The Future of Loyalty Programs for Retail & CPG

Robbie K Baxter
27 min readMar 8, 2024

with Amazon Web Services’ Justin Honaman

Loyalty programs have been around forever. Points, cashback, branded credit cards, and now increasingly, we’re seeing paid subscription loyalty programs, like Amazon Prime or CVS Care Pass. The goal is the same, to smooth out the lumpy buying behavior common in consumer packaged goods, retail, and hospitality, and to drive habits and engagement.

Amazon Web Services’ Justin Honaman

Justin Honaman, leads the worldwide retail and CPG go-to-market team at Amazon Web Services. He also hosts the popular podcast, ContenderCast, where I was a guest a few years ago.

In this conversation, Justin and I talk about the changing landscape of loyalty programs, why loyalty is so important right now, and what’s driving the rise in these subscription programs.

The following interview is adapted from my podcast, Subscription Stories: True Tales from the Trenches.

Robbie Baxter: Justin, welcome.

I’ve been wanting to have you on the show for a while, so I’m very glad to have you here, I just wanted to start by having you tell us a little about yourself, and how you ended up in your current role at Amazon Web Services.

Justin Honaman: Yeah, so great to see you. We’ve been friends for a number of years, and great to be on your show! Let’s see, I leave worldwide retail and consumer goods go-to-market here at Amazon. I sit within Amazon Web Services, and so we’re working every day worldwide with most of the major retail brands as well as most of the major consumer packaged goods brands. So if you think about retail, you might think of companies like Carter’s or Neiman Marcus or in the consumer goods world with companies like Coca-Cola or Heineken.We helped them to advance their innovation agenda with things we bring from either AWS or more broadly, Amazon. My background is largely in consumer goods and retail. We first met, I think when I was at Coca-Cola. I spent 10 years there in the Georgia Pacific. I also spent time in the consulting world at Ernst and Young and Accenture, so it’s great to be here with you.

Robbie Baxter: It’s great to have you. I wanted to point out that you had me on your podcast years ago.

Justin Honaman: That’s right, and for those who may not know the ContenderCast, we focus on entrepreneurs. It started as an entrepreneurship podcast and then it has evolved and now really focuses on consumer services, consumer products, retail food service, and still the founder of the entrepreneur. So what was so cool having you on was talking about loyalty, subscription services that go into how these companies are thinking about engaging with shoppers or consumers. That was fun having you on and it’s still a great conversation, even a couple of years later.

Robbie Baxter: Well, I was so flattered to be on your show and found the conversation so interesting, and the reason I wanted to have you here was kind of the flip side of that, what you can bring to our listeners around loyalty and subscriptions, particularly for retailers, manufacturers and what’s going on right now in terms of best practices in loyalty?

Justin Honaman: What’s interesting is the last 12 months, we’ve seen a real resurgence in that topic in general. Not that it wasn’t important before, but during COVID and coming out of COVID many retailers were just trying to survive, and quite frankly the doors were closed. There was no door to keep. You couldn’t keep the doors open, so loyalty in the last 12 months has become an interesting topic for a number of reasons.

Number one, retailers are open, they’re booming, they’re growing, and they’re opening stores worldwide and in different markets. I mean people are back in stores. From a digital perspective. We saw the advancement of e-commerce and some of the other tech capabilities. But years of work happened in weeks to meet the needs during COVID. And so you now have a better technology environment to support customer engagement. And then you have better ways of using data and collecting and using that data to drive loyalty and engagement. So all that’s come together to power this interest in loyalty, subscription services as well. For retailers, Subscribe and Save programs. So it’s been interesting and exciting.

Lastly, at least the last 12 months, we’ve really seen a pickup in that topic.

Robbie Baxter: Are they moving away? When I think of a lot of retailers and certainly in the food and dev space, there’s a lot of like points based or collecting caps or punch cards, free programs. That is sort of what you get as a result of how much you’ve spent, more or less.

