Plink_LogoWhat is Plink, and how did you and your team get started in this field?

Plink is an online-to-offline loyalty program that rewards members for dining and shopping at their favorite national restaurants and offline stores. Plink members create an account at Plink.com, safely and securely link the credit or debit card of their choice and begin earning rewards that can be used on Facebook or at Amazon.com, The Gap, Home Depot, iTunes, Nike and Target. Today, Plink members can earn Plink Points at 35,000 locations nationwide, including 7-Eleven, Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Outback Steakhouse, Quiznos, Red Robin, Regal Cinemas and Taco Bell.

Our founding team recognized the challenge of connecting the online and offline worlds after driving multi-million dollar performance-based advertising campaigns in social media for the likes of Netflix, Discover Card and Experian. These campaigns were created at the interactive agency Adperio, where Plink was then born, incubated and spun off.

How should the marketing/advertising industry utilize Plink to create better end-results for its clients’ marketing strategies?

Plink is a unique, risk-free opportunity for national offline brands to tap into an online base of consumers by motivating them to purchase at brick-and-mortar stores, restaurants, travel providers and more, and it give brands the opportunity to reward those members for their loyalty. Since officially launching in January, more than 200,000 online consumers have joined Plink. We recently raised $3 million in venture capital funding, and our goal is to attract a million members by the end of the year.

Like I said, Plink is risk-free. In fact, we signed many of our initial partners, including 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Outback Steakhouse, Quiznos, Red Robin and Taco Bell before we even had a website. Our initial focus was on restaurants. We are now focused on national partners in any imaginable offline category.

For the industry, Plink’s model is 100 percent performance-based and enables marketers to drive new and current customers to visit more often. On average, results have shown that Plink members are spending 65 percent more per month at our partners’ stores than they were prior to joining Plink. We see ourselves as the anti-Groupon by driving frequency at a reasonable cost where offline brands make a profit on a member’s first purchase.

What trends and changes in consumer behavior led you to realize that Plink would fill a void?

We saw the success of rewarding consumers online, then took those insights and applied them to the offline world. We saw a tremendous opportunity to connect consumers online to their offline sales.

More and more, technology has the ability to track everything we do. And if our behavior can be tracked, it can be motivated and rewarded. With the advent of registered card programs and the upcoming mobile wallet, offline purchases can now be tracked just as easily as they are online.

We see loyalty marketing changing everything. Consumers are adapting and changing their behavior because of modern-day loyalty opportunities, and we foresee that marketers will soon shift large portions of their budget to performance-based programs. Plink is an example.

Unlike many other card-linked programs, Plink is not tied to a specific bank or credit card. Our members can link any card, earn multiple rewards from their favorite brands and redeem those rewards for what they want, not just cash back or brand-specific rewards.

How is the notion of customer loyalty changing with the convergence of online and offline behaviors? How should brick-and-mortar restaurant and retail chains be adapting their strategy to compensate for the ever-increasing amount of time their customers spend online?

Consumers now expect everything to be fast, convenient and rewarding. In fact, consumers don’t just expect this — they feel entitled to it.

With the advent of registered card programs or card-linked offers, consumers are becoming used to activating offers provided by their bank or credit card company and getting $10 back when they spend $50 at a certain brand or getting $20 back a night for certain hotel stays — all while using their existing credit or debit card. Consumers now have the option of registering their cards with specific companies or just opting-in to offers, and they can gain access to all of these perks and discounts. No awkward paper coupons required. No extra cards to carry. It’s the ease and convenience of using a pre-existing card that makes this so attractive to consumers.

I’d encourage brands to think about their offline marketing like they do their online. In that sense, online programs that are performance-based to start shifting some of their budget from traditional, non-ROI based advertising to 100 percent performance-based advertising. In today’s digital world, the opportunity ahead is to take online expectations and translate them to the offline world.

What incentives are there for brick-and-mortar restaurants to participate in Plink?

Plink’s platform has been embraced by brands because it was designed to be simple and easy for national restaurants and offline stores to implement. The program requires no point-of-sale integration, no paper coupons to be collected, no staff training, no interruption or slow-down to the normal customer transaction process, no tracking conducted by the partner and no set-up fees, print costs or other merchandise to purchase. In addition, Plink’s advertising partners only pay a percentage of the sales generated by Plink members.

How do you see customer rewards and loyalty programs evolving in the next three to five years?

We expect them to be tied to a single device like a mobile phone so there is a centralized, universal reward collection point for everything from online and offline rewards. Consumers will also demand more rewards and make more of their purchasing decisions based on rewards. I also see marketers moving away from discounts and quick-fix daily deals — which isn’t a long-term model — and embracing loyalty programs that motivate and reward over and over. There will be a mechanism to spend and earn online and offline with the ability to redeem anywhere.

Peter-VogelPeter Vogel is co-founder and CEO of Plink, an online-to-offline loyalty program that rewards members for dining and shopping at their favorite national restaurants and offline stores. He has more than a decade of executive-level, online sales and marketing experience specializing in performance-based marketing, media buying and monetization of social media. Most recently, Peter was senior director of marketing and industry scout at Adperio, an interactive agency specializing in affiliate marketing, in-game advertising, social gaming monetization, virtual currency and Facebook Credits monetization. At Adperio, he incubated the idea of Plink, co-founded the company, spun it out of the interactive agency in 2011 and, in the summer of 2012, raised a $3 million Series A investment round from Grotech Ventures. Peter was previously co-founder of Memolink.com and led the company's sales team from 1997 through the mid 2000s. He received a BA from Washington University in St. Louis in economics.

Originally published Nov 27, 2012 12:00:01 AM, updated December 02 2014