Chris Ford: Forecasting for Blackhawk Network 2020

Forecasting for 2020

Chris Ford, Senior Director of UK Sales, has selected six big topics that will have a dramatic impact on 2020 and beyond for Blackhawk Network UK.

Regulation matters

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued an update at the beginning of 2019 linked to their second Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which is already helping to revolutionise the payments industry. Most people will have noticed these changes affecting everything from how we pay online and what information we see when making a payment, to the rise of open banking, where new brands have firmly established themselves as an alternative offering to traditional banks.
As an e-money license holder and a branded payments provider, Blackhawk Network have spent 2019 establishing a range of innovation which will compliantly help our clients take full advantage of the new regulations as they come into force in 2020.  This will especially link to how companies engage their employees and customers via the use of rewards, incentives and gestures.

We’re passionate about Choice

The continued drive for relevancy and personalisation never stands still. Of course, it’s absolutely logical to want to know each and every person you deal with (employee and/or customer) in the smallest of detail to achieve the greatest level of engagement, BUT is this always achievable?
We’ve worked on some huge projects this year and processed vast amounts of data to help our clients produce meaningful relationships, but certain things never really change: people’s passions. We all continue to favour the things we love the most – dining, family, fashion, music etc - so rather than try to engage with a market-of-one based on demographics for rewards and incentives (i.e. you know a person so well you know exactly what they want), why not provide offers that by their very nature provide choice.
It’s no coincidence that our Choice range of content continues to grow and specifically links to people’s passions. 2020 will see this portfolio expand into new interest areas (passions), plus become fully digitised.

Going digital for the people… and the planet

2019 has seen the continued growth of digitisation for rewards, recognition, incentives and gestures. This is fuelled by what people now expect from brands - a relevant piece of engagement that is personalised, and can be used immediately.
Every day we work with new brands and partners that are continually innovating in the area of digital, but there is more to this than simply immediacy. We live in a world where more people are now environmentally aware, in fact it seems that caring for the environment has become a new emerging passion for the majority. Yet of course a large proportion of gift-cards are still plastic…

Brands that wish to engage a cross audience of employees and customers have to start thinking about digital if they are to be considered as a brand that people want to work for and advocate. The inertia to go digital will become even more pressing in 2020 and Blackhawk Network will be at the forefront of not just digital gift-cards, but the emerging branded payments market where rewards and gestures can be received digitally and added to a payment app (mobile wallet etc.) at the click of a button.

Personalisation is fundamental

Of course, it’s not new news that people want to be rewarded or recognised in a personal manner. 2019 has seen personalised communications move to a whole new level. It’s been proven that if customers receive engagement from a brand without their name, at the wrong time or with irrelevant content that it actually turns people away from the brand that sent it. GDPR adds to this complexity in terms of re-engaging once they’ve left.
We believe choice and digital go hand in hand with personalisation and have spent much of 2019 pulling together all three strands ready for a huge push in 2020. In Q1 we launch the digital version of our market leading, multistore One4all gift card.

This will help us make reward, recognition, incentive and gestures even more impactful for the brands we work with. Imagine in early 2020 receiving a reward or gesture from a brand you love, with a personal video message from their CEO or a key influencer. We’re positive it will turn a relevant offer into something that is truly personal, memorable and highly valued.

The value in location-based rewarding

A subject that has been slow to move forward in the incentive and recognition industry, but in 2019 we started to see real traction with engaging people relevantly based on their preferences, value and location.
Genuine attempts are now being made to offer people true engagement value based on where they are and where they travel regularly. We’ve been delivering coffee offers for customers of brands who travel through a railway station every day or sandwich offers for customers who we know visit a particular store every day at lunchtime.
In 2020 we expect to help brands reward customers and employees continually based on their location, providing a suite of always-on offers that people can dip in and take advantage of based on who they are and where they are. A great retailer and partner network coupled with a market leading infrastructure for payments and processing will see Blackhawk Network continue to innovate in the space of engagement which is delivered exactly at the point of greatest value to the recipient. 

A global technology portfolio

It’s been obvious for some time that to win in the world of reward and gestures, it is fundamentally important to have a great technological footprint that enables businesses of all kinds to deliver appropriate engagement in a completely frictionless manner, at scale and robustly.
Blackhawk Network have been building a portfolio of world leading platforms that can serve a global market for many years. In 2019 we finally pulled many, many strands together to produce a single content store where all our gift cards can be served to any location in the world. Add to this a focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is starting to have a significant impact on defining what, when, how and where a piece of valued content is delivered to a relevant individual and you start to get the picture of innovation that will appear in 2020.
We like to think about AI as Augmented Intelligence, i.e. providing huge computing intelligence that a skilled person can review to provide appropriate meaning. At Blackhawk Network AI allows us to link people (regardless of demographic) with the things that matter most to them. It allows us to move towards psychographic analysis (alongside traditional segmentation modelling) to uncover new passions people are likely to favour or desire.

Continue to deliver in 2020

In summary, there is no excuse for not delivering reward, recognition, incentives and gestures that have outstanding impact, resonating with the target audience. For us, 2020 will be a year where existing and new regulations will support our ambitions to be the world’s leading provider of branded payments; delivering maximum choice alongside personalisation and value that connects deeply with all of our passions, whatever they may be.
Chris Ford is our Senior Director of UK sales, responsible for strategically leading a skilled team into another year of high anticipation for the business. Passionate about providing excellent customer service, Chris ensures his team deliver each and every one of our customers a relevant solution to suit their needs.
Having worked in the industry for more than 20 years, Chris is a key member of the business who regularly shares valuable insight into the future of the rewards and benefits sector. He’s recently featured on multiple panels and provided his thoughts in leading publications across the UK.