Justin Honaman: There isn’t one type that fits all. So whether it be a brand’s program like, when I was at Coca-Cola we had a program called My Coke Rewards, where you scanned cap codes and now you have everything from points, badges, challenges, instant cash, instant rebates in store. In the food service world, I bought 10 burritos, now I get one free. There are just so many different variations on it now, but it does tie to an app whether it be in a food service outlet or a retail store, and then upstream with the actual brands. It’s a little more challenging because they don’t own that end-customer relationship typically. They typically have to be activated through a retailer.

Robbie Baxter: They have to activate to a retailer, or in some cases they go direct, right? They create like Nike, or they create their own if they’re big enough or their brand is strong enough.

Justin Honaman: Yeah, you’re right. Many brands do have their own direct-to-consumer platform, and in that situation, they do own that end customer and they may have stores as well like you mentioned Nike. They’re putting together a profile on you and me as the shopper. They know what we bought before they can do better, upsell, cross-sell, and recommend products to us based on what we might like in the future. They can offer rebates, rewards, and promos to us directly to trigger new purchases, right? They seem basic but the technology is there now and the data to support it. That wasn’t there in the past. So it’s just a lot easier now to power some of these programs. And they don’t require manual intervention.

Companies offer rebates, rewards, and promos to consumers directly to trigger new purchases.

Robbie Baxter: So you and I recently were chatting about the tension between the creative and the quantitative. How should a marketing leader, think about balancing those two when it comes to building loyalty to the customer and also creating those programs deciding if this is going to be a Subscribe and Save, a membership kind of paid membership, a points-based or earned rewards kind of thing?

Justin Honaman: It’s funny here at Amazon we have a mechanism called working backwards, where we say, “What’s either the problem we’re trying to solve, or what’s the opportunity we’re trying to pursue, or something to kind of to leverage or to help in terms of the end customer experience?” So when you think about a brand and a marketer for a brand or retail, or whatever you want to call it. I’d be thinking about what experience we want our customers to have online or in-store and where I’ve seen programs fail, or where there’s been a challenge, I’ll say a couple of areas. One, if there’s no clear value to the customer, or it’s just difficult. I can never log into the app when I do I can’t find this place to scan. Then the rewards are complicated, it’s when it’s challenging. Because people will move on to something else, or if there’s a lot of a long sign-up process or that lacks personalization in terms of the program or the offers. That typically is another reason programs fail if it’s inconsistent across experiences. There’s a retail retailer that I work with, and I won’t mention them, but in the store,they don’t have good visibility of my transactions, even though I’m part of their loyalty program. And yet, when I’m online, I get a personalized experience. So it’s very disconnected, these are the reasons that those programs struggle and fail.

But when you think about working backwards, what’s the customer experience I want to have, and then work back to what solutions and capabilities do I need to deliver? That’s a good way to think about it from a marketer perspective.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, it’s so interesting. I’m just thinking about an experience of going into departments like Nordstrom, or even Marcus, where online I never really thought about that. But online, they know my size, they know the colors, they know the brands, they’re very in tune with kind of seasonality for a person like me, like what kinds of things I might be having, events I might be having, and whether I may be having when I go into the store. Usually, the person that works there greets me, and asks me what I’m looking for, and I would think that you know so much about me. They should take me straight over to the brands that I can’t resist. So it is like you realize there’s so much more room for a personalized experience. You mentioned Carter’s and Neiman Marcus, if one of those organizations came to you and said, “We want to build something to drive deeper.” What I always talk about with the Membership Economy, is a forever transaction with our customers. We want to recognize our best customers, and we want to build something for them. Is it a point, a reward, a discount or is it a membership program that gives them access to extra benefits? Is it a Subscribe and Save like? How would you help them think through that?

Justin Honaman: Yes, first of all, back on your point a minute ago about walking into a store, and them not knowing you. For those that don’t work in retail, let me explain a little bit of the tech behind that so many retail chains grew through acquisition and haven’t integrated like all the technology. But then those that even have their own physical stores technology. They built the e-commerce platform separately. Another whole group over there that does e-commerce, and so what happens is you have a great relationship with the e-commerce side of the business and they don’t even know you on the retail store side, it’s crazy! But many are tackling that now with better integration of data and understanding, and then also putting technology in the hands of an associate in store, so they can engage you and create a better experience. For those that may not work in this industry, that’s a challenge that we are involved with every day.

As far as what we’ll find is when we’re doing a digital innovation working session with a customer or thinking about the insert or online experience, what’s the persona, and how they interact with the brand. What we do is provide is we share what we can do, and what are we bringing from Amazon that may be an enabler. What have others done at other companies that could be useful for them to leverage, or who are our partners? We do have such a huge partner ecosystem worldwide of companies that do this well or some of them are really good at managing customer data you might call here, this is called customer data platforms. Like they’re amazing and they’re known for it. They’re doing it in many places. And then you might have others that are really good at personalization, we’re good at the points program.

Robbie Baxter: When you say, partners, do you mean like a retailer? Or do you mean like another technology company?

Justin Honaman: Another technology company. If you think about it, what Amazon AWS brings, typically is the platform on which you might put these types of technologies. So a major retailer has what’s called a customer data platform, and they might be using treasure data, segment, salesforce, or others. But those are some of the major players in that industry. All of those are partners of ours at AWS. Same with some of the other capabilities like point-based rewards programs or the personalization capabilities.

Robbie Baxter: Got it. It’s interesting. Someone comes in, you have them work backward. What are your goals? And then you look at what are your technology abilities and limitations? Are there any gaps that we can help you with? And then is that where the creative part comes in.

Justin Honaman: Yeah. One of the cool mechanisms we use is we put together a press release with our customers where they want to think big, right? You want to get creative and think big. Here’s the experience I want this customer to have with me in the food brand in 2 or 3 years, and we write a press release around it. And then we frequently ask questions to support it, and some visuals that mechanism can be almost like a big idea, or the 2 or 3-year plan, and then work back from that to say, “What do we need to do right now to start heading down the path to get there?” That’s an interesting way to get really creative with the customer instead of focusing on, what can we do now to affect the next 2 or 3 weeks, the next 6 weeks, in the next 3 months.

Robbie Baxter: That’s for me the really important bit here, because subscriptions and memberships are explicitly designed for that reason, the long-term relationship. And there are so many pressures, especially within large companies facing general managers and marketing leads, and product people to hit this number this quarter. What I like is this idea of saying, “Okay, let’s spend a little bit of time on the long-term picture we have.” The bigger the company, the bigger the pressure on this quarter. But at the same time, having that luxury of saying in 3 years we’re going to be known as the top 10% of their customers, 96% retention, or some number like that. The main reason people leave is because they died. Put that into your press release. That’s something to work towards, right?

Justin Honaman: That’s what’s great about it. It also gets the executives into an aspirational mode instead of in the tactical mode. Typically when we put together, we call it a PR FAQ press release with frequently asked questions. When we do that with a customer, it’s not just in the room. In fact, I don’t want it only once in the room, I want a line of business leaders and technology so that we’re collaborating on a future state that affects our customers, right? And the customer experience that they’re having with that brand. But when you have that put together and work back from that, it’s powerful because it gets people again to think beyond just today. Now I get it, you need to run the business, we need to cost optimize, and we need to find ways to grow top-line revenue now. No problem. We have plenty of those things we could do together. But in talking about a big idea and how to get creative. That’s a great mechanism we have here at Amazon.

Robbie Baxter: So when you talk about, I wanted to talk to you about some of these different programs you’ve alluded to, you talked about Subscribe and Save, premium membership, points-based, and punch cards.

Can you talk about the pros and cons of these, or how there are any general principles or guidelines? Yes, you have access, obviously, to lots and lots of different organizations making different decisions.

Justin Honaman: Yes. So typically, the areas where we’ve seen our customers dive in from a loyalty perspective are related to discounts, rewards, percent off or cash back. For example, a coupon or exclusive access, like premium access to certain products ahead of a sale. And then any sort of personalized experiences that a retailer for example, or brand can provide. I mean, these are the ways that we’re seeing across the customers we work with. Loyalty really is powerful. And again most of it ties back to an app, and knowing you to serve you, that’s the way I’d would frame it and those companies that have invested in knowing their shopper or knowing their customer and then being able to interact with them across channels are the ones that are accelerating and they’ve been able to overcome this gap that I described earlier. I have many stores that don’t know the customer but then know them in the e-commerce environment.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, the two problems you described are big problems. The channel division between e-commerce and stores, and then also the challenge of acquisition-based growth, where it sounds so dumb, but it really is such a huge problem when the data is in different places. And it’s just hard to treat that customer the same way across these different platforms, which, of course, the customer doesn’t even understand. They’re like, “Why can’t you find my history?”

