A strange aura of light tends to emanate from those who talk about the gas station and convenience store Wawa.
What on the surface seems like a humble, regional outpost garners an unwavering sense of loyalty from its admirers — an unbridled, deranged sort of enthusiasm that extends beyond any logic or rationale.
For many, the haven of surcharge-free ATMs and freshly made sandwiches takes on a spiritual quality. When Pope Francis visited Philadelphia in 2015, the city welcomed His Holiness’ arrival with the promise of a hoagie.
“They’re a cultural force,” said Jillian Tate, senior vice president of media at Bounteous, the digital marketing company that’s been a key partner in fueling Wawa’s cult-like following.
For more than 13 years, the Chicago-based consultancy has worked with the beloved East Coast chain to conceive, create and optimize marketing services to connect Wawa’s loyal customers with its ambitious digital campaigns.
Included in that list is the return of Wawa’s “Free Coffee Tuesdays,” a promotion popular among customers that Bounteous identified as perfectly suited for today’s shifting media landscape.
Working in tandem with the brand, Bounteous leveraged the social media platform TikTok to adapt the message to short-form videos and create content that connected with Wawa’s fervent fandom, leading to an 1,800-percent increase in followers from the previous year. It’s that breadth of platforms and depth of work that leads many at the organization to describe it as a “digital transformation company,” rather than a traditional marketing firm.
“The goal we have for our clients is for them to continue to see and reap the benefits of their relationship with us and the engagements they do with us, but also for their customers to drive loyalty, which is the ultimate outcome for any business,” Senior Vice President of Customer Marketing Sheena Banton said.
There have been plenty of internal successes to celebrate. Bolstered by the recent appointments of Tate and Banton to its ever-expanding growth marketing team, Bounteous has grown its revenue 20 percent year-over-year for multiple cycles, fueled by client demand for its unique platform expertise and distinctive “co-innovation” offering.
Bounteous’ featured clients:
- Shake Shack
The growth marketing department also increased its team headcount by 67 percent in 2021 — a testament to the company’s continued ability to elevate its global roster of clients with transformative digital experiences.
Built In Chicago sat down with Tate, Banton and Director of Digital Messaging Andrew Kim to learn more about how Bounteous’ growth marketing team has become trusted partners for major brands in the digital space.
What has it been like to watch Bounteous’ success this past year?
Banton: It’s been nonstop — a whirlwind of growth and excitement, with two acquisitions that have been extremely exciting for our portfolio and to augment our team member base.
Welcome to the family
Kim: The rate of growth, how much we’ve expanded what we do, and how much depth we have on our team has been really exciting to watch. Everyone’s head is on a swivel, because that big picture is changing and growing all the time.
Tate: Media is a newer capability for Bounteous. We’ve transformed from media being an outcropping of a technological offering into media services and media strategy being an offering in its own right.
That’s been the big sea change that’s happened over the past year, even before I started last August: Moving in the direction of having more agency-of-record-style relationships, versus having media services as an additional relationship for clients that were focused on other things like software licensing or platform-building or other user experiences.
What’s happening in marketing to cause this sea change?
Tate: I think there’s a big appetite for integration from our clients.
A lot of traditional media agencies aren’t built to handle the technological advances that are taking place. There are a lot of very nimble agencies out there that are built for it, but Bounteous is the first place I’ve worked where it was built off of a technological transformation and a Co-innovation Manifesto, as opposed to trying to take an old model and then use technology to fix it.
Banton: One of the unique opportunities that Bounteous provides to clients and team members is an integration of media with the customer marketing channels, which for most clients are owned first-party data channels.
The virtuous cycle of leveraging first-party data is becoming more mission-critical to clients, so having silos for media, email marketing and other digital messaging channels is just not sustainable. As a client, you won’t be able to reap the rewards of having a holistic marketing strategy.
Kim: From the other end of the equation, there are a ton of other external factors that make thinking about everything more holistically a requirement. Whether that’s privacy or data governance, thinking of the entire picture as one connected piece that needs to be tackled together is critical. Every piece has to be really tightly integrated.
What is it about digital marketing that requires a new approach? What’s broken?
Tate: There’s both a potential and an expectation for personalization in the market. Consumers expect that their experiences are going to come to them with some degree of curation, and there’s also technology that permits us to be able to approach consumers with a degree of personalization to make their digital experience more meaningful. That’s what we’re trying to work with and take advantage of: the ability to be able to present a specific audience a specific message or call to action.
You have an impressive list of clients. What are some specific examples you can speak to?
