EyeforTravel Amsterdam

November 2018, Amsterdam

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Marketing in 2018: ‘nothing more than a numbers game,’ says Choice Hotels

Pamela Whitby talks to the company’s European director of marketing about data, heads on beds, acquisition costs and why TV marketing today is practically indefensible

If the energetic and driven Tess Mattisson, who will be speaking later this year in Amsterdam, is passionate about one thing, it is to “move the needle” for Choice Hotels in Europe.

As director of European marketing for the firm she joined in 2016 after nine years at Nordic Choice Hotels, Mattisson doesn’t have time to be precious about her job.

“Marketers are often too attached to what they do. They have a subjective opinion about things – they either love the creative or they love the technology. But when it comes down to it today, it’s about one thing – using data to measure the outcomes of your activities. Marketing has become a true numbers game,” she stresses.

With responsibility for paid, owned and earned media - both brand and performance - across 13 European countries, Mattisson has a wide remit. This includes keeping on top of the website, e-commerce, digital brand experience and design and loyalty, as well as insights and analytics.

So how does she do it? Ahead of EyeforTravel Amsterdam, Mattisson shared strategic tips.

1. Know your market, work your budget  

Mattisson is responsible for 13 markets in Europe and her focus today is, first and foremost, on content. 

Says Mattison: “In the US, where the group dominates a third of the mid-market, Choice is a recognised name and our search volumes mean we can better capitalise on branded campaigns. In Europe, on the other hand, to compensate for the lack of market penetration, we are focused on content and driving awareness at the top of the funnel.”

One solution was to focus on internet-based marketing with the launch of Travel Top 6, a content marketing platform that is powered by Choice Hotels Europe and Canada. The aim is to share tips and insights about destinations that spark interest in the planning stage, and allows Choice Hotels to deliver top of the funnel content to guests that haven’t previously engaged with the brand.

2. Don’t do TV unless you’ve got the Super Bowl

The key issue since Mattisson joined the business in 2016 has been to raise the game of pay-per-click marketing, and reach people who hadn’t heard of the brand. Traditionally brands would have looked to television to solve this problem but in Mattisson’s view today that is not only unfeasible, it’s also indefensible unless every other channel has been maximised, or you have a spot on the Super Bowl.

“For us to do a TV campaign in 13 countries in eight languages would cost a fortune,” she comments. 

But cost isn’t the only reason not to do TV; the way customers consume media today is on-demand, so even if a user is moved by a TV campaign, the first thing they will do is pick up a smart phone and go to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or some other channel to engage further.

On social channels like this, Mattisson argues, a brand like Choice can experiment with a number of different video assets. These can be tailored to specific audiences – such as around a sports event - to see what works, and at a fraction of the price.

“With TV, it’s really expensive, you have to sit back and wait until something happens and then the performance is mostly impression based and, in my experience, based on a lot of assumptions,” she says.

3. Educate the whole team but keep it relevant

Choice’s goal is to drive direct bookings wherever possible. So, in countries where rate parity is not a requirement, having the lower offer on the site is a good idea. According to Mattisson, having a solid rate strategy is the bare minimum for driving direct bookings, as is getting to grips with total cost of acquisition, which again comes down to maths.

A challenge, however, is getting all hotel staff to understand the value of a direct booking versus an OTA. Realistically, however, she understands that people will only make changes if their working lives become easier. So it’s crucial to ensure the front desk person understands, for example, that a booking made through an OTA is going to be far more time-consuming at check-in – when all you might have is a name. On the other hand, when a direct booking is made, all the guest information is already there in the system to provide a winning customer experience.

4. Be a good date and know where your customer is in the journey…

From top funnel perspective, Choice in Europe designs everything around the customer journey. According to Mattisson, money is well spent on platforms like Facebook and Instagram in the dreaming and planning stage. Once customers are engaged, and on the site, that’s when ad retargeting can begin. For example, if they have just read an article about southern France, then it’s about retargeting with, say, the top six restaurants in the region to push them further down the funnel. At this point, you can also give them a message indicating that ‘oh, and if you haven’t decided, here are some possible hotels to stay in’.

This is what Choice defines as ‘the dating phase’ of marketing. “If we’ve been a good date, then they might just take us up on that offer,” says Mattisson.

5. …but don’t be too romantic

Today marketing is about data, it’s about the numbers, says Mattisson, who is “not romantic” about any part of the job. No matter what any campaign has set out to achieve, as long as she is putting heads on beds, and lowering acquisition costs – her one key measure – then she can smell success.

“We are committed to spending money in the smartest possible way,” she stresses.

Aside from the key measures mentioned above, other key performance indicators are considered too such as engagement, bookings or retention. For example if it is a ‘direct’ campaign, then the measure is bookings; if it is about retention, then the measure is how many people sign up to the loyalty programme.

But ultimately the decisions are driven by profitability. What Mattisson isn’t doing, is chasing fans on Facebook. And she certainly isn’t trying to own the guest. Instead, it’s about giving the guest the best experience and truly adding value. “That is the nature of service and the nature of hospitality, and if you provide more value than your competition then you stand to win,” she says.

On a final note, she adds: “if you not committed to delivering a great service at every touchpoint, then you are in the wrong business. It is as simple as that.” 

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