Those companies that have invested in knowing their shopper or knowing their customer and then being able to interact with them across channels are the ones that are accelerating — Justin Honaman

Justin Honaman: Now, I will differentiate.

Subscribe and Save is typically a program on an e-commerce platform where you get discounts for subscribing to receive products on a regular basis or a scheduled basis. The nice thing about that is, that you’re deriving loyalty because of that subscription being able to deliver, every time on time and in the schedule that the customer wants. And in return, you’re giving them a benefit, typically a discount. And so where I see Subscribe and Save is typically for items that you use regularly like consumer packaged goods and grocery. Most fashion retailers are not on a Subscribe and Save program, but if you go into grocery, food, or commodities that you use regularly, that’s where you’d see a program like that.

Robbie Baxter: Subscribe and Save is, if you have a product that people are buying regularly, and also if it’s uncomfortable when you run out. I do think you have a unique perspective, because you take the gamble of Carter’s like when you have a baby they change size so fast that you might want someone to send you onesies, I need a pack of onesies, plus I’m going to have to throw a lot of them away when there’s blowouts. And all kinds of stuff that little kids get into, versus like a Neiman Marcus where you’re like, I don’t necessarily need a new silk blouse every month. I like to choose it myself. But that’s where I think these subscription boxes come into play where it’s like surprise and delight and maybe it’s not as frequent and then I think the other one is this premium membership like Prime where it’s like true you commit to us up front and we give you a bundle of benefits whether that’s free shipping or early access or access to an expert. The way of Restoration Hardware, like the RH Grey card where you get access to an interior decorator. I think these are interesting, they’re different models and I think some organizations can’t figure out which one they’re supposed to do.

Justin Honaman: Here’s the thing, if there was one that was blowing the doors off, and that was and it was working everywhere, then everyone will be using only that one but that’s not the case. Right? That’s why you see this proliferation of many different strategies. And depending on the agency you work with or your background in marketing, you may or may not choose to deploy some of these strategies and your program.

Now, here’s one thing I’ll tell you, the technology has gotten so much better and so much more flexible that a lot of this is built into most new commerce platforms. Right? You can activate programs like this on top of customer data. And if it doesn’t work, turn it off. In the old days, like 5 or 10 years ago, you would have bought a package and installed a package and had to support that package, and if it didn’t work, you already paid for it. In the New World that we’re in now, cloud of technology, and new software, the service will call it doesn’t get too technical. My point is, that the capabilities are accessible and usable, and you can try them. If they don’t like work, you turn them off. They work, you expand and launch them everywhere. So that’s what’s really changed from a marketer’s perspective. It’s much easier now, not even with an agency. You can do it yourself in terms of managing these programs.

Robbie Baxter: What that makes me think of is how the role of the marketer is really changing, because it’s less about its 18 months cycle to do something really big and new with new technology. Hoping that people like it versus now where what you’re asking people to do is, have a lot of experiments ready to go with kind of clear goals and knowing what the next step is, if that one works or doesn’t. Do we do more of it? Do we adjust to keep going, or do we stop it?

Justin Honaman: I’ll give you an example. The major food brand I work with has a significant e-commerce platform and was not doing any personalization. I don’t know why, and I found many of our customers do not do personalization, which is to me a low-hanging fruit in terms of driving incremental sales. But so they tested out what we offer around personalization. Less than 4 weeks on this segment of their user base, they found a significant uptick in terms of basket size, and then an actual sell-through. And they were able to deploy that technology and capability within 6–7 weeks. You could not do that only a couple of years ago.

Here’s a great thing. If it hadn’t worked, just turn it off. From a marketers perspective. If I was hiring a marketing person today, or as I was coaching someone coming up into marketing, what skills do I need? It is no longer just creative. It’s data. It’s analytics. And it’s even possible to use AI which we haven’t even talked about today. And knowing tech, guess what the marketer’s job is highly powered by data and technology. And that’s where this is going if you’re in the market insights base.

