COBS Bread: How Community, Commitment and Technology Bake the Perfect Customer Strategy

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This is a podcast episode titled, COBS Bread: How Community, Commitment and Technology Bake the Perfect Customer Strategy. The summary for this episode is: <p>COBS Bread is a community-focused bakery founded on values and tradition. Community and human connections are integral to their customer strategy, both in-store and online.&nbsp;With over 125 bakeries, their footprint is vast and their need for real-time marketing and engagement is paramount.&nbsp;Come listen and learn how their recent COBS Club Loyalty program with Cheetah Digital rolled out in 2021 smashing their acquisition expectations. We'll hear how the data and insights from that program are already getting them closer to the customer while shaping the products and services they offer and what the future of prediction and personalization looks for the brand.&nbsp;</p>
An introduction to COBS Bread + Cheetah Digital.
00:52 MIN
A brief history of COBS Bread.
02:25 MIN
COBS commitment to community.
02:00 MIN
Challenges in a competitive and saturated market.
01:44 MIN
Differentiating from the competition.
01:13 MIN
COBS Club - a unique digital loyalty program that gets to know customers as an individual.
03:22 MIN
Loyalty that elevates the customer experience.
00:42 MIN
Loyalty that removes friction and elevates customer experience.
00:42 MIN
It started with a punch card.
01:32 MIN
The importance of personalizing every customer journey.
02:05 MIN
120k members added in just 8 weeks.
01:08 MIN
Learning customer behaviors through loyalty.
02:08 MIN
The importance of a single source of truth.
01:31 MIN
Tying email to loyalty.
01:23 MIN
The path to a true digital transformation.
03:06 MIN
Why Cheetah?
01:31 MIN

Speaker 1: COBS Bread makes the highest quality bread and pastries available across the Great White North, also known as Canada. They perfected their craft using only the best ingredients and bake it fresh every morning in each of their 100 plus locations. It's tough enough gathering all the different ingredients needed to bake delicious pastries like these, but when they decided to revamp their loyalty strategy and consolidate their marketing data and efforts into a single platform, the clear choice was the Cheetah Digital Customer Engagement Suite. Listen in as Brad Bissonnette, VP of marketing, explains what their vision for the ultimate customer experience looks like and why all of the data gathered from their program needs to live in a single marketing system of record. As Brad grabs some treats for this interview, we find ourselves asking why wasn't this session shot in smellovision? Ah, a great idea that just never took off. Let's get started.

Speaker 2: Brad, I made it to Vancouver, and more importantly you brought breakfast. I appreciate you, my friend. Thanks for having me.

Brad Bissonnette: Thanks for swinging by. It's a pleasure to have you. Prior to this, I was over at the bakery where our bakers get in at around two o'clock in the morning to prepare the freshest baked bread and baked treats in all of North America. Feel free, indulge.

Speaker 2: I am going to. But for the sake of our viewers, who I don't want to make them jealous, I will wait until the end. How about that?

Brad Bissonnette: We can try, but I would suspect that you're not going to be able to make it all the way through.

Speaker 2: It smells great. Let's see what we can do. Well, again, thanks for having me. Let's jump into it. I want to learn about COBS Bread here. Maybe for me and the viewers here, can you give us a little overview, what is COBS Bread? What's your footprint, what's your business? Give us the high level overview.

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah, I'd be happy to. COBS Bread originated in Hawthorne, Australia, which is a suburb of Melbourne, back in 1980. The Gillespie family, Roger and Leslie, ventured out to open a bakery and really, all wrapped around the idea and notion of high quality, fresh baked bread and baked treats with a high level of customer service that was fully integrated and ingrained in their community. That first bakery opened in 1980.

Speaker 2: Wow.

Brad Bissonnette: Over the years, they managed to continue to grow the footprint to where they're at about 400 locations in the 1980s. At that point in time, they decided that it was now time to travel abroad so they started to look for new countries that they could continue to grow their brand and continue on with that family style principle of quality, freshness, service and community. Decided that they would head to North America and to Canada to continue to grow the brand. That's how COBS Bread originated. They tried to use the Baker's Delight brand, but unfortunately it was trademarked here. They ended up going with COBS. Depending on who you ask, there's several different reasons for the name. One is Canada's only bread store. Another reason is what they call their corporate businesses down in Australia were COBS as well. And also, COBS is a type of loaf of bread, also. So there's a number of various meanings for the name. We like Canada's only bread store.

