Country icon Dolly Parton has become the new face of the 660-unit chain's loyalty program.

At 77 years old, singer-songwriter Dolly Parton is as relevant as ever (she basically stole the show at the NFL halftime show for the Dallas Cowboys-Washington Commanders game on Thanksgiving). She’s the most honored female country performer of all time, and is dubbed the “Queen of Country Music.” But it’s her values of inclusivity, transparency, and love for people that attracted Cracker Barrel to partner with the superstar in 2009, in collaboration with her musical releases. The mutually beneficial relationship has continued since then, with promotions timed around Parton’s musical releases.

For example, Parton released a deluxe version of her “Pure & Simple Album” in August 2016 that was exclusive to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, including two versions of the singer’s chart-topping hits “Jolene” and “9 to 5” recorded live and a 48-page magazine filled with photos and interviews highlighting memorable stories from Parton.

Now, the Tennessee-based chain has tapped Parton to be the face of the brand’s new loyalty program, which launched at the end of October. The marketing campaign, called “Rewards That Rock,” celebrates Parton’s new album, “Rockstar,” which debuted November 17. 

“It was a marriage that felt right,” says Amy Barnett, vice president of marketing, loyalty, and digital experience for Cracker Barrel. “Dolly has this way of attracting guests of all backgrounds, of all ethnicities, of all ages, and it’s very similar to what we believe at Cracker Barrel—that everybody deserves a seat at our table.”

As the face of “Rewards That Rock,” Dolly Parton is showcased in Cracker Barrel’s ads across all platforms.

Barnett sat down with FSR to share insights on developing the unique rewards program and its differentiators, how customer data will be used, and the impact of the campaign on sales and traffic so far.

Walk us through the evolution of Cracker Barrel’s recently launched rewards program. 

It’s the first fully nationally launched cross-channel rewards program the company has executed. We’ve listened to guest sentiment for a long while, and this is one of the things that they’ve asked us for for several years. We’ve made the commitment to give them a program that responds to both restaurant and retail traffic and any channel.

At the base of our program is a currency-based reward structure, where guests earn some type of currency based on every dollar they spend, and then they get to use that in whatever way they choose to spend it. One of the guest dissatisfiers is that they earn these rewards and then they can’t use them—either they expire, or there’s so many disclaimers that they’re no longer relevant. In developing this program, we took the time to make sure we removed those barriers. 

It was important to us when we developed a rewards program that the same sort of hospitality we offer our guests every day came to life in what we were offering in a reward structure. There’s very few limitations; it offers the guest complete flexibility in how they want to earn and redeem their rewards.

What else differentiates your rewards program, and how did you integrate Dolly Parton to boost the campaign? 

If you’ve downloaded our app recently, what you notice is that Dolly herself is on our current bonus game board, and when you fulfill challenges, you get an opportunity to spin Dolly’s “Rockstar” album, and you earn rewards. All of that is bringing the brand to life, both in restaurant and retail, and delighting our guests in that very fun and engaging way that a lot of programs don’t offer. A lot of those programs are transactional; you don’t know when you’re earning—it might be a coupon-based program, you may or may not get a coupon. This is a very transparent, authentic, easy-to-use program that is available cross-channel.

Dolly Parton holding a phone with Cracker Barrel biscuits in front of her.
Loyalty members can “spin” Dolly Parton’s new “Rockstar” album in the Cracker Barrel app to earn rewards.

We’ve really looked at this partnership as an opportunity to generate mass consumer awareness and appeal, not only of Dolly and her “Rockstar” album, but also of Cracker Barrel during the holidays. We wanted something to stand up and get noticed and recognized, and there’s nobody more than Dolly herself who can do that.

What has the response been? 

I will say that the guest response has been incredible. We launched it with our employees first, and our employees fully embraced the program. We made minor pivots in terms of just some operational tweaks. But the feedback that we got from our employees just mirrors what we’re hearing from our guests. So we are very pleased with how this program has been launched. And just operationally how seamless and easy it is.

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Have you seen any early impacts on traffic or sales boosts since the launch of the campaign?

We’re highly focused on generating long-term value and guest love, but yes, there are inherent natures of a rewards program that drives immediate traffic and sales. And we do know that with our currency-based structure, available in all channels, that we have levers to pull in our brand that we haven’t had before. The ability to recognize and reward customers at different segments at different times and giving them the right message will drive short-term traffic, and we’ve already started to test and learn in those levers in those spaces.

How will you use loyalty data to enhance the guest experience?

It’s one thing to give the brand insights, which it will; it’s a different thing to think about activating that data to give the customer a better experience. If you love Cracker Barrel breakfast and you love Mama’s Pancakes, the ability for us to be able to communicate with you when we have new breakfast items or we have items in our breakfast category that’s now available for dinner, or the ability for us to be able to transform that data and give you that experience so that you’re aware that that exists is one sort of messaging component of the data. 

There’s something else when you think about if a guest really absorbs and uses rewards, they save them, they treasure them, they use their reward balance—that tells us that’s a guest that really leans into what the brand has to offer. We’re able to give them promotional based rewards or use the data to give them more of what they want, whether that’s behavioral-based information on daypart or day of the week or menu customization, or giving us insight into how our stores need to evolve and change or give them a coupon. If they need a promotional driver, then that’s what that data will allow us to be able to deliver.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Marketing & Promotions, Technology, Cracker Barrel