Robbie Baxter: I want to ask one, follow up question on, this brand that you’re saying wasn’t doing personalization, and then added personalization, but then I also want to remember to ask you the AI question right after that, because you’re right. We are deep into the interview, and we haven’t gotten to that which is important.

So first the question, this large brand was not doing any personalization. What would you have expected them to like if you went to their website? What were you expecting them to have done that they didn’t do?

Justin Honaman: When I land on their site and logged in, it shouldn’t show me a random product on special. It should show me things that I might be interested in on special, an ad or their discounts and potential. So right? So I mean, the example was. And they even explained, they said, “Well, actually, what we’ve been doing is we’ve been putting on sale like the items we put on sale, and like specials and promos are the ones where we have too much of it.” I was like, “Wait! So I have too much inventory, so that is what is gonna be on like the promo?”And they were not using any sort of data, that’s where we were able to test it literally for a couple of weeks and see the uptick. And it’s a surprise, right? All they were doing was showing what I got. Got too many of these items. I’m putting that on sale. And that wasn’t working, wasn’t driving. Not only was it not driving the sales, but also just kind of the personal experience and the engagement. They’re all there, and they’re all explaining kind of looking at each other and I’m like, “Why haven’t you done anything about it?” We did kinda cool.

Robbie Baxter: Oh, that’s awesome. I’m sure that these people sitting around the tail like we’re sort of laughing at them, but they’re smart people, and there is a logic to it. We have too many pairs of purple roller skates. Let’s get rid of them but there’s also this question of what is the customer experience like if I don’t go to their site very often, and then the first time in a while that I visited, they’re offering me purple roller skates that I don’t need. I’m going to, A. Not buy them and B. Will not come back.

Justin Honaman: No doubt and it is for all of those that are listening. We could each go around if we were to open up the line here. And you could say, this retailer does a great job. I signed up for the program I’ve already got points. I see that point totals. I know I’ve got $10 of coupons. I already got a text from them about the sale, and then if it’s too much, I can kind of dial that back a little about the need to text everyone, you’re kind of managing it. And yet also feeling like you’re getting this experience. There’s a kind of feeling of engagement and like they coordinated in their efforts, and others like the one I mentioned where they had a points program or loyalty program.

Robbie Baxter: It’s a great example. Alright, AI.

Justin Honaman: AI is not new. Hopefully, you all are leaning in on this one, and if not, I’m going to challenge you to lean in so artificial intelligence and machine learning. You’ve maybe heard about it in the past and I could give you the whole presentation. If you want just follow up with me, and I’ll be glad to do that.

But what really became a big deal last year, 2023, was this whole idea of generative AI. Some of you may have used a tool called ChatGPT or experimented with it, and some of your companies are now experimenting with these models and data. It’s powerful and in this space ripe for disruption, leveraging generative AI and the reason is because you can use these models to to take large volumes of data in your environment like your actual business environment, and develop the ideal titles for your e-commerce listings, the descriptions, the adwords, the kind of everything around that helps you with your product and then even further think about loyalty now helps you. These models can mine data, they can quickly come back with: What are my customers saying? What are their preferences? What are their reviews? Showing in seconds without using an agency or anybody else to support, to help you. This is available now people. Not only that but like from an image perspective, you can take your products using these models you the marketer, not IT, and put your product in all kinds of different environments, and then have that served up as part of your loyalty programming campaigns today without paying an agency hundreds or thousands of dollars and waiting weeks for them to come back. It is a game changer, and we’re still in the early days. My point is, if you’re not already investigating this, having someone in the business experimenting with this, I would challenge you to do so, and I think you’ll find extraordinary benefit from doing so.

Power of Generative AI: A Game-Changer in 2023. From crafting perfect e-commerce listings to understanding customer preferences in seconds

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, I think that’s so important. What I appreciate is, that you gave some very specific examples, particularly for this audience. Around what are my customers saying? What do the reviews say? What are the big points? Where am I not helping them? And then also, the visuals to create my product on the beach, put my product in a nursery.

