I recently had the chance to interview Jonathan Treiber, CEO and co-founder of loyalty rewards marketing provider OnCard Marketing and the man behind iBakeSale.com. iBakeSale is an innovative "painless fundraising" program that allows consumers to save money through cash-back rewards from popular merchants while supporting their favorite charities. The program has signed up hundreds of popular merchants such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, 1-800-Flowers, Nordstrom, Lillian Vernon, Old Navy, GAP, PetCo and Linens-N-Things. Any charity can sign up and ask supporters to join.
iBakeSale is a great opportunity for shoppers to do well by doing good, and has been written up in numerous blogs including The Parent Bloggers Network, midwesternmommy.com, The Mummy Chronicles, The Karianna Spectrum and Phat Mommy, as well as Jonathan's own blog. Here's our conversation:
WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before OnCard Marketing?
Jonathan Treiber (JT): I worked at Citigroup in New York City doing investment banking, finance and marketing.
WMC: How, when and why did you get started in this business?
JT: We started OnCard Marketing in June of 2006 with the intent to create a pay-per-sale advertising channel for paper media. We thought about making the advertising promotional in nature and engage consumers who would like to receive personalized offers at various retailers. We came from Citibank where we were familiar with the credit card rewards industry and thought it would be great if we could offer people more back on their existing card on top of what they were already getting. After some research, we decided to create our first rewards program where people could sign-up and shop at our advertisers to get deals. We would earn a fee on each purchase from the merchant.
We thought long and hard about what we could do that would be different from all the rewards programs out there and decided to incorporate our passion for non-profits into the business model. We talked with a few people who really liked the idea about using the cash-back rewards as fundraising dollars for local community organizations like churches, schools, little league teams etc. as well as larger charities. We realized nobody else was doing this and that it was a good twist/opportunity that could help us gain traction with consumers. We developed the application, lined up the merchants, and launched in May of 2007 with iBakeSale.com. It’s been growing ever since.
WMC: How would you describe the relationship between OnCard Marketing and iBakeSale.com?
JT: Great question, we get this one a lot. The best way to describe it is that they are two sides of the same coin. OnCard Marketing is our parent company which designed and developed the rewards technology and application for iBakeSale.com as well as other third party programs we are creating. OnCard develops the advertiser relationships and uses iBakeSale.com (which we own and operate) as a distribution channel for these offers directly to consumers. OnCard will leverage the other consumer programs we are building in the same way, as different distribution channels to get offers/ads to different consumers. We realized that we would need to build our first distribution channel (or rewards program) internally to prove to other parties that we could do it for them. Many parties were interested but didn’t want to commit because we were a start-up and hadn’t built a program before. So iBakeSale.com was created to accelerate partnership discussions and help us build credibility in our industry.
WMC: What type of consumer signs up for iBakeSale, or is all over the board?
JT: Really any type of consumer can sign-up. Since it’s not mandatory that members donate their savings, we have people who are just looking for shopping deals and want to keep their savings for themselves. On the other hand, a majority of our members are community moms and families who are looking to support various grass-roots causes and think that doing so by shopping is the coolest idea ever. These are the moms who are tired of bake sales and raffles and looking for something new to use for their multitude of fundraisers.
The biggest characteristic is that our members are people who are comfortable shopping online. Our members tend to be very vocal community members and many are staunch supporters of major charities. These folks are donating their savings to major charities, which gave us the idea to reach out to medium-sized charities as a fundraising option. Many charities are looking for additional funds and some have quickly adopted our program as one additional way to do so.
WMC: How have you attracted merchants to the iBakeSale program?
JT: This is a tricky question but a good one. We have used various ways to attract merchants. The biggest way was to use the various online affiliate networks to help us make contacts with various merchants. We had some pre-existing relationships with some who were interested but the majority of relationships stemmed from these affiliate networks. The thing many people don’t realize is that we had to sell and convince each retailer why they should work with us. It wasn’t so simple for us to join the network and get 300 merchants. There are often lengthy approval processes and various phone calls to explain our business and entice various merchants to work with us.
The biggest reason we were able to launch the program with 250 merchants was because we had such a good business concept. Many retailers who would not have worked with us as a straight rewards program were intrigued by the message we had around charity, community fundraising, and doing good by shopping. Many of these large merchants saw us as a way to gain a deeper presence on the local community level without having to do anything. Their marketing dollars were technically getting channeled through us (as a pass-through) to the communities we helped with iBakeSale.com. They saw it as a win-win and wanted to get onboard.
WMC: What sets you apart from other loyalty and rewards programs?
JT: Here are the key differentiators:
- iBakeSale offers cash-back rewards with an average rebate of 8%, higher than most other programs
- Our application allows users to donate a portion of their savings to any cause
- Users can create their own fundraising groups—they don’t need to be a 501(C)3
- Focused on grass-roots community organizations
- Fundraising groups doing most of the promotion of the program
- Monthly payouts to fundraising groups, unlike quarterly payouts from other programs
- Targeted offers to each member based on purchase history and preferences—most other programs offer a large online mall with no customization
WMC: How do you market and promote your business?
JT: As mentioned in the previous part, the biggest way we promote our business is by empowering the fundraising groups we support with the tools and marketing materials they need to recruit supporters into their group. It is clear to them that the more people they get into their group, the more money they can hope to raise from the program. We’ve even built in an interface similar to Evite where members can send group invitations directly from our website.
Other ways we are promoting our business is via strategic partnerships and sponsorships. We recently did two deals that are proving out to be very successful. One with MyChurch, which is similar to Facebook but focused on Christian Faith issues. The second was with AmeriCheer, the largest cheerleading organization in the country, where we signed a deal to become their exclusive fundraising partner. Beyond partnerships, we have also done targeted online advertising and are using the success stories from our fundraising groups to generate media coverage via our public relations strategy. That has been tremendous at helping us build online buzz for our program, especially with the media.
WMC: What's the biggest or most important marketing lesson you've learned since you started OnCard Marketing?
JT: There are so many I honestly don’t know where to start. The most important lessons I’ve learned so far have been:
- Understand who your customers are and which ways are best to reach them
- It’s always easy to spend money on marketing—it’s spending wisely that’s the tough part
- Follow-up with everybody—people are not always responsive at first, but a good marketer knows how to follow-up with varied messaging to elicit a response
- The internet offers tremendous opportunity to build brand and reputation quickly—but only if you use the right tools for your business
WMC: Anything else you'd like to add?
JT: I think that does it. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences with your readers. I really appreciate it.
Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom