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Striking a chord: John Merakovsky

Zoom in, people! Yes, that certainly is the CEO and COO on piano and guitar singing Hey Jude. Next week, Nick will be dressed in his beekeeping suit collecting honey from his hives, and tune in at the end of the month for pottery with Katie.

John Merakovsky, CEO of Flybuys

Welcome to Flybuys, Australia’s most popular loyalty program seemingly run by an extremely accomplished Aussie crew who spent the COVID-19 lockdown achieving great things and showcasing their endless hidden talents.

Tickling the ivories was CEO John Merakovsky, joined by Phil Hawkins strumming guitar, the pair surprising their Flybuys team with the duet after the first week of lockdown in mid-March.

“It’s been really great, a really pleasant surprise,” John reflects. “Our weekly Friday on-screen huddles allowed people to open up in a way they may never have done in daily office interactions. There’s also been a greater sense of intimacy bonding us together with people sharing things emotionally about the challenges of working remotely.”

It was a vital connection, particularly as the timing of the pandemic couldn’t have been worse for the Melbourne-based company in the midst of replatforming its entire digital infrastructure.

A digital expert with extensive experience in global marketing, commercialising technologies and developing customer strategy, John joined Flybuys in February 2019 to leverage data and digital capabilities.

Just four months before, the company had been set up as an independent standalone business with Coles and Wesfarmers each holding a 50% share. As one of Australia’s largest email marketers, sending billions of messages every year, Flybuys has always relied on cutting-edge technology to provide an optimum service to its 8.6 million members.

John’s brief was to lift that digital experience to another level to cater to the more tech-savvy users. That meant moving the back end, the “heart and soul” of the platform, to the cloud.

“That was actually one of the most frightening parts of the pandemic because I sent everybody home on March 12, just as we were entering the most critical phase of this project,” John remembers.

“But there really was no choice. We had to keep our team safe.” The Flybuys loyalty program is data driven, requiring huge investments in technology to enable intensive analysis on purchasing, behavioural and demographic habits, which will in turn determine decisions on added value and features.

“For example, in 2010, about 36% of all Australian consumers had reached adulthood in the digital age, whereas by 2030, that number will be 76%, all of them with buying power,” John explains.

“We want to know which relevant messages we can put in front of them, creating relevant offers to consumers and delivering them in real time.


“We’re not spammers; our data is always collected with permission. Our members understand that we are offering marketing membership so they can receive better offers and value. They trust that when they receive an offer, it’s going to be high value, exclusive and as good or better than anything else in the marketplace. Of course, we will continue to support non-digital modes of interacting, such as a physical Flybuys card or contact with a call centre, but everything will be digital first because that’s the way the bulk of our members engage.”

More than a million Australian households joined Flybuys within weeks after it was launched in 1994 as Australia’s first loyalty program offering flights in return for points earned through retail outlets.

Today, shoppers can collect points at numerous outlets including Coles, Kmart, Catch, Target, mycar, NAB and Optus. “We create value for all Australians, no matter how much they earn,” John says.

“They know that when they shop at Coles, or any other of our partners, they will get something back in exchange for their loyalty.” In June, Coles and Flybuys launched flypay, which allows members to attach a payment method to their Flybuys account to enable faster transactions at Coles sites including Liquorland, First Choice Liquor, Vintage Cellars, Kmart, Officeworks and Target.

Our weekly friday on-screen huddles allowed people to open up in a way they may never have done in daily office interactions.

Then, in September, Flybuys took a step towards its vision of being Australia’s largest engagement and data platform, expanding its B2B offering by launching Unpacked by Flybuys.

Born out of FMCG Marketer’s need for better access to tangible data and transparent results, Unpacked by Flybuys offers brands unmatched audience targeting, activation and measurement of its advertising campaigns using Flybuys’ premium, first-party data.

Meanwhile, John and his 230-plus Flybuys team, 80 of them employed during COVID-19, are looking forward to moving into new offices in Melbourne’s historic Mail Exchange Building. After extensive refurbishment of the entire ground floor, the keys were handed over at the beginning of the year, but the door has remained shut throughout lockdown.

“We met for drinks and a tour once and the anticipation was huge,” John says. “Then we had to tell everyone we didn’t know when we’d be back.”

It’s fair to say that working from home hasn’t prevented members from taking advantage of their loyalty rewards. While John has picked up some Apple AirPods, a shaver and yoga pants for his wife, he admits he’s not as savvy as the diehard Flybuys fans who’ve set up social media groups to share stories and success in reaping rewards.

“These are members with very strong connections,” John explains. “While for some, Flybuys is a transactional bit of fun, for others, it’s actually a really important part of stretching their income and getting the most value from their everyday spend. All their Christmas and birthday shopping is paid for by Flybuys. They rely on it.”

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