Starwood on being better together and the shifting digital landscape

A Marriott-Starwood marriage will bring changes but digital holds promise even if brands like Facebook now want you to pay for products like Dynamic Ads

‘Better together’ – the slogan of the UK Brexit campaign – could become the Marriott-Starwood riposte to critics of the deal that argue customer service and true personalisation will suffer as a result.

Not so, says Glenn Stress, Starwood Director of Digital-Americas Starwood Hotels & Resorts, who will be speaking Online Marketing Strategies for Travel 2016 in Miami next week.

“Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson has frequently stated that we will build the biggest and the best hospitality company together, combining the best of both companies with a truly customer-centric mindset,” says Stress.

And when it comes to innovation, he continues, Starwood has always been a leader in the industry and so it will continue to drive innovation during this period, whether it’s through supply chain solutions—recently recognised with an Enterprise Innovator award from Hospitality Technology Magazine—or messaging platforms like ‘Let’s Chat’ platform, which adds even more value to the guest experience.

Only time will tell whether the merger into the biggest hotel company will lead to a more commoditised experience or not, but digital remains a top priority. Here are 7 trends that Stress believes will shape the digital landscape into next year.

1. Attribution and personalisation: these areas look incredibly promising and Starwood continually identifies opportunities to recognise travellers across organic and paid-marketing messages via desktop, phone and tablet. When we can see the whole picture of the company’s touch points with our travellers, we are able to reach the nirvana state and be able to provide more effective and personalised marketing.

As guest interaction continues to shift to mobile, one could argue that the death of cookies for marketing purposes is not far off

2. Cross-device tracking: this one of the biggest trends right now, and specifically the opportunity for mobile tracking on devices that don’t allow cookies. As guest interaction continues to shift to mobile, one could argue that the death of cookies for marketing purposes is not far off. There’s been some great progress in the industry lately, and social media companies are paving the way by offering interesting capabilities that link users across devices based on their profiles. It’s truly an exciting time to be in the industry, with dramatic twists and turns along the way and some true innovation just on the horizon.

3. Social is huge: Starwood focuses a significant amount of attention on social channels. The powerhouses here are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, because that’s where the users are, but international platforms like Weibo & WeChat are also a major focus.

4. Paid social has taken over: It’s getting much harder to reach guests organically through social platforms as more social media companies have found ways to commercialise their content and news feeds. Years ago, the focus was on how to best cultivate an audience and send them relevant content. Now have firms have to be much more strategic on our use of social in order to make sure it is used effectively. Most of Starwood’s paid social tactics are directed towards the big three – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Only this week, for example, Facebook announced a variety of product updates – including to Dynamic Ads for Travel. Facebook predicts that 73% of trips will be searched via mobile device this year. In an extension to its Dynamic Ads product, which Starwood was an early adopter of, Facebook says it can help travel advertisers accurately connect with people planning and booking trips across devices at travel-specific dimensions, including location and time. Also this week, Dynamic Ads will launch for Instagram. So, no doubt also something that travel marketers will have to dip into their pockets for. Although Stress can't share ROI, he has this to say: "We see Facebook as an ecosystem where we can continue to have conversations with guests from awareness to direct response. The campaigns that we have run through Facebook have proven to be very successful in multiple use cases across brands". 


5. Content is still king and it should be measured: Shifts in social doesn’t mean, however, that Starwood has taken its eyes off the content ball. Relevant, authentic, interesting, inspiring content at the ‘brand’, ‘loyalty’ ‘programme’ and ‘property’ level continues to be a priority for the marketing teams. Social media analytics team actively measures impressions as well as engagement with the aim of making social as shareable as possible.

6. Ratings and reviews matter: A lot of attention is directed towards user-generated content like ratings and reviews on group sites, as well as third parties like TripAdvisor. Customer service is actively monitored and interactions with guests through these channels are real time. Again the social analytics team actively monitors our performance against the competitive set in areas including audience, impressions and engagement.

7. Mobile is first: Mobile is the focus of Stress’s presentation next week, so let’s not give too much away, but what he will say is that Starwood is a ‘mobile first’ digitally led company and will continue to be into its shared future with Marriott.

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