Susan O'Neal

CEO, Dabbl
Susan O’Neal is the founder & CEO of Dabbl. Dabbl captures inefficient national media dollars and gives them to consumers to spend in their favorite retailers. After 20+ years in brand strategy & loyalty marketing, O'Neal realized the marketing strategic and tactics she used to create relationships between consumers and companies wouldn't go over very well in the world of real, human relationships - she would have no friends! This inspired her to get curious. What if you could help evolve a consumer relationship the same way, using the same values as our most loyal, trustworthy personal relationships. The result is Dabbl. Since launching its first white-label retail solution with Wakefern in August 2017 ("Downtime Dollars"), and its own consumer-facing app ("Dabbl") in January 2018 - the company has driven over $1MM in value to consumers, and driven $3.5MM in incremental retail sales. O'Neal’s experience in the field of consumer marketing is uniquely suited to this challenge, including consumer research, branding, targeted marketing, promotions, retail loyalty and digital consumer engagement as a Consumer Analyst (Grey Worldwide), B2B Marketer, Business Strategist (Catalina Marketing) and General Manager responsible for the P&L of two different digital coupon destination properties (Q Interactive/Coolsavings, CouponNetwork).
  • Posted on: 03/25/2020

    How should retailers guide staff through the coronavirus crisis?

    While I'm not aware of all retailers' decisions, the one I am aware of - which I am most impressed by - is Wakefern/ShopRite. Not only have they done everything they "should" do - they have gone above and beyond in the care of their store associates first by simply and publicly saying "thank you" to them for being on the front lines and taking on all the extra work that entails, but also by temporarily INCREASING wages and offering enhanced sick and leave benefits. It reminds me of the airline safety guidance to secure one's own oxygen mask first before helping others. A retailer that appropriately values and takes care of their front line staff is one I trust more to take care of their customers. Such steps are an investment in the long-term loyalty of associates and customers.
  • Posted on: 03/11/2020

    Brands have a lot of reasons for working with Amazon

    Amazon can deliver "bottom-of-the funnel" satisfaction better than just about any other retailer - so I understand the blossoming love affair. However, "brand value" over the long-term is a function of top-of-the-funnel metrics - how much do consumers want it, ask for it, demand it REGARDLESS of the retailer - this is where *sustainable* margin and value creation happens. For new brands, Amazon's low barrier to entry helps in both areas - they can provide momentum/readiness to expand distribution beyond e-commerce. The same isn't true for established brands. While established brands have to meet that competition there (as the article references), to do so at the expense of the rest of the marketing funnel - to confuse bottom funnel mastery with long-term success - would be a mistake. Established brands still have to advertise above the retail funnel, even and especially with Amazon.
  • Posted on: 02/24/2020

    Should grocers just say ‘no’ to big CPG brands when it comes to shelf decisions?

    CPG manufacturers really only have one job, to create enough consumer demand for their products that consumers go into retail stores looking for them. Historically they've done that through advertising. As brand access to consumer attention continues to wane (thanks to the evolution of digital media), so has brands' ability to create that consumer demand and, correspondingly, the brands' value to the retailer will continue to decline. Retailers are doing what is in their best interest; giving their customers what they want the best possible price. If the large CPG brands don't have a way to make their specific brands something consumers want, they will increasingly have less influence over retailer decisions - it's as simple as that.
  • Posted on: 01/02/2020

    California’s new privacy laws may trigger a wave

    California's new privacy legislation is an important step toward seeing consumers as partners in the marketplaces for their attention and data. Entities who have never seen the consumer as a person, but rather an asset (or a "target") to be sold and resold, will have costly adjustments to make over the next several years. Retailers, on the other hand, have had a different perspective - at least as the beginning. For most of their history retailers have had a closer and more personal relationship with their customers. It held many back from monetizing their customer data during the heyday of Big Data, but in the next decade that sense of service and partnership will be an advantage.
  • Posted on: 12/26/2019

    Will we see AI’s impact on 2019 holiday results?

