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OutDrive - Loyalty

Every loyalty program should be designed to do one primary function: connect people; connect people to the things they want, to the rewards they can earn, or the status they want to attain. For example, we see commercials all the time for companies emphasizing their points, miles, and perks for frequent flyers. In this episode, airline loyalty thought leader Mark Ross-Smith joins OUTdrive from across the world in Malaysia for an introspective on building a successful loyalty program.


Cliff Callis (00:03):

Welcome to OUTdrive, folks. I’m your host Cliff Callis, and each week, I’m bringing you actionable marketing insights you can apply to reach, connect with and convert rural American consumers. OUTdrive is powered by Callis, a full-service advertising agency with a focus on marketing rural America. Callis offers a wide range of integrated marketing services, including website development, search engine marketing, social media, video and digital. We develop strategic and creative campaigns to build your brand and your business and you can learn more about us at Now, join me in the front seat as we head out on the road to success. Let’s go.

Hey folks, welcome to OUTdrive. We’ve got another great story to share with you today about life and work in rural America and across the globe in Southeast Asia. Mark Ross-Smith is the CEO and co-founder of StatusMatch, a global status management firm that works with some of the world’s largest airlines. His company allows individuals to maintain their status level when they switch to a new airline or hotel chain. Mark has 20 years of experience leading loyalty programs in travel and telecommunications and is also the founder and editor of the industry news site, Travel Data Daily. He is a globally recognized award-winning thought leader and known as one of the brightest minds in loyalty. Welcome to OUTdrive, Mark.

Mark Ross-Smith (01:34):

Hello, good morning. It’s great to be with you.

Cliff Callis (01:36):

Well, I’m very pleased to have you. I know you’re speaking to us from Malaysia where it’s 10:00 at night. We’re recording this in the middle of America and it’s 9:00 on Monday morning and we’re all celebrating the Chiefs’ football victory last night. We’re big Chiefs fans around here. But enough about us and me, let’s talk a little bit about you. Tell us about your background and how you got to be where you are today.

Mark Ross-Smith (02:03):

Sure. So I’m from Brisbane, Australia originally and Brisbane is a great, I think, good balance between a big city and a small town. Not big enough to really be a big city, not small enough to be called a town. So I grew up there and I really got started in what I’m doing today. I really started when I was about 16. I actually left school to start a business. I was pretty bored of school to be honest and so I just thought I could do better things. I was interested in new ideas, technology, business, money. Back in the day, how do you learn that at school, right? You don’t, right? You learn from your parents or peers or books or somewhere else, but not school traditionally.

And so I thought, “Where am I going to learn this?” In the late ’90s when this was I thought the internet was really stepping into its place then and so I started with doing affiliate marketing for some dating sites. And before I know it, I started making $500, $600, $700 a month kind of thing. At 16 years old, this is pretty cool. Suddenly, those checks started to get bigger over time, thousands, tens of thousands and it’s like, “Hang on. Do I need a real job or is this a real job?” This is back in the days when people were like, “You shouldn’t rely on the internet to make money. Go do something in the real world.”

So that’s where it all started. I always had this entrepreneurial flare, just wanting to do something a little bit different. And that theme has continued on with what I’ve been doing over the years and I knew I wasn’t interested in bureaucracy or corporate politics. I knew I wasn’t going to work in a big company, or at least, not for very long [inaudible 00:03:47]. So I had a few startups after that. I had, in 2006-ish, started a social network. It was in the telco industry in Australia. So I don’t know if you remember the old MySpace. Remember the old MySpace with the [inaudible 00:04:01]. Tom was your friend and was everyone’s friend. Yeah, so we created something like that for Australians and did pretty well. We grew that over seven years.

We ended up selling it in 2013 and I decided it’s time to leave this not too small, not too big town of Brisbane. And so I moved to Hong Kong, which is probably one of the densely populated areas on the planet. Your neighbor is three feet from you. There’s a wall on the side. So moved there and had a great time. It’s still one of my favorite places in the world, or at least in the old world, not sure about the new world. Moved to Hong Kong and started a big blog there, trying to get some of these ideas that I’d learned in the telco industry out to share with the world, share with other industries because I was really interested in airline and travel stuff at the time. I just sold my company, I had no job, I had a bit of money, what am I going to do, right?