Speaker 2: Canada's only bread store.

Brad Bissonnette: There you go.

Speaker 2: You come to Canada, you're not even going to see another bread store.

Brad Bissonnette: There is no reason to go anywhere else.

Speaker 2: Oh, from the smell of it, I agree. That's great. You mentioned something about community and values. I researched the brand a little bit. But, tell me about that community. Because you and I got a chance to catch off camera, you have a zero waste policy at the COBS Bread brand, don't you?

Brad Bissonnette: We do. Part of our concept is that every morning, we bake fresh from scratch all day and throughout the course of the day, so that whether you're a customer at the beginning of the day or throughout the day, you can have the freshest baked treats and baked bread. At the end of the day, we've partnered up with various charities in all of our locations all the way across the country, and donate all leftover bread and baked treats to very well deserving community charities. Last year alone, we were able to donate over$ 40 million in retail bread.

Speaker 2: Wow!

Brad Bissonnette: It's something that we're super proud of and one of our real core competitive difference. And more importantly, it's just ingrained in our DNA. One of the pieces that we hear very often is, " What attracts you to COBS Bread? Or, why do you go to COBS Bread?" We not only have that opportunity to be able to help, it's our obligation, it's our duty as well. It's just something that we all have really bought into doing. Yeah, every day. What that allows us to do is clear out the shelves and start fresh from scratch over again.

Speaker 2: Start fresh at two AM the next day.

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah. We've been in North America now for 17 years, we've continued to grow the footprint. We've got 135 locations across Canada and two locations down in Connecticut in the US. Over the next five years, we're looking to grow that footprint to about 300 in Canada, and start to establish a footprint in the Northeastern part of the United States and grow to 25, 50 locations. It's exciting times.

Speaker 2: Great, great. Well, I can't wait to get you in Denver and smell that COBS Bread smell. It's amazing.

Brad Bissonnette: Hopefully, only a few years away.

Speaker 2: Brad, what are your challenges? You only sell bread and a lot of other people sell bread. What does your competitive landscape look like? Who do you go up against in your space?

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah. We've got really two sides to our competitive set. On the one side, we compete against grocery and primarily convenience. So a consumer can just head to the grocery store, go down the aisles, and head through the bread and baked treats aisle and pick up what they need, along with everything else. We compete against some of the giants, from Costco, to Whole Foods, to Safeway, the whole gamut of grocery retailers. And then on the other side of that, and especially with our baked treats, we compete against the likes of Starbucks, against the cafes, the Tim Horton's of the world. Our path forward is right through the middle. What I mean by that is that we can beat the grocery retailers on quality, and we can beat them on customer service. We can beat the cafes on the same. So our focus is really to continue to elevate our customer service, our quality and continue to focus on our DNA of community. That really, truly is our path forward. One of our major challenges is convenience. It's much easier to go to the grocery store.

Speaker 2: True.

Brad Bissonnette: And, it's much easier to just grab a croissant when you go into the Starbucks and grab your coffee. We have to provide a compelling reason for customers to skip the queue at the grocery, or just grab that coffee and come a couple doors down to COBS Bread for the freshest baked treats. That's our focus.

Speaker 2: Got it. So high quality is the number one. And yes, you've got to compete with the grocer where there's convenience of just picking it off but you're a much better product. How do you replicate that? How do you get higher frequency? And, what are people coming for now? Are they coming every day, are they coming in special occasion? How do you get that frequency up and how are you known right now to your customers?

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah. I'm a sports guy so I like to win. We've got the playbook, the whole nine yards. One of those key plays to winning is what we call moving the customer from coming to COBS Bread for a special occasion to coming to COBS Bread for every occasion because it shouldn't just be that special occasion where you treat yourself. You deserve the best all the time. Our real focus is to continue to provide inspiration and really enhance the usage of our bread and baked treats to have customers come in for all occasions at COBS Bread, instead of just that special occasion on a Saturday night, or those special treats or snacks.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Got it. Now, make those special moments anytime, high quality all the time.

Brad Bissonnette: Absolutely.