    Winning in retail has always been about anticipating and satisfying consumer needs and wants as efficiently as possible. Excellence in the application of AI at the anticipation stage (marketing, product) can only ever be as good as its application at the the end of the experience (supply chain, delivery, logistics). The balance with which the retail industry has applied AI across the full consumer experience, and the results they are experiencing, are encouraging. I'm excited to see what happens in 2020!
  • Posted on: 11/15/2019

    Should customers just be paid for their data?

    One benefit not mentioned is higher quality data. The most trustworthy person in the marketing value chain is the consumer. Why? There is absolutely no misalignment of interest between a consumer and a brand (advertiser) that was created to solve a need or serve that very same consumer. All of the frustration and exploitation that happens in our industry today is because the interests of those who sit between the consumer are not aligned toward the best interest of either the consumer or the brand. Make it simple, easy and worthwhile for the consumer to engage in the marketplaces for their attention AND their data, and you get a higher quality version of both for brands.
  • Posted on: 10/25/2019

    What does artificial intelligence mean for loyalty marketing?

    A lot of the attraction of artificial intelligence is the belief that it removes both the vulnerabilities and practical boundaries of human involvement - as if it were some kind of auto-pilot. The truth is that artificial intelligence is only ever as good as the human intelligence behind it. This requires a deeper understanding of the human experience of marketing, of being a consumer. Such a commitment is a departure from the prevailing wisdom that created today's most prolific data-driven tools - like programmatic advertising, retargeting and other experiences of marketing that have frustrated, more than aided, consumers.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Why are grocers still missing the mark with small food brands?

    It's dangerous to generalize all "grocers" as it is still a very diverse and fragmented space in comparison to other retail verticals. That said, the "pay to play" model that has evolved over the past two decades to the favor of large national and regional grocers which creates both financial and cultural barriers to small company innovators =- whether that innovation is in the form of a consumer good or a new solution/technology vendor. Smaller or newer companies cannot afford to pay to play in that culture - whether it's funding the retailer's marketing or other initiatives, funding staff to keep the products/relationships top of mind with the retailer or something even more direct and overt as has happened in recent years.
  • Posted on: 10/14/2019

    Is BOPIS a good fit for Dollar General?

    If BOPIS works for QSRs like McDonald's and Starbucks, where item counts are even smaller than traditional dollar or convenience stores, it can work for Dollar General. Furthermore, Dollar General has an above-average basket size compared to a true "dollar store" because of its broader merchandise selection - filling in gaps in rural areas where the nearest grocery store is 30 minutes or more away. As such, it is by its nature a seller of convenience as well as price. BOPIS would be an extension of that same value proposition. Dollar General has done an excellent job with its digital service offering and I believe they have the customer trust to make BOPIS successful.
  • Posted on: 08/28/2019

    Innovation: Are retailers trying to do too much?

    At various times in my career I would have a very frustrating conversation with my father. He would ask me how work was going and I would begin telling him a complicated story. He would interrupt me, forcefully and repeatedly, with a single question until I could answer it in one simple, succinct sentence (often shouting it out of frustration). The question was "what are they payin' you to do?" Of course, as soon as I said it my whole world simplified, my to-do list and my worries shrank. I call it "the one sentence job description." The retail equivalent is "why are my customers coming to me?" Ask it and then - as the author recommends - nail it.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    Online shopping would never have gotten anywhere if it didn't have to compete with the benefits of in-store shopping: product recommendations/knowledge, having it now (or as close to now as possible), assortment, etc. Over the last decade, it makes sense that retailers with a brick and mortar advantage would try to compete with the benefits of online shopping: near infinite assortment, reviews, easier access to deeper product information (various kiosks and such). This would be, however effective and logical, a very simplistic view of how to compete in retail. The reality is a consumer wants what they want, and they want different things at different times and in different circumstances. Sometimes they're going to want something (an experience perhaps) that is only possible in-store, other times they are going to need something that is always going to be better online. If a retailer's customer values them mostly for something that can only be delivered in one environment or the other, focusing their resources and innovation accordingly would be the best strategy.
  • Posted on: 08/15/2019

    Is it time for retailers to tier up their loyalty/reward programs?