Cliff Callis (04:57):


Mark Ross-Smith (04:59):

I got to do something. So I thought, “I want to work in the airline business because I want cheap flights. I want cheap flights and I want platinum status for life.” That’s my goal. New goal of life. Not kids, not family, not a car, not a house, I want platinum status forever. That’s what kickstarted to where we’re going now in what we’re doing and I started a blog,, and getting to that a bit, that was really about just getting new ideas out to the world, sharing with the airline loyalty people out there what they could learn from telco because telco seemed to make a lot of money, “How could you make money selling data? How could you make money from more marketing stuff? How could you make money to do all these different things?”

From there, I started getting invites to speak at events because I had all this thought leadership stuff out there. People were like, “Oh, this is new material. We want to see this. The airline people love this,” because traditionally the airline industry is like a dinosaur. It’s really, really slow moving. They’re risk-adverse. They’re ordering aircraft like a decade in advance. You know what I mean? That’s the kind of planning they’re at now. They’re planning 10, 15 years ahead in the future. They take no risk at all, which to be fair is what you want from an airline.

Cliff Callis (06:11):

You don’t want it to be high risk. No, you don’t.

Mark Ross-Smith (06:14):

Exactly. So they’re doing the right thing, but when it comes to the loyalty side of it, they should be exactly the opposite. They should be taking risks. They should be able to take a lot of risks because it’s effectively a marketing company, right? Yeah, I guess that’s a good history.

Cliff Callis (06:27):

That’s an awesome history. It’s very inspiring to me actually. Where did the foundation for your entrepreneurialism come from? What do you think brought that to life? What early things in your life or things that you were exposed to made you think, “Hey, I want to be out on my own making things happen”?

Mark Ross-Smith (06:48):

I think you don’t know what you want until you know what you don’t want, right? Because then things become super clear. I knew I was pretty bored with school. I was actually doing really well in school. I was a good student, but something was lacking there, something was missing and that sets you on a path of seeking to try and find that something else. Some people never find it, mind you. Maybe that becomes your path, to keep looking to find that thing. Then I caught on pretty early that I like this travel stuff. I like this flying and airlines and all that kind of jazz. And you figure out, “How do I combine what I do want with needing to make a buck in this world?” right? There’s a Venn diagram here somewhere of stuff you like and how do you make money.

So figuring out what that middle part is I think became a bit of an obsession for me and I think that’s where it started and how it started moving into that place of figuring it out.

Cliff Callis (07:49):

So in America, out in rural America, particularly, as kids, things we did to make money were mowing grass. I lived out in the country, so there was lots of grass, right? Mowing grass, delivering papers on a bicycle because that’s the way that they did it back then, or if you really had access to a farm life, you could buck hay, which was picking up square hay bales and throwing them up on a truck, which was pretty grueling. But I always did those kinds of things because I like it outdoors. Like you, I liked having my own money. I didn’t like having to ask my parents for money. I liked to be more independent. Something that was a blessing for me was my father was a business guy and so I watched him and he seemed to do well and he seemed to enjoy what he was doing. So he mentored me along without being heavy-handed about it.

So that led to me starting this agency 35 years ago just out of my house because I wanted to do something different and I thought, “I love advertising. It’s a cool business. I think I could do this,” and had done some of it. But I’m so turned on by your thinking at such a high level about what the internet opportunities were back in the late ’90s because we started to build some brochure websites and we were registering domain names, but you really saw the big picture. I’m impressed by that.

Mark Ross-Smith (09:30):

Well, let’s be clear, I’m not sitting on a private island right now, so I didn’t see that big of a picture.

Cliff Callis (09:37):

But very few people are.