Speaker 2: Okay, I like that. I like high quality and it smells high quality. Well, that probably brings us to the technical end of this because the reason we're sitting here is Cheetah Digital helped you roll out a recent loyalty program. Really, an upgrade. Can you tell us where your loyalty program started? You don't have to give us too much right now. But, where did it start and what was the vision for your roll out? It's COBS Club, correct?

Brad Bissonnette: It is COBS Club. The real reason for COBS Club is our vision is to really turn it into a digital customer experience platform that transcends well beyond points and the positioning a club will allow us to do so. While we're starting out as a points program, what the future involves is really that two- way communication with our customer, getting a better understanding of their needs so that we can service them better in the future through surveys, customer feedback, the integration of special occasions or live events. In the future, we'll be able to push out, " We have a new product coming down the pipes. You have behind- the- scenes access to try that first."

Speaker 2: Oh, wow.

Brad Bissonnette: Ultimately, integrating the likes of stored value as well as online ordering eCommerce. Today, we have our standalone COBS Club program that ultimately is going to evolve, over the next two years, to be that digital customer experience platform. It's truly about providing convenience. Not only will we have a better relationship with our customers, it's going to help chip away at a major barrier, which is convenience, that we compete against grocery and we compete against cafes. We're pretty excited to carry this path forward with Cheetah and the team there, to evolve it into a digital customer experience platform.

Speaker 2: That's cool. But, it started as a punch card, right? You literally punched card paper?

Brad Bissonnette: Wallet sized punch card. I'm sure everyone can relate out there as well. It was called our Loafs Rewards Program. That's actually how COBS Club originally was envisioned, to help solve a problem that we were having within the bakeries. Our Loafs Rewards Program was only for loaves. You would have to purchase 12 loaves and then you would get your free loaf. But, it didn't even transcend to our full bakery line up. We would get a lot of customer complaints because, obviously they were buying more than just loaves, but they weren't being rewarded for it.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Brad Bissonnette: COBS Club was able to solve a couple problems for us, that was the first. Now, customers can earn rewards on everything that they purchase and they can burn their rewards on whatever they would like within the bakeries. Secondly, because it was a punch card, and there's actually a bit of a debate on what constitutes a loaf of broad. Does a half loaf, does a full loaf, does a COB?

Speaker 2: Can I get half a punch, please?

Brad Bissonnette: I know, right? There was also consistency challenges from bakery to bakery because their interpretation of a loaf was different which resulted in some negative customer feedback.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Brad Bissonnette: This also eliminates that and helped us to really embark on this journey to provide a more consistent customer experience for our customers.

Speaker 2: That's great. Community is the heart of your values, high quality products, and right now, starting with points, which we get, it's a great first step. So anybody out there whose considering loyalty or doesn't have a program yet, you can start with the points. But, it really sounds like you're going to that emotional side. How important is it to get to a personal level eventually, through loyalty and customer engagement, and make that human connection? You know, Tim buys X all the time so he might also need Y. How important is that to your vision going forward?

Brad Bissonnette: It's absolutely critical. Our entire business is based off of outstanding customer service and that customer service experience has to transcend outside the bakery and across all our platforms, including our COBS Club platform. It's absolutely paramount that we get it right and that we can deliver that high level of customer service through that app. I think that really, truly is the gateway where a customer will be able to order where they're at, when they're at. If they choose to come into a bakery, they'll be able to do so. If they want to order it online, they'll be able to do so. If they want to be able to have it delivered, they will be able to do so. Through that convenience, we'll continue to be able to enhance loyalty. And further to that, through the two- way communication that we'll have with our customers, there's going to be lots of great insights that are going to come out of that, from new product developments. I'd love to sit here and say that it's the bunch of people in white collared shirts coming up with all the great ideas, it's not. It's the hardworking franchisees that we have in all of our locations, that are in there every day and it's the feedback that we receive through our customers. Now, they're going to have another channel to be able to do as such. We're just early days in the platform, the data's starting to roll in and just really excited to move forward and be able to action that data, to provide a better experience for our customers.

Speaker 2: That's great. Well, look, it's very clear. You've said a few things that are very important here for our audience to understand. Community and the customer is at the center of this. You're customer obsessed, which is great. You've transcended from a great punch card loyalty program to a sophisticated one. And you said it, a 360. You're allowing customers to buy, to earn, to get rewarded across all products, et cetera, so that's great for the customer experience. You also mentioned data, you're having data rolling in. I believe you smashed your goal of acquisition, you've already hit your 100, 000 that you wanted for the year very early, right?