Justin Honaman: Yes! It’s real, and it can be done in real-time, in seconds. That’s the same food company the one we talked about personalization a minute ago. They said, “Well we’ve got like 3,000 reviews on this product. Let me describe how this would work if I needed to know what the reviews were saying. Right? I downloaded the reviews. I would send them to someone or group that would then review all 3,000 reviews, and it would take probably a couple of weeks of the team that just creates a report for you, comeback and present the findings. I don’t know how much that would cost, but it’s not cheap. We took those 3,000 reviews and ran a text model against it in 7 seconds. Full summary of the reviews, top points of positive, and top points of negative, and I could keep asking questions of the model on those reviews, and to learn more. Why would the customer be thinking this? What are things I need to change? That would all take about 2 min on 3,000 reviews. How long would it take to go down that proces? A game changer. These are low-hanging fruit items.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, even if you’re using it for your personal learning, before you decide, you make a decision on something. It’s powerful. And you can actually use these prompts and then these edited prompts and the interactive, back and forth. They are really into it. It is remarkable.

Justin Honaman: What is our prompt? It’s basically just your question if you want to call it that. And that’s exactly right. And you all, if you’re in marketing or this space, you will all know what prompts are.

Robbie Baxter: We’ll put a couple of prompts into the show notes to get people started, which I think will be great.

I have a question for you on the values of loyalty, maybe you can learn this by asking generative AI. But is it more important to confer status? I know Coca-Cola has experimented with some of these things where it’s really hard to get, or a special collector’s item that kind of thing versus just give me the discounts, give me free shipping, give me the free item. How do you know whether the benefits should be financial or emotional, whether they should accrue immediately like, buy this, get that, or whether you should require some patience? Is it just test and learn? Can you ask Dr. AI? These are the real questions, right? That people are struggling with like, “Do I give for status, or do I give for discount? Do I make them wait, or do they have to get the reward before they walk out of the store before they push by?”

Justin Honaman: Yeah. So I think you’ll find the answer is it depends on who the customer is and what they wanted their experience to be. There is not one answer. For example, food service, and you go to any number of food service chains that you might enjoy. Each of their apps is a little different, and the way they engage is different, and some, offer instant rewards, some are point-based, some are experience in-store. There’s not one answer.

Tell me what others are doing and what’s working for them and then, if that customer, that retailer really got to know their customer and think about what that customer wants from them. You can do some research and until you test a program out and start adding to it in terms of capability, I don’t know how you would know because and who’s going to tell you the right answer? Because someone could say, “With these other customers we’re working with, here’s the things that work for them” And then Mr. or Ms. Retailer could decide to go and and either pursue or attempt one of those programs. The keys is it’s got to be clear and tangible benefits to the end shopper. The other thing I would say is to be personalized. So those are 3 big things that are working.

Robbie Baxter: That tangible benefits, are easy to use, and personalized.

Justin Honaman: Yeah, personalized. I’ve done a lot of research on how customers interact with a brand and mobile across all markets, and the trajectory straight up. And we see that in every market that we’re working.

Success lies in clear, tangible benefits for the end shopper, and personalization.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, I love that. That’s a great takeaway. Make sure that your benefits are tangible, people understand what the values they’re getting. It’s easy to use, maybe even on mobile and it’s highly personalized. I think the other thing that you’re saying that I’m hoping people are taking away is that. I remember when I first started working in subscriptions, I’d done some work very early on at Netflix and I had a lot of clients that would say, we want to do what Netflix does then they would tell me something that made absolutely no sense for them. “We want to have a 2-week free trial. We want to have one offering where everything is included,” Something that is so unique to Netflix because of what they offer, what their value prop is, how they’re positioned that might not make any sense at all. If you have a seasonal business, for example, streaming sports, you probably don’t want to have a year-round subscription because people are going to cancel in month 8 every year. But I think what you’re saying is you’ve got to look at all the examples to get ideas but then you can’t just copy and paste. You have to really keep going back to, “Is this what my customer would be excited about?”

Justin Honaman: I agree, and who knows better than you? For example, we working with a retailer or CPG brand, we can share what we’ve seen work elsewhere at the end of the day that that customer has to own, not only their data, but what they do with that, how they engage with customer shoppers, or what they want to test. Now, what’s great is, that we can help provide the tools for them to go and execute on those things. It’s very flexible now. Try it, then work, then turn it off.