Mark Ross-Smith (09:40):

Yeah, I think, back then, the internet, no real regulation, no real rules around it, it was a new thing. Countries didn’t have laws or many laws around internet stuff. You remember people telling you, “Don’t use your real name on the internet,” these kinds of things and then Facebook came along and everyone uses their real name. So people said, “Don’t get into cars with strangers,” and now everyone’s doing Uber everywhere, so thrown that out the window now. But back in the day, so early 2000, it was a time when if you had a physical business, you could perhaps move some of that business onto the internet as well and drive some incremental sales.

But I look at the internet today and it’s exactly the same thing. You could find a product, start selling it and there’s actually even more opportunity today than there was 20 years ago. I thought 20 years ago was the Golden Age. Now it is like what? The Titanium Age or something, I don’t know, whatever the more precious metal is.

Cliff Callis (10:38):

Well coined, well coined. Platinum. You said platinum earlier, I like-

Mark Ross-Smith (10:41):

We’ll go with platinum.

Cliff Callis (10:42):

We’ll go platinum. Well, let’s talk a little bit about Travel Data Daily, you brought it up earlier, your travel blog. So what year did you kick that off and then what are you doing with that today?

Mark Ross-Smith (10:55):

End of 2015, I started that. It’s always been free, just publish … I call it thought leadership, but really it started off a bit ranting actually. I couldn’t figure out … Let’s rewind a little bit. For the last 20 years, I’ve been a frequent flyer, right? And seven, eight years ago when I started this, I was still a big frequent flyer. I want to say big, I mean maybe 100 flights a year kind of thing, so a lot more than an average person. Top status on all the airlines and hotels and you get all the VIP perks and benefits and that kind of stuff. As part of that, when you reach a certain level of status with airline, management at the airline want to know you because they want to start personalizing stuff for you. They basically want to make more money from you. So they’re like, “Well, how can I get this guy flying more, spending more, learning more about their travel habits?”

When I started meeting these people at the airline, I was confused because I felt I knew more about their product than they did. What I discovered is that was exactly true and it’s still true today. People who work in airline, not all, but most, the real customers of their own product. It’s a job for them, right? They’re in an office, they’re at a desk all day, they’re doing their thing, they’re not in the sky flying, right? They’re not flying every week. They’re not flying every two weeks or every three weeks. If they do fly, they’re flying on a really cheap staff travel ticket, which is, I’ll make it up, but 20 bucks cross country kind of thing. Whereas you and me might pay 600 bucks for that privilege kind of thing.

So the experience that they have from booking a ticket online or on their mobile app or whatever to actually flying, that whole customer journey is very different to what you and me and all the billions of travelers around the world experience every single day and that’s why airlines specifically tend to send up more customer surveys, “Can you give us your feedback?” They have focus groups, they have all these kind of thing, because the people there, they need education. They need education because they’re typically not frequent flyers themselves. They’re not customers of their own product and they sure as hell don’t pay what you and me pay.

Let’s point to this Travel Data. So it was about trying to fast track their knowledge and share stuff with them so they can make their product better. Because my thinking was, “If they can make their loyalty programs better, that impacts me. I’ll have a better program to engage with someone, so why not help them for free? Just get the information out there.” And that worked really well. Got a lot of traction really fast. I think I had probably 80 airlines or so subscribed to my newsletter at one stage. A lot of consultants as well I might say. It’s just a way to get the message out there. That eventually led to invitations to start speaking events and podcasts and that kind of stuff, which I loved. Then I started actually meeting these people, not just seeing their email addresses in the database.

I had nothing to sell them. I didn’t offer consulting. I was just talking big shot ideas, right? “Here’s what you could do. You figure out how to do it. I have nothing to sell, just go do it, please. Please, because I want more miles.” And eventually, series of events, I end up leading to Malaysia Airlines. A lady there at the time running the loyalty program, she called me up and said, “Hey, I’m moving. I’ve got a new job. Do you want my job at Malaysia? Do you want to run the loyalty program at Malaysia Airlines?” I said no at first. I was living in Hong Kong, I had a great life and then they convinced me to come down and meet them. I thought, it’s not every day you get an opportunity like this, so I said, yes. Moved to Malaysia and I ran the loyalty program at Malaysia Airlines. And I ran that like a startup.