Brad Bissonnette: We have. We rolled out about eight weeks ago. For the first year, our acquisition target was 80,000 members. As we sit here today, eight weeks later, we're at 120, 000.

Speaker 2: Great. That's great.

Brad Bissonnette: The goals are going up, the bar is being raised.

Speaker 2: Sure. But, that's good. That's good.

Brad Bissonnette: We would like to get well over 200,000 by the end of this first year and think we'll be able to smash that as well. That's what the team is focused on right now, is acquisition, acquisition, acquisition.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Brad Bissonnette: We certainly can start off with the low- hanging fruit and everyone that was loyal in that database. We really, truly want to use these first few months to get a baseline for the program. So first, acquire the customers and really see how they start to interact with the Club and how some of our primary offers move the needle, or how they interact with that. The team's really focused on, right now, just starting to really read and understand what kind of behavior is happening there. As we look forward to the future, where we'll start to really get into customer segmentation, which will be a real focus at the bakeries. We'll be able to allow our franchisees to see how they ladder up with other franchisees in their area and how we're able to move the needle from taking a customer from low purchase frequency, to mid, to high range. I think that's where our real opportunity lies. When I talked about moving away from that special occasion to every occasion, it's about taking our low and mid frequency customers more into that higher frequency range. That's really what our initial focus will be, getting into segmentation data. But beyond that, where I think the real, real gold will lie is getting into their purchasing habits. What we know, and it's anecdotal through years of experience, is that many customers come on board to COBS Bread to try out the treats, but the real loyalty lies in the bread because it's part of every day. Our goal is to continue to transition customers, and hopefully be able to validate that hypothesis, and transition customers from not only coming to COBS Bread for their treats but also becoming everyday purchasers of bread for their various occasions.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that makes total sense. Move the middle over to a higher end, get a larger basket size and get more frequency out of them.

Brad Bissonnette: 100%.

Speaker 2: That's data driven, that's the great news. We have some customer engagement suite clients that are a little bit ahead of you in their roadmap. They're able to see the data roll in, as you mentioned, data's going to drive everything. You even mentioned the data's going to tell you what products to create, not five people sitting in an office room. That's great, your customers will tell you what they need. My question for you, and when we think about this in the way that we built the customer engagement suite, that single marketing record, that system of record for marketing, how important is it for you to have that data in one place to be able to analyze that with your future plans and your vision? Rather than pulling it from all these different, disparate silos of data, how important is it to have one 360 view from the marketer perspective?

Brad Bissonnette: That is certainly part of the journey. As we carry on, we want to consolidate. We're probably in the same boat as many other organizations that are watching this recording here, and our challenge currently lies and we'll conquer this challenge, is bringing that customer data into one single source of truth. That's all part of this plan and as we move forward. But, we've got some consolidation work to do. Customer feedback lives in one database. We've got the loyalty data now in another database. And then, we have our online ordering program that's in another database. We need to get to a single sign on and a single source of truth, so that we have that 360, holistic view of our customer. We're well upon that journey now.

Speaker 2: That's great. You're also using our ADP, our engine of everything that is underneath our loyalty platform. But, you're also using our email so you're able to communicate, you're able to throw some win back journeys out there or re- engage your top end customers or the lower end. How nice is it to know that consolidation is happening? You're going to have one platform that can activate, engage and understand these people. Is that beneficial for you to tie in the email with the loyalty?

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah, it's crucial. We've survey, tons of competitive research over the years, we think we have a good understanding of who our customer is. But now, we're starting to really, truly know who our customer is. How can we provide more value to that customer moving forward? The email communication is a big part of that, and especially in the early on here, is we'll be able to trial a few things and start to get some feedback back as well, as to what really helps to motivate customers or what they want to engage with, with the platform. We've only just started to begin those learnings in our various journeys and campaigns slated to work through bringing up our actives, to ultimately starting to transition people from baked treats to bread. That data is just going to be so fruitful moving forward.

Speaker 2: Yeah. No pun intended. All right, Brad, there are people watching right now that are not even on their path to digital transformation. They don't have loyalty, they don't have an engagement strategy. Or, maybe there's some people just behind you. What can you share, what advice, what learnings, what pitfalls, what were the aha moments for you of getting a loyalty and engagement strategy with your consumers launched?

