on something, the customer feels they must make the most of what’s on offer.


On the flip side, there was plenty of discussion around whether a customer’s commitment to pay can truly be classed as loyalty – or if long term custom in this situation is down to convenience or perhaps even just a lazy approach towards life admin and the awkwardness of cancelling a payment. 

With the ever-increasing number of paid programmes to choose from, there was talk of concern around subscription fatigue. When asked, 54% of our audience in the room said that the threat of this puts them off from launching a subscription-based model.

As a closing topic, Ryan asked whether a subscription model could be suitable for every business in every industry. The panel seemed to unite against this thought, giving numerous examples for why this wouldn’t work. They instead advised that the way a business could understand whether a paid programme may or may not be right for them is by analysing industry and business data.

If in doubt, the best way to implement a paid programme is to use the concept as a tiered graduation or upward migration mechanism. Attract customers in with a free tier, and provide enhanced value for those who pay. 

Thank you to our session panellists: Dani McManus (Levi’s), Marta Dragovic (IKEA Retail), Lia Grimberg (Radicle Loyalty), and Martin Villanueva (Adidas).

4. BALANCE is the secret to successful personalisation

Highlights from the panel discussion on getting data to work for you, emotionally. Moderated by Joe Danter at Antavo.

Emotional loyalty: the deeper connection formed from every communication, action and input that customers receive from a brand, making them feel recognised and important.

To open the discussion, our panel shared their own thoughts on whether the execution of emotional loyalty is more of an art or a science. The audience poll leaned heavily towards ‘Yes’ with 64% agreeing with the statement. Our panel felt that it is more of a balance and highlighted how understanding your customer data and insights leads into the nurture of emotional loyalty. 

Looking next at the measurement of emotional loyalty, we asked the audience how many of them are currently doing this in one or more ways. A whopping 87% admitted that this has not yet been a focus point. Clearly, this shines a very bright spotlight on an industry-wide target for the next few years. To this end, our panel shared their top methods of measurement with references to NPS scores and retention rate benchmarking.

Finally, the session turned to look at the impact of personalisation, and whether it can go too far. When asked, the audience majority voted that it most certainly can (73% vs 27%). The panel were inclined to agree, with a strong feeling that a more ‘generalised’ approach to personalisation is the safer middle ground.

Even simply understanding your basic audience demographic and targeting comms and offers according to this can be effective. If you’re going one step further and attempting hyper personalisation, the key is to utilise data that people have explicitly given. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Thank you to our session panellists: Fionna Ronnie (TFG), Bojan Radlovic (Fortenova Group), Bruna Mikan (Ecco Shoes), and Claire Desreumaux (H&M).

5. Phygital loyalty is the future, even in a digital world

Highlights from panel session, “Imagine if the consumer world was 100% digital”. Moderated by Mark Taylor at Marigold.

Firstly, the panel defined the concept of a 100% digital future. Multiple panellists talked of this as being connected at every touchpoint to create a seamless experience regardless of device, platform, location, person or brand. It was also agreed that it will encompass new technologies that haven’t even been invented yet.

The panel briefly discussed the gaps that they’ve personally seen within the brands they work with, in terms of creating that true omnichannel, phygital (physical + digital) experience. They identified the need for the physical relationship with brands to continue, and how this will (or should) be complemented by a wealth of data that can be pulled upon in real time to elevate human-to-human interaction.

Thankfully, every business in the room has begun their journey towards the digital future. In fact, the live poll suggested that 63% of the audience rated themselves as a 4 or a 5 (out of 5) on a scale of feeling prepared for what is coming in the next few years.

Interestingly, when we build on that poll and ask how confident our audience feel in their set up when it comes to fostering emotional loyalty, the average rating dropped far lower. Only 14% could give their programme a 5 out of 5 for this, with 31% rating themselves at a 2 out of 5.

To combat this, the panel offered some strategies and tactics for how to create emotional loyalty in an all-digital landscape. Building brand attraction with your high-level marketing, using personalisation touchpoints, and retaining a human-led customer service department were just three of the suggestions. 

Finally, the panel were unanimous in their advice that there is a need for people centricity, and that data insights about these people – be those customers or employees – is absolutely key to thriving in any world, digital or otherwise.

Thank you to our session panellists: Jatin Pandey (PVC), Sian Larsen (The Post Office), Dani McManus (Levi’s), and Sakeb Rashid (Starbucks).

6. Key takeaways in summary

The running theme, and therefore biggest takeaway, through every single session across both days was to have a focus on data. As a technology-led industry, where providing a seamless experience should be the number one priority, it’s fundamental to actively track, analyse and use the data points that your customer-base are willing to provide. 

Customer centricity is vital to the growth and success of any programme, directly impacted by the strength of emotion that customers feel toward your brand. Balanced personalisation and taking an omni-channel approach are both huge factors in this, which again come back to the need for well-placed data collection and analysis.


In general, the event was extremely well received, and we’re pleased that more than 85% of those who completed our feedback form have said that they will definitely attend our future events.

We’d like to extend our thanks once again to our incredible line up of sponsors, speakers, and moderators, with a special thanks to our headline sponsors, The Marketing Lounge Partnership and Marigold.

“The best loyalty event I’ve attended.” – Bruna Mikan, Global Loyalty Lead, ECCO Shoes 

In addition to the sessions we’ve highlighted above, we explored the simplification of loyalty, the creation of a great culture, and how to master loyalty persuasion. To close the seminar aspect of the conference, we held a fireside chat with Women in Loyalty that celebrated female leadership whilst highlighting the need for further effort in achieving gender balance in the industry.


Of course, no event is complete without a chance to network over a glass of something nice, and our 140 attendees spent both evenings making the most of the chance to forge new connections and catch up with old friends.

“Great opportunity to connect with loyalty leaders across several industries.” – Romina Tzempatzia, CRM and Loyalty Specialist, ASICS 

You can check out the full photo album for this year’s The BIG Handshake – Loyalty on our website.

Join The European Loyalty Association

An exclusive membership association that provides exclusive regional and international content and networking opportunities for brands and their loyalty, CRM and customer engagement teams.

Across four, regional, European HUBs (UK, Benelux, Nordics and DACH), members will regularly meet online and offline to discuss ways to improve loyalty and engagement programmes, learn, network, exchange ideas, develop, and benchmark their progress.

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