Phil Rubin

Founder, Grey Space Matters

Phil is a customer- and stakeholder-focused strategic growth leader and trusted advisor with more than 25 years’ experience driving growth for leading global brands. He is a strong advocate for stakeholder capitalism and the belief that profitable business can be a force for good.

Prior to GSM, he led Global Insights and Strategic Partnerships for Bond, a Toronto-based loyalty and customer marketing firm focused on connecting brands and people.  Phil joined Bond in February 2020 after it acquired rDialogue, the firm he founded in 2006. rDialogue, a leading independent customer loyalty firm, worked with clients including Activision, Adidas, Allergan, American Express, Boehringer Ingelheim, Brooks Brothers, Citigroup, Disney, Estee Lauder, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants (now IHG), Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Nike, Nordstrom, PGA of America, Panera, Pittsburgh Steelers, sweetgreen, UPS and Williams-Sonoma.

Recognized as an industry thought leader, Phil is a keynote speaker for events across North America, Europe and Asia. His comments have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and numerous trade publications over the years. He is a charter Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP) and a member of The Loyalty Academy Board of Regents.

He earned an M.B.A. with a concentration in marketing and strategy from the A. B. Freeman School at Tulane University and a B.S. in Finance from L.S.U. As a result of his non-profit work, he was nominated by the Arthur M. Blank Foundation to participate in a Babson College Executive Education program for Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector.

In addition to his passion for loyalty and technology, Phil’s experience also includes non-profit board leadership roles for global, national, regional and local organizations. Those include being a past board chair for ADL (Southeast) and a National Commissioner. He also served as Vice-Chair for Atlanta’s Beltline Partnership, supporting one of the largest urban redevelopment initiatives in the U.S., and as a member of the board and executive committee for The Weber School.

  • Posted on: 05/18/2022

    Should Apple have killed the iPod?

    Lots of valid points in support of keeping the iPod but going forward -- i.e., for those who aren't current iPod users -- who needs one versus the smart phone, tablet or laptop they carry? Or the watch they wear? Clearly an opportunity cost for Apple to continue production as well as the absence of recurring fees that come with (or are generated) by other devices.
  • Posted on: 05/16/2022

    Nordstrom Local is summering in the Hamptons

    This is a smart move and follows the idea of being where your customers are. Given the social and affluent aspects of the Hamptons, there should be minimal risk and a good amount of upside, both in terms of business and reasserting the relevance of the Nordstrom brand.
  • Posted on: 05/12/2022

    Has Best Buy found an outlet for future growth?

    This is a proven retail strategy and given the growing number of open box/returned items, driven in part by digital commerce growth, consolidating those items in the right outlet locations should pay off. The key is not to dilute core store performance or lose pricing discipline in what is not a high margin business to start with.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2022

    Is human bias frustrating sustainability progress?

    There is no question that human bias, namely the inability to accurately listen to data-driven insights, is a significant inhibitor to sustainability (and a host of other things that threaten our future and that of our kids). The cause of that bias has all kinds of factors and many of those are amplified in today's climate (pun not intended but appropriate!).
  • Posted on: 04/20/2022

    Has Barnes & Noble turned the page?

    B&N is employing a smart strategy and one that's a clear differentiator, and a proven one for retail. Empowering store managers to be merchants, curating the right and relevant assortments for customers, and setting their stores without a centrally programmed planogram is how you grow a traditional retail business. Tell the right stories with how you set a store and you win. It's a refreshing antidote to Amazon and the growing amount of mess that de-emphasizes the merchandising and has the potential to relegate it to nothing more than a fulfillment center.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2022

    Carrefour uses blockchain to offer consumers greater supply chain transparency

    Blockchain will be increasingly adopted for a variety of reasons but the ultimate proof point for supply chain applications lies in whether a chain like Carrefour shares the impact of initiatives such as this one and, as the leader it intends to be, everyone else (or enough of its competitors) follow.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2022

    Are fuel-driven deals worth pumping?

    The price of fuel, and consumer sensitivity around it - even when it might seem irrational to go out of one's way for a savings of $0.03/gallon - makes a promotion like this highly relevant. Even more so given the recent rise in fuel prices, which now corresponds to a rise in the price of a dozen donuts!
  • Posted on: 04/15/2022

    Can retail solve its indirect carbon emissions problem?

    For the sake of their businesses, including compliance with the Paris agreement and, equally important, their future customers, they need to make a more concerted effort to reduce emissions across their supply chains. Transparency will be on the increase in tandem with stakeholder expectations and this is a clear opportunity for leadership that can pay dividends, literally and figuratively. With so many in the industry lagging, there is a low bar for leadership in this critical area.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2022

    Howard Schultz playing what cards he has to fend off unionized labor

    Labor unions were born out of the need to protect workers. If Starbucks and Mr. Schultz are improving working conditions and benefits for employees, they will by definition mitigate the need for employees to unionize. Starbucks is absolutely doing the right thing and, given his track record, I wouldn't bet against the company with this leadership.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2022

    Will solar have its day in the sun at Target?

    As some companies "wait...for the better business case," the leaders that embrace sustainable energy and environmental responsibility - among other causes that are increasingly important to stakeholders - will win in the long term. The economic volatility alone in the last 75 days due to the Ukraine invasion and appropriate sanctions against Russia is making leaders investing in alternative energy sources gain ground. It's not unreasonable to expect that to continue and companies like Target will continue to show that stakeholder capitalism has a more than compelling ROI.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2022

    Will retailers be ready when the third-party cookies crumble?

    It's really simple: build direct, permission-based and mutually beneficial addressable relationships with customers. The more you concentrate on that the less reliance you are on the Google/Meta/ad networks that are inefficient, fraud-infested and increasingly ineffective. There are some new technologies coming to market that simultaneously empower consumers to manage their own data and allow brands to use the data to be more relevant in how they serve customers. Sadly, this is not a new concept, but rather one that is more than three decades old. The advertising business, including agencies, perpetuate this stalemate all for their outdated business models.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2022

    Should dietitians patrol Kroger’s supermarket aisles?

    The health insurers will be first in line to partner with grocers for this. As drugstores position around wellness it's not surprising that there is research and planning surrounding this approach. Obviously it can't be done via "patrols" but needs to be a source of information that interested customers seek out. Why not add it as a benefit to a shopping app instead? The applications already exist but perhaps not in every grocer's app.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2022

    Will Fresh Market’s ‘club hub’ frequent purchase program drive loyalty?

    Well, there are transactional approaches to loyalty and there's this, which is exactly the same thing. While there will be relevance for the discount for those concentrating in the various categories, it would be more rewarding to allow customers to mix and match, especially given that the spend thresholds and discounts are similar. No soft benefits, just hard savings. That alone will not drive anything but transactional loyalty and that's easily usurped by others. Terrible tag line too, in "the ultimate loyalty experience." This is far from an experiential program, other than transactionally. All that said, customers love discounts so for some, it will be good. Hopefully the margin trade off shows generative transactions -- in terms of incremental spend and frequency -- as a result.
  • Posted on: 11/29/2021

    What caused the thin Black Friday traffic?

    This is no surprise for a myriad of reasons. Black Friday numbers mean relatively little given the rebound, the strong consumer balance sheets and other shifts impacting consumer demand, starting with timing. A few observations on contributing factors:
    1. Black Friday is now Black Holiday Season. It starts earlier, there is Cyber Monday, and a race to be early and first with sales, including BF sales.
    2. The supply chain issues are real. Especially for consumer electronics but also for things like sportswear and shoes (look for your favorite running shoes - they aren't available).
    3. Let's not forget the macro trend of consumers prioritizing experiences over things.
    4. We are in the midst of the Great Resignation. There is a significant amount of people stepping out of work in the interest of better opportunities. Even though many people are resigning for other roles, there is a percentage of them "in transition" and thus not inclined to spend.
    5. Finally, consider COVID-19, Omicron and the fact that global markets sold off on Friday, tempering consumer optimism.
  • Posted on: 09/02/2021

    Can marketers successfully shift focus from acquisition to retention?

    This question is almost as old as I am and it's plain said that we're still having this discussion in 2021. There are increasingly three categories of retailers: leaders, challengers and laggards (aka road kill). The leaders and those challenging the leaders know the value of not only digital acceleration but also the recognition that the best customers are omnichannel (i.e., not just digital) and that even "non-digital" experiences are in fact, hybrid. The opportunity for marketers in a post-cookie world is to leverage their zero-/first-party data to know their customers, be relevant and pay attention to them, all in order to not only drive retention but to fuel organic growth.

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