A Conversation with Teri Llach, Chief Marketing Officer, Blackhawk Network
We recently spoke with Teri Llach, Chief Marketing Officer of Blackhawk Network. In this Q&A format we discuss Blackhawk Network’s strategy in light of recent acquisitions, the buying power of Millennials, and evolving aspects of e-gift adoption.
Teri Llach is the Chief Marketing Officer of Blackhawk Network, which develops new ways to give, receive, and use branded value—like gift cards, digital payments, and loyalty points. She is co-founder of Blackhawk Network and part of the team that led the company to a successful 2013 IPO. She leads all aspects of marketing including product marketing, advertising and promotions, business intelligence, consumer research, PR and corporate communication, and branding. She is also the marketing lead for corporate acquisition communications.
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1. Can you provide a bit of color on Blackhawk’s strategy particularly in light of the string of acquisitions in the incentives space to complement your flagship retail distribution business?
As a company, we have evolved far beyond distributing gift cards in retail to a business that helps organizations integrate and maximize branded value to engage people, including customers, consumers, and employees. Our incentives division, Blackhawk Engagement Solutions—a leading global provider of customized incentive and engagement solutions for consumer promotions, employee rewards and recognition, and indirect sales channels—was launched last year as the result of our acquisitions of Parago, InteliSpend, Incentive CardLab, and Incentec Solutions. Recently, we acquired Achievers, a leading provider of employee recognition and rewards solutions designed to help companies increase employee engagement; extrameasures, a full-service promotions and incentives company; and Grass Roots, a leading provider of employee and customer engagement solutions. Through our continued expansion, we’ve been able to develop a suite of branded value solutions for our partners and increase our capabilities, which are broader than ever before.
2. What do you think about the evolution of gift/prepaid to digital channels and form factors in terms of the shift/adoptive curve, customer behavior, and impact on the legacy physical card model?
More and more consumers are using an increasingly wide array of payment and prepaid options, and their demand is driving innovation. We are seeing gift cards being used for self-use, peer-to-peer payments gaining ground, mobile wallet adoption increasing, and the gift card industry continuing to grow. Contrary to what some believed, we believe that digital gift cards are complementary to physical cards; digital gift cards are offering more options for consumers and appealing to new groups of buyers, which helps retailers sell more gift cards.
3. Retailers are very focused on engaging Millennials and there are many views on their payment preferences – how do you think of gift/prepaid in the context of Millennials?
Retailers have been seeing Millennials gain buying power and continue to lead a change in purchasing trends. Because it is imperative that retail marketers follow and understand how to appeal to this demographic, we research Millennials and payment preferences. One study1 conducted by Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, our incentives division, discovered that the Millennials surveyed are finding flexibility and safety in gift cards, with 64 percent believing that “gift cards are safer online than other digital payment method.” If safety continues to be a concern for consumers, we could see those percentages continue to rise among not just Millennials, but other generations that are following their lead.
4. What consumer trends are you seeing in areas such as e-gift perception/adoption?
We recently announced findings from a new research study2 about consumers’ usage, adoption of, and sentiments toward egifts. The findings revealed that as the consumers surveyed rely on mobile devices or computers to store their personal data, the use of egifts—digital gift cards delivered to recipients via email, social media or text message that are redeemable in-store, online or via mobile devices—is growing. The consumers we surveyed continue to have a strong desire to give and receive plastic gift cards, and even as this demand remains high, egifts are becoming equally desired. There are, however, some misconceptions that still exist about consumer’s attitudes toward and perception of egifts and how they are being used and redeemed. Our new research finds that shoppers view and use digital gift cards in ways one might not expect, such as:
- The perception of egift is evolving beyond the initial view that egift is strictly for personal use and not appropriate to gift to others. According to Blackhawk’s research, egifts continue to gain in popularity as the shoppers surveyed use them for both self-use and gifting. While plastic gift cards remain a top gift-giving choice, with 89 percent of consumers surveyed reporting they have purchased at least one plastic gift card in the last year, 71 percent of those individuals have also purchased one or more egifts during the same timeframe. Nearly half of consumers surveyed (42 percent) have purchased egifts for both gifts and self-use.
- Givers and receivers have conflicting perceptions of egifts, according to the survey. Respondents said that a common reason they do not purchase an egift to give as a gift is because they feel it can be perceived as impersonal. However, respondents who have received egifts feel quite the contrary. Of the consumers surveyed who have received at least one egift in the past 12 months, 93 percent said they were satisfied to receive an egift and 85 percent felt that it was a personal gesture and selected just for him/her.
1 Where It’s At, A Connected Shopper Study: Millennials, was conducted by Blackhawk Engagement Solutions from April 1–17, 2015. The sample size included 546 American respondents ages 18-29.
2 Blackhawk’s eGift Misconceptions Survey is an internet-based survey conducted by Blackhawk Network in June 2016. The sample size included 1,144 respondents.
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