It’s like, “How do we make as much money as fast as we can? Forgetting about all the nonsense politics and bureaucracy and all the legacy red tape nonsense that existed, how do we do that?” I stepped on a lot of toes with steel cap shoes, pretty hard.

Cliff Callis (14:55):

I wondered if that might be the case.

Mark Ross-Smith (14:58):

Yeah, funny that, but we made a ton of money for the airline, which is really great. Not that that’s really the metric, but that’s the outcome of doing things the right way and then running great campaigns and improving things and just tweaks here and there. Basically just designing and running the loyalty program that you wished existed as a frequent flyer. Not coming from an airline perspective, but coming from a customers’ perspective. I think that was what led to a lot of the magic and the revenue increases the airline saw during that time.

Cliff Callis (15:30):

So what’s some of the insights that you gained early on in that process? Because I’m assuming at the time when you went into that you didn’t know about all the details about Malaysia Airlines or maybe you did, but you had to gain some insights about what was happening internally, what was happening out in the marketplace. You knew what the competitors were doing because you followed them and took advantage of them. So what insight did you gain and then what strategies did you use to turn that into a profitable endeavor?

Mark Ross-Smith (16:03):

So it was already profitable when I walked it, the loyalty program specifically. The airline, not so much, but the loyalty program did pretty well. I was already pretty familiar with the Malaysian market. I was already in Malaysia. My wife’s Malaysian, so we were always visiting and coming down all the time, so that was not really anything new. Think from a marketing campaign perspective, because traditionally when people think of airline loyalty, that’s what they think of, think of their marketing, the double miles offers, the credit cards, that kind of stuff, right? So really it’s, “What do I want as a frequent flyer? Not what does the airline want, what do I want as a frequent flyer? What campaign would I want to run? What campaigns that, if they’re out the market that would be newsworthy or bloggers and travel media would start talking about?”

Because if they start talking about it, it’s going to be positive. Then that has its halo effect on the airline, this positive effect on the airline, which the airline was looking for at the time. They had this brand issue in the market and what could they do to improve that? And so they looked to the loyalty program as one of those ways to achieve that. This is really almost basic stuff, but things like triple tier miles, triple status credits when you fly, it sounds pretty basic, but actually it was a big deal in this part of the world at the time that generated more ticket sales for the airline than they could achieve through any other mechanism. It was free to run the campaign effectively. People were attracted to it.

In fact, I was googling this recently. There’s actually an American blogger that specifically flew over to fly the Malaysia Airlines as part of this campaign, in which they got I think gold or platinum status out of it. Malaysia Airlines is part of Oneworld, so then obviously they went back to America and they could fly American Airlines and get all the perks with American Airlines because they’re part of the same alliance.

Cliff Callis (17:51):

Ah, smart. So talk a little bit about StatusMatch. What is StatusMatch, first of all?

Mark Ross-Smith (18:00):

So primarily we help global airlines and hotel loyalty programs grow and manage their elite loyalty member base, right? So 30% of airline ticket sales come from about the top 5% of loyalty program members, right? So this group of we’ll call elite … So this is just silver, your gold, the platinum-type level members, these people as a group are the single most valuable people to the airline industry globally, right? As a group. So traditionally, how airlines have acquired these customers, it’s through what’s called a status match, right? So, the term status match is not a new thing. It’s been around about 35, almost 40 years, but there’s been really no system around it, no way to systemize it.

Loosely, the idea is something like this. Let’s say you’re a platinum Delta Air Lines flyer and you’re moving or you want to change airlines and so you want to move to American Airlines. You want to move your business. So traditionally, you’d email American Airlines and say, “Hey, I’m platinum over here with Delta. If you give me the same with you, as in platinum status equivalent, I’ll shift my business,” right? So American Airlines knows that a platinum Delta is probably spending, I’ll make it up, 5,000 10,000 15,000, 20,000 bucks a year on flying. Remember, you’re in the top percentage of frequent flyers at this point. “If we want this customer, we’ll give you a free platinum status or a fast track platinum status and now please move some of your business to us,” right?

