ANKENY, Iowa — Art Sebastian of Casey’s General Stores Inc. recently got a change in job title, going from vice president of digital experiences to vice president of omnichannel marketing. While this may seem like a minor change, it is indicative of a much larger transformation that's currently underway at the nation's third-largest convenience store chain.
"If you think about it in simple terms, we spent our first 50 years as a company in a single channel. The guests came to our store, they turned left or right; one way to shop us," said Sebastian, who joined the Ankeny-based chain of 2,500-plus stores in 2018.
Under his leadership over the last four and a half years, Casey's has evolved into a multichannel company that gives its guests multiple ways to transact with the brand, including a proprietary mobile app, a website, and third-party delivery services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats.
"Where we're evolving to now moving forward is omnichannel. And omnichannel is this seamless integration of branding and messaging across digital and physical touchpoints, enabling a cohesive marketing experience wherever our guest goes," Sebastian explained.
A Chicago native, he has been pleasantly surprised by how quickly Casey's guests have embraced technology. The chain operates in 16 states and half of its stores are in towns with a population of 5,000 or less. "I will bust the myth that rural America doesn't use technology. They do. And that's proven to us statistically in the fact that 6.3 million rewards members have downloaded our app and elected to engage with us digitally," he said.
The retailer partners with Punchh for its industry-leading Casey's Rewards program, which has a monthly active member base of 50 percent. For customer relationship management, Casey's works with Salesforce to maintain its marketing cloud through which all outbound messaging is sent, and its customer data platform (CDP) where all customer data is unified and organized.
"Our goal is to acquire guests through the marketing funnel. And as we move them through the funnel, we're going to engage them and retain them and then move them all the way to becoming a best guest, which is our rewards member that subscribes to our marketing channels and interacts with us online, in the store and at the pump," Sebastian said.
Through its CDP, Casey's is able to know everything about the behavior of its rewards members — from how they interact with an email, to what they browse on the retailer's website and mobile app, to how and when they transact in the stores.
The next step in its journey to omnichannel marketing is personalization. However, getting to the point of sending one personalized message to one consumer is a multistep process.
"Anyone who says they're all the way to personalization is fibbing a little bit," Sebastian acknowledged. "In marketing, [there's] mass marketing; one message to all. Then, there's segmented marketing, which I would say is one to some. And then, there's that full grail where it's one message to one consumer. So, it's a spectrum of personalization and we're sitting in the middle in a big way, with an early start into this one-to-one [space]."
For instance, now when Casey's sends an email to a guest, they are addressed by name — what Sebastian calls "the simplest form of personalization." And the company is leveraging artificial intelligence to understand what marketing channel each guest responds to the most.
"Maybe you ignore emails from us, but you open up SMSs [texts] and click through. And maybe, as we've learned and got to know you, we realized that you opened those SMSs at 8 p.m., where a million other people open it at 7:30 a.m. And so, we have that piece. And then, we know that Linda responds to pepperoni pizza visuals, where the rest of the world responds to supreme [pizza]. So, we find a way to make it tailored and relevant to you as an individual," he explained.
In addition, as Casey's studies its guests and learns more about their purchase behaviors, the retailer is now able to uncover "automated triggers" that can be used to engage each guest and entice more purchases from them. The more data insights available, the more opportunities at hand.
"We know that Linda has this behavior where she orders pizza every seven and a half days. We can begin engaging you appropriately at six days to make sure we're top of mind and you're aware of whatever the latest promotion is. And what we're seeing by doing that level of marketing — this triggered automation — is we're closing the days between purchase cycle," shared Sebastian.
Ultimately, Casey's omnichannel journey is expected to result in more share of wallet for the retailer, more share of stomach and more share of mind with consumers.