Kim: Our work with Domino’s comes to mind. A lot of the service that we provide comes down to that personalized experience. Domino’s has hundreds of data points of consumer knowledge, and it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They have hundreds of personalization points to choose from, so they need to make an informed decision about which data points to leverage, and then how to best use their technology stack to incorporate that information into their messaging.
Banton: We help clients send the right message at the right time via the right channel to the right person. That is the elusive unicorn that many companies are after, and we’ve done some of that with Domino’s and Wawa: hyper-personalized experiences across channel preferences that are consumer-driven.
Being that partner has really allowed us to establish trust and credibility. We’ve delivered value and proven our value in that relationship.
These are big companies with established brand identities. What’s it like to enter a relationship with a client that already has a strong sense of self and a history?
Tate: One thing that we have to do with almost every client at the start is give an education on the current digital landscape, because it also has changed so quickly. We find that one of the best ways to approach this conversation is, “Here’s what you are currently dealing with. We want to make sure that we’re level-setting with you on what this landscape looks like, and this is how we’re poised to work with it.”
There’s also a lot of listening involved to understand the client. In my experience, clients really value being heard and our curiosity and openness to their brand’s history: What’s worked before, who they are in the marketplace, who they’re targeting, and then hearing opportunities for how we can set them up for incremental growth.
We have clients who believe that they can’t necessarily drive value from digital media and need to have it very clearly spelled out to them exactly how we’re going to use technology to measure incremental growth while still keeping their brand image and their brand impressions intact.
It can be challenging to go into places where there’s a little more rigidity, but it’s also really rewarding to get a chance to have those conversations and to engage people in what their long-term vision is and how they perceive their brand in relation to what consumers think of it.
Banton: This is where Bounteous’ Co-Innovation Manifesto comes in, with that being a unique approach to our client engagements. We have a client in the travel-hospitality space that was embarking on a digital transformation — literally how they sell products and services — and part of the initial engagement was partnering with them and being accountable for the results.
That’s a very unique arrangement that not a lot of agencies or consultants would stand behind. Although some well-known brands might be more rigid or resistant to change, they recognize that they need to change, they recognize the need to innovate and transform, and it gives them some peace of mind knowing that they have a partner that’s got skin in the game and is willing to put forth the data to justify the expense.
Staying engaged with our clients in the spirit of co-innovation is frankly one of the reasons why I came over to Bounteous.
Why is co-innovation so important to the way Bounteous approaches things?
Tate: We are more than the sum of our parts. Together, we form a company. One person doesn’t have to know everything, but you need to be able to listen and hear from other people who do have a different area of expertise.
It really does allow us to riff off of each other and come up with better ideas. That’s one of the things that I also appreciate about the Bounteous culture: it’s really conducive to coming up with collaborative ideas and building things together, as opposed to, “Please stay in your lane.”
A catalyst for innovation
Banton: This being my first digital consulting job, one of the things that I’ve found most compelling in the spirit of co-innovation is that our clients call us up to let us know when they have a business problem they need to solve. “I know that the world is changing around me and I know I need to change with it. What should I do?”
The fact that we’ve got that type of relationship with some of the biggest brands in the world, that speaks volumes to me.
Tate: Once you demonstrate that you can tackle a business problem without having to call in other agencies or other companies, clients have a much higher degree of trust, and a much greater inclination to work with you with a higher degree of partnership.
That in turn trickles down to the team, because clients look at us as business partners who are solving business problems and who are trusted advisors. That also makes my team feel great. That’s going to increase retention and make Bounteous a much better place to work because people are challenged and feel like they’re trusted and respected.
A line from your Co-innovation Manifesto reads, “Digital transformation is more crucial than ever.” Why do you believe that to be true?
Tate: Because if clients don’t have it, they’re going to get left behind. There’s a lot of firepower out there in the digital realm right now. Technology capabilities have changed more than anyone can imagine, and the pandemic has done nothing but accelerate the way that we live our lives and has shifted people into more of a digital and virtual space than ever before. Even before Facebook came out with the Metaverse, people were pretty much living their lives in digital spaces and have been since March 2020. If you’re not transforming to adapt to how your customers are living their lives, your competitor is going to adapt to it.
Banton: What was attractive to me as a fairly new hire is that there are awards to back it. Bounteous has an award-winning culture, it’s an award-winning place to work, and we have an impressive client list. If you like staying in your lane, this is definitely not the place for you. We think big, we have fun, we get stuff done and that’s why clients love us.