So it’s an easy of mechanism to acquire these types of customers, right? Because these types of customers are not on Google searching for the cheapest flights from da, da, to da, da. They’re just not doing that. These people tend to book last minute. They’re paying a lot for their flight. They’re your high-yield most profitable type of customers and so there’s no Google AdWords to get these people. So status matching is how that sort of …

So what we’ve practically done is built a system around that. So we have a white label solution. We work with a bunch of airlines where people go through a process, right? So, airlines promote a white label brand of page and people go through this process. We validate. They actually have status with another airline and it’s a real legit person, it’s not being sold somewhere in China. It might be a fee in that, depending. Sometimes we charge the airline, sometimes we charge the customer just to apply. That’s how we make our money. Then you get your status with the airline or hotel within one or two days kind of thing.

So it’s good for airlines because we’re putting a system behind them, getting new high-value customers and it’s good for customer travelers, because traditionally, the experience is if you emailed Airline X of that scenario … There’s one airline, not American, that actually says on their website, “If you email us about a status match, it might take four to six weeks for us to reply,” right? Now, this is four to six weeks with someone who’s a frequent flyer. They’ve forgotten about you after four or six weeks. They’ve already taken 10 flights with another airline in that time. It’s just too long, right?

So it’s effectively speeding up that whole process, getting more high-value customers into their pipeline faster and quicker. They make a lot of money out of it. We ride on the back of that success as well.

Cliff Callis (21:21):

That makes sense. So when you’re running a loyalty program like that, I assume that you’ve got your own marketing strategies for trying to attract new customers while the airline has its global branding campaigns and then their direct marketing campaigns, but what strategies would you use within the loyalty program to attract people to you?

Mark Ross-Smith (21:47):

So in the case of StatusMatch campaign, there’s a few factors going. Let’s be clear, it appeals to a certain audience. So you’ve got to have a silver or gold status with an airline already, right? So already in the top 5%. So it’s already a pretty niche market, but within that market, they’re ultra valuable, right? Within the market, a lot of them understand what a status match is and it’s like standing on the corner saying, “I’ve got free candy for everyone,” right? But you’ve got to be in the top 5%. These people know, they can see the guy standing on the corner with free candy and he’s not a creepy guy, “So trust this, free candy is safe,” and they go and figure out, “I want some.” That’s a terrible analogy, isn’t it?

Cliff Callis (22:30):

That’s a good analogy.

Mark Ross-Smith (22:32):

You get the idea. So in some ways, I don’t want to say easy, but there’s a lot of things going for it to promote these types of campaigns because the people that it appeals to understand how it works and they can get something that they otherwise would have to fly 50 or 100 flights to get and they can fast track it within a day kind of thing. So it’s pretty appealing to them, especially if you really want to move airlines. And this is pretty normal for people that change jobs, they move cities for. You work at Atlanta for example and then your company ships you off to Texas somewhere. Suddenly, it makes sense to shift from one big airline to another big airline just because of where you live, right?

Not all airlines service all cities, right? So there’s a lot of that. People change jobs every day. So there’s a demand for this kind of thing out there organically for a long time. So we’re just trying to make that better really. And we’re starting to see that. We’ve got a lot of traction. We work with a bunch of big airlines. Globally, you’ve got some big brands like Emirates, several times that we work with. In North America, probably the two biggest … Actually Frontier Airlines is a big client. They’re really good to work with. They’re good because like new ideas. They have to do something different to compete against the big guys, have to have that bit of an edge. And so this is one of the hundred tools in their toolkit to drive up demand and new customers into their program.

We’ve done a lot of work with Air Canada as well up north of it, but all airlines offer these kind of status match programs just to varying level degrees and I think we’re going to see more of it in the future.

Cliff Callis (24:11):

And so are your customers coming to you because of your thought leadership? Is that what is attracting them or are you looking around in the marketplace and you’re saying, “Hmm, Frontier, they could use our help. I’m going to go knock on their door, try to get in with them”? How are you generating new customers for your business?

