Card Linked Offers (CLO) have been a part of the marketing stack dating back to the early 2000s. Since then, wave after wave of CLO businesses have tried to address two major problems in the digital landscape:
Chief Marketing Officers' (CMOs) biggest channels, Facebook and Google, often lead to low margin or unprofitable growth which has been exacerbated by the recent privacy changes introduced by Apple and Google
Banks, credit card companies, and fintechs need to diversify their revenue streams and build new engaging experiences to lure in customers
Although tons of companies have competed to solve these problems, I believe the market has finally reached an inflection point. Now is the time that CLO solutions are poised to see widespread adoption, with CMOs starting to incorporate them as a line item in their budgets.
As an entrepreneur, this paradigm shift — coupled with the evolution of the companies competing in the CLO industry — presents an exciting opportunity to bridge a gap.
Why the current state of CLO is ripe for disruption:
A Major Player Validated the Industry: JPMorgan Chase, the world's second largest bank, just announced in July the acquisition of CLO platform Figg. This consolidation served to bring much-deserved attention to a previously niche space that is gaining traction across retail verticals.
Resurgence of Physical Spend: As the surge in digital spend seen throughout the pandemic returns to normal levels, and as in-store shopping resumes, CMOs and digital marketers will seek to capture and capitalize on that shift. One of the most effective and measurable ways to do so is going to be through enabling a CLO strategy.
True Digital to Physical Attribution: CLOs, when implemented with the right partner, can now reliably capture and report on both online and in-store spend, the incrementality of that spend, while also enabling personalization at scale.
Profitable Growth is in Vogue: The reality of a potential global economic downturn is forcing companies to become more disciplined and shift investments towards "profitable growth channels." Utilizing CLOs, margins can be set to truly maximize profitability.
As the opportunity for this growth arises, the industry is in a state of change:
Cardlytics, the historical leader in the CLO space, is facing pressure as their biggest competitor, Figg, was acquired by their largest customer, Chase, and subsequently, Cardlytics' CEO just resigned.
Figg, a previously independent CLO provider, is now owned by JPMorgan Chase.
Other players with category-specific offer content — such as Rewards Network (restaurants), Groupon (local offers) and a couple of startups including Button and Kard — are trying to update the playbook of the past by learning from the successes and failures of the companies who did it before: EDO Interactive, Cardspring, and Linkable Networks.
To date, every CLO provider has focused on either the bank or the credit card company as their primary customer. That said, where the real growth in this industry will come isn't actually the banks, the credit card companies, or a new wave of fintechs, it will come from marketers and most importantly the users who are given great experiences.
The marketers control the purse strings, it is them who will dictate if this channel is here to stay, and they will cement CLO as a category of marketing in the future versus what it is today. What is it? Currently, a blend of innovation and brand budgets on top of a medium that is more appropriately designed for performance marketing budgets.
The users will tell us whether they like the experiences being built. I think static tiles that look like internet 1.0 are going to be replaced with dynamic content personalized to users in a privacy compliant way. And these experiences will deliver delight and savings that matter to shoppers of all socioeconomic statuses.
If these two constituents, the marketers and the end users, can be given what they're craving, the CLO market that has no defined line item in budgets today, will become a double digit allocation of leading marketers' budgets as the internet continues its evolution from an ads dominated medium to one that's fueled by commerce.