    Trust (the marker of what I call true human loyalty) is highest when interests are aligned at a fundamental level -- so fundamental that you don't have to think about it, you don't have to calculate the cost/benefit more than once, and definitely not at every transaction. If a retailer has an offering comprehensive enough, and that offering is relevant frequently enough, then the "premium service for a one-time fee" model works and the outcome of it is more akin to real human-to-human loyalty. But not all retailers have a comprehensive enough value offering, or they may not be relevant frequently enough, to justify a one-time free for premium service offering. In those instances, the transactional incentives (the "buy nine, get one free") would be dangerous to remove altogether.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2019

    What’s the recipe for de-stressing entrepreneurs?

    "You know that old saying that you have to hire people smarter than you? Yeah. It’s garbage. You need to hire people who share your vision for how to achieve success. then everyone is rowing in the same direction. If you hire people smarter than you, then everyone has an opinion and you add the stress of dysfunction." I don't know whether it's a question of "smarter than" or not, but absolutely true that a start-up cannot afford a bunch of smart people pontificating and debating ... more than doing ... not to mention the total waste of energy it is to manage that chaos, in addition to all your other stresses, as a CEO. Having this happen is a greater risk if you hire people whose sense of self-worth comes from being right, being deferred to or being "smarter than" the others in the room. It doesn't necessarily mean they are smarter than you, but if you hired them because you believed they were - you're probably in the danger zone.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2019

    What’s the recipe for de-stressing entrepreneurs?

    Been here, still here, still deciding every day if it's worth it (obviously, I most often come to the conclusion that it is). For me, passion around the idea that marketing could be better, more human, more authentic in its delivery and form - not just its message - is what drove me to leave the relative comfort of corporate life on the heels of a divorce, with three young children in tow. I believed in the vision and if there was a company that would have hired me to pursue it, I probably would have gone that path - but there wasn't, and so I started Dabbl (almost five years ago). My advice: Be clear on WHY you're doing this. If your deeper "why" isn't something big, you will burn out fast - you won't be able to pick yourself up off the floor on a bad day, or still believe after the 1,000th no. For me the deeper "why" was the chance to prove not only that deeper connections between consumers and brands are both possible and beneficial for both, but to show via example to my children that hard things are worthwhile especially when they are aligned with your truth and (this is important) regardless of the outcome. Surround yourself with a neutral support system. Mine was paid - a therapist and an executive coach. It's hard to justify this expense when you've also likely cut your income to launch your company - but it's as important as any other investment you are making. I say "neutral" because your pain causes people who love you to feel pain too - and they will not want to feel that, it can make you feel guilty (for causing them pain) and/or they may encourage you give up to stop your pain. Anxiety about finances can also complicate a close friend or spouse's ability to support you in your mission. Neutral support helps YOU take the emotion and other "noise" out of the issues you face, so you can see and think about them more clearly - go about your day more efficiently - and get through the high highs and the low lows with less trauma. Create space to think. Start-up or not, many of us find ourselves filled with anxiety (or guilt) when we're not busy. The pressure in a start-up is even greater. Vacations are really important, but so is taking the long (back road) way to work or home or on a road trip - walking around and around the soccer field (without your phone) during your kids' soccer practice - watching the sunrise while enjoying your cup of coffee (again, NO PHONE). Finally, it's worth it to try hard things. "All progress depends on unreasonable people" (did Steve Job's say that?). For me, regardless of Dabbl's future - we've made consumers feel valued and important, and that has translated into value for brands and retailers (yay!). And along the way, I've been given the gift of humility (the world is so much more interesting when you don't think you know everything already) and empathy for those in charge, even when I don't agree with them (more love in my heart for more people, of all types and stripes). We're all just doing our best, but nobody more so than the intrepid entrepreneur.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2019

    Can the Publix customer service experience be brought online?

    (Love the phrase "shopper history program"). Only one point I might disagree with -- the high-low pricing strategy (a necessary defense against Walmart EDLP, et. al) has exacerbated the consumer behavior of moving between chains and shopping the TPRs - but I wouldn't call it effortless for the consumer. Honestly, it really stinks for the consumer (very very few consumers actually want to shop multiple stores for their groceries, especially for working parents). Robinson Patman legacy + growth of Shopper Marketing dollars make it hard for a smaller or regional retailer to compete any other way, but that doesn't make it the best thing for consumers.
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