Robbie Baxter: You’re like the box of Crayola crayons, right?

Justin Honaman: We’re known as builders, right? So we provide the framework for building. But also there are package solutions as well. My point is like, at the end of the day, you know your customer best.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, I didn’t mean to oversimplify. But I think about that sometimes that people get on your platform, and they’re like, “Oh, there’s so many things we could do. Let’s do them all,” and they haven’t thought through what makes sense for them and they’re the ones like you can make it all happen, but they have to decide and use some discipline and some rigor to make it work for their particular customers.

Justin Honaman: Agreed.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, so we’re kind of at the end of our time. This is amazing. And I’m loving this. And I do think that these loyalty programs and what retailers are doing, they’re just getting started, and there’s so much room for creativity and we’re going to see a lot more of this. They’ll probably want to ask you to come back. But before I let you go, are you up for a speed round?

Justin Honaman: Let’s do it.

Robbie Baxter: First subscription you ever had?

Justin Honaman: Oh God. I don’t know but I’m going to say, Netflix, because I think that’s one that just stands out right in my mind of like I felt like recurring. And it was the CDs at home by the way, for those that don’t remember what that was like.

Robbie Baxter: The round things that you’re so excited. Yup, I love that.

Your favorite subscription today that you’re using besides that’s work-related?

Justin Honaman: It’s the streaming platform. Paramount+, Disney+, I appreciate those in terms of access to movies and other content. Apple TV+, a big one.

Robbie Baxter: Your favorite question to ask in a podcast? That’s for my own benefit.

Justin Honaman: I love to start by asking, like you did a bit of it. “But, before we get to you, Robbie, and your new book or your business. Tell me, give us what was the path you took to get here. Give us a brief story of you.” I love to set that up, and then I love to also ask “what are 2 or 3 of the biggest things you’ve learned from owning and leaving your own business, writing a book, or launching the next consumer brand?” There you go.

Robbie Baxter: Awesome. Thank you for that. That was just for me but hopefully for a lot of people too. I love it.

A tip for writer’s block? I know you blog all the time, and you’re pretty consistent.

Justin Honaman: Always make notes. It’s funny because I have a notebook here. I always keep this with me. I got every technology possible but I will write down notes when I have them, or ideas when I have them. And so I have a lot of unfinished writing elements, and a lot of that comes from taking notes, and then I’ll go back to them later. I’ll use some.

Robbie Baxter: Awesome. The most innovative beverage or unusual beverage that you’ve personally tried as a beverage professional?

Justin Honaman: That’s funny. I’ve worked in beverage for 10 years, Coca-Cola, and then after that there’s a lot of other beverage brands. So I’ve interviewed some interesting ones on my podcast so when I think about, like Nixie Sparkling Water, Poppi, Langers Juice or just iced tea, like you’ve got some really interesting innovation happening in the beverage space right now. And so those are a couple of interesting beverage entrances and it’s because of new flavors, new packaging, new ingredients. That’s what’s kind of driving a lot of that.

Robbie Baxter: Okay, final question. One or two things you’ve learned — see how quick a learner I am–one or two things you’ve learned in your time at Amazon Web Services that would be helpful to the audience?

Justin Honaman: Just say Amazon in general. Number one, we have an incredible set of leadership principles, and we actually use them to frame everything we do each day, whether it’s working with customers or internally as a team or developing solutions. Second, be the mechanisms I mentioned, the one around the frequently asked questions and press release, another one would be like a two-way door mechanism where it’s like if I make that decision, that personalization decision, we’re going to try it, If it doesn’t work I can go back through the door,. That’s a two way door versus like we’re going to shut down like this part of our business and only focus over here, that’s a one way door. And so I would say, just some of the mechanisms here, in addition to our leadership principles make it a really unique culture.

Robbie Baxter: Yeah, that kind of structure and process is really unique to Amazon. I love that great. Justin Honaman, thank you so much for being the guest on Subscription Stories.



Robbie K Baxter

Author of THE FOREVER TRANSACTION & THE MEMBERSHIP ECONOMY; Leading expert on membership models and subscription pricing.