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah, it's a pretty complex question and it could be a pretty complex answer.

Speaker 2: All right. Well, give us the high level.

Brad Bissonnette: I will, for sure. I think the first part of it is really having an understanding of what your future state is. In my mind, in our team's mind and where we want to be is very crystal clear. We know where we want to go. Now, there certainly will be deviations in the road, but we know what the end result is and that's a digital customer experience platform that delivers the level of service and the engagement that we're looking for, to transcend out of our four walls. What I can tell you as well is that Rome isn't built in a day and that, as we go through this, we understand that there's several stages involved to ultimately get there. I think, starting out with, is don't try to conquer everything all at once. Determine what your MVP is and really figure out what business problem you're trying to solve. For us, it was really that inconsistency in market and that customer feedback, and our pursuit of wanting to be a much more data driven organization. So understand what your MVP is and really focus on scope creep. Don't let it get involved. I can't say that we're 100% innocent of that. Certainly, a little bit of scope creep crept in. But, you've got to define what the playing field is to an extent.

Speaker 2: Focus on the MVP.

Brad Bissonnette: Focus on delivering that MVP so that you do have something in market. I think we've learned a ton. You go through the pilot and we learned some pretty interesting pieces. We had to make a couple changes, primarily to the way the customers interacted with our app. But, now that we've gone through a couple months and because we haven't tried to tackle everything, we can start to take these learnings to go, " What is the next step and the next stage?" And again, it's not just going to be a bunch of suits in the room, determining what that path forward is. We're now listening as well, and we're listening to our franchisees and we're listening to our customers, that will help to get us to that desired future state. I think you just got to focus on what are the stages required to get you to your ultimate end result and really be crystal clear on what your MVP is. Because you can go around forever, trying to add on new add ons and never get to market. At some point in time, you've just got to rip the Band- Aid off and go.

Speaker 2: Great advice, great advice. I think that's pretty sound. I need to ask you. You went through this digital transformation, you've got a vision, you've got a clear direction from the top down. How did you end up with Cheetah? Why Cheetah? What was the Cheetah difference that said, " That's the partner, that's the technology that's going to get us to the next level?"

Brad Bissonnette: Yeah. We went through, having offices in Melbourne, New Zealand, in Canada and a footprint in the US, we went through a global search of potential vendors that we could look for to ultimately bring our digital customer experience to life. There's some great organizations out there, but I think the reason why we ultimately went with Cheetah was the capabilities to potentially have that single stack, everything all incorporated in. Further to that, we just had a really good relationship going on throughout the stage. I could sit here and say everything has been smooth, but we've had some bumps and challenges along the road. What has been super helpful is that, while we face some challenges getting everything implemented and really learning the technology, we know we have a partner with us that we can learn from, that we can grow with and ultimately, try to get to that digital customer experience that cannot be matched.

Speaker 2: Well, Brad, this has been an enlightening experience for me. It smells so good in here, I can't take it anymore. I am going to dig in. I am sorry for all of you watching.

Brad Bissonnette: I'm going to join you.

Speaker 2: I appreciate you making the time, I appreciate you bringing breakfast.

Brad Bissonnette: Cheers!

Speaker 2: Cheers to that. Everybody, enjoy yourself. Check out a COBS Bread when in Canada.

Brad Bissonnette: Feel free to take as many as you like.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I'll put them in my pocket and take them on the plane. What am I eating here?

Brad Bissonnette: That is a raspberry danish.

Speaker 2: Sounds so simple but it tastes so good. Thanks again, it's been great.

Brad Bissonnette: Anytime. Thanks for swinging by.


COBS Bread is a community-focused bakery founded on values and tradition. Community and human connections are integral to their customer strategy, both in-store and online. With over 125 bakeries, their footprint is vast and their need for real-time marketing and engagement is paramount. Come listen and learn how their recent COBS Club Loyalty program with Cheetah Digital rolled out in 2021 smashing their acquisition expectations. We'll hear how the data and insights from that program are already getting them closer to the customer while shaping the products and services they offer and what the future of prediction and personalization looks for the brand. 

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Brad Bissonnette

|VP Marketing & Franchise Recruitment, COBS Bread