How Marriott Transformed Itself to Meet