Mark Ross-Smith (24:28):

That’s good question. Initially, it was a bit of that because my name was already out there. I’d run airline program, so I was in the club. I understood some of the things they’re going through and then all this thought leadership stuff that’s out there, people see my name a lot. LinkedIn, I think, helps a lot as well. And you combine those together, and then when I go to an airline and say, “Hey, you guys should do X,” and there’s a bit of, “Well, if Mark screws us up, it’s his name on the line.” So there’s a bit of that and there’s a bit of they know they need to do this anyway.

And if you’re going to work with someone, you may as well work with someone that understands the industry really, really well. So it’s not like I just came into the industry and, “Here’s a solution we’re going to start selling.” There really was years and years of buildup and relationships and just getting to know people and building a brand, a personal brand and our corporate brand around what we do. So I think, yeah, you’re right. Walking into that to get new clients is traditionally super difficult in airline industry. I know companies, they’ve got five, six year sales pipeline just to even get the opportunity to participate in an RFP with an airline, whereas we walk in with … Our first client when I walked in, I think within a couple months, we’d signed a contract.

So I think, when you’ve got a great product, when you’ve built that relationship and there’s a lot of trust there, I think that’s really, really critical. I think once they go together, it makes sense just to do something off the back of that.

Cliff Callis (26:02):

So is there any concern about the competitive environment? So you’re working for Malaysia and you can’t work for XYZ Airline or can you?

Mark Ross-Smith (26:14):

Well, I don’t work at Malaysia Airlines anymore. I just live at Malaysia there. No, not really. There’s a big technology piece that we bring to the table, which airlines just can’t do themselves and shouldn’t to be honest. It’s like saying to an airline, “Will you build your own airplane or you just go to Boeing and buy something?” You go to the experts. You don’t screw around trying to do it yourself. There’s so many tools and things available out there these days. Even for just general ecommerce stuff, right? I told myself how to do programming many years ago, and well, I totally get off on just getting dirty into the code. I love this stuff.

It just doesn’t make sense anymore a lot of the time because you can get a lot of stuff, cheap or free, all these tools and APIs and connectors, all this stuff that’s been built out there. And I don’t think it’s ever been easier to get into this space now than it has been.

Cliff Callis (27:06):

So you live in Malaysia. For our audience who maybe has not been there before, tell us about it. Tell us about the country.

Mark Ross-Smith (27:16):

So it’s in the heart of Southeast Asia, so above Indonesia, next to Singapore, just below Thailand, which is near Vietnam and Cambodia and those countries. Lovely place in the world. It’s summer every day here. I’m speaking Celsius here because I don’t know Fahrenheit, but every day is 30, 35 degrees. I think that’s like what 90 or so-

Cliff Callis (27:39):

Upper 80s maybe. Yeah.

Mark Ross-Smith (27:40):

Somewhat yeah. So it’s summer every day. There’s no natural disasters. There’s no volcanoes, no tornadoes. There’s no big storms going to wipe it. It’s very safe in this part of the world from nature perspective. Everyone speaks English in Malaysia. It’s probably the most English-speaking country this part of the world, ultra cheap obviously to live in versus a lot of other countries. I love it here. I think it’s a fantastic country. I think it’s got a lot going for, the people are fantastic. A lot of islands and beaches and sort of cool stuff to see. And if Tourism Malaysia is listening to this podcast, I think you owe me a drink.

Cliff Callis (28:18):

I believe they do actually. So I know you like to travel, so you probably leave Malaysia a lot, but when you’re in Malaysia, what kind of things do you do for recreation?

Mark Ross-Smith (28:28):

I’ve got kids and a family, so that is dictated by what kids want to do. Think typical normal American life, but just an Asian version of that, right? So heaps of stuff to do, heaps of touristy stuff. We were just in Penang over the weekend, which is couple hundred miles north of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. It’s an island and it’s known for its food. It’s a big base of Chinese people there, Chinese Malaysian. The food there is phenomenal. If you just Google Penang food, you’ll have a million listings of amazing food that comes out there. It’s probably the best in Southeast Asia actually. So if you like food, you’re in into that kind of stuff. 100%, Penang is your first point of call for that.

Cliff Callis (29:14):

I’m going to make a mental note of that. I’ll be in contact when I make that trip. So I’m going to reverse the question now. You live on the other side of the world. What’s your perception of rural America? You probably never had that question before you, have you?

Mark Ross-Smith (29:28):

I have not had this question. That’s a good question. So I may have been to America many, many times, but to your point, not rural America. In my mind, my perception is similar to rural Australia, which I’m pretty familiar with. A lot of dotted small towns all over the place or communities I should say. A lot of farmland, a lot of just a lot of desert as well, just nothing. Very hot, very cold. So keep that as one piece. The second piece is what you see in the movies, which is very similar to that or there’s always some horror movie or something where people die of a gruesome death. There’s a bit of that, but not really. No, my perception is it’s super positive. It sounds like a great lifestyle and way to live, I think.

I’m a big fan of people should just follow and do what their heart tells them to do, right? So I wanted to try living in a big city. Did that. I wanted to try living in a country where I couldn’t speak language. Did that. So I think for chunks of the population, rural America is the place to be and clean air, great … [inaudible 00:30:41] actually is really nice people, super friendly, super nice people.

Cliff Callis (30:45):

You have good perception. Somebody’s done a good job of educating you about rural America. Not me, I haven’t put my spin on it, but you hit about a lot of things. And we found during the pandemic that lots of people were leaving the cities where they were restricted to come out to the country where the concern was lower, honestly. And it is very family-focused. You use the word community, that’s a great word. It’s very community things, particularly in small towns center around the school and education and what the kids are involved in and sports and music and academics and art and all that.

And there’s an energy out here. It’s maybe a laid back energy, but there’s innovation, there’s use of technology. Broadband is making inroads today that they weren’t years ago and so people are able to work from the country, but do their job wherever that may be. So good perception, Mark. And I appreciate you sharing that with us today. I’ve enjoyed visiting. The time has gone by very quickly. There were some things I would have liked to have gotten into a little bit deeper, but this has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. What else would you like to share with our OUTdrive audience today that you might think they would find interesting?

Mark Ross-Smith (32:02):

Going back on the loyalty theme here. I think loyalty can mean a lot of different things to different people, right? So when airlines talk about loyalty, generally, it’s about what we’ll call the business of loyalty. So effectively, it’s selling miles to banks and making money out of you. When eCommerce and internet businesses talk about loyalty, it’s generally about trying to get that second sale or increase the basket size, something like that. And when companies talk about loyalty or employee loyalty, it’s about retention of key people. So I think a bit of takeaway here is, ultimately, there’s a common theme that loyalty is about connecting with people and connecting with people in the right way.

And once you figure that out, once you crack that, once you figure out exactly how to connect with the people you want to connect with in the right way, any loyalty thing that comes out of that, you’ll figure that out really quickly. And the goal is how to connect with people in the way they wanted to talk with you.

Cliff Callis (33:02):

And as you described earlier, doing the research to understand, in your case, frequent flyer, “What’s going to appeal to me? What am I going to be motivated to do?” And I think that probably goes across all industries and all marketplaces. Understand your customer, what’s going to drive them to do what it is that you want them to do and then do it. Then do it.

Mark Ross-Smith (33:30):


Cliff Callis (33:31):

Hey, thanks for being with us this morning. I really enjoyed getting to know you and learning more about customer loyalty.

Mark Ross-Smith (33:38):

This was a fun conversation. Super.

Cliff Callis (33:40):

Folks, thanks for listening to OUTdrive. I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit today with the Mark Ross-Smith, loyalty expert and the CEO and co-founder at StatusMatch. Come back again next week and I’ll take you down the roads of rural America where it’s heaven on earth.

Speaker 3 (33:57):

Thanks for taking a ride with us on OUTdrive. This episode is complete, so head on over to for show notes and more insight you can apply to help drive your business growth. And be sure to sign up for our free monthly e-letter OUTthink for even more helpful content about marketing to rural America. Have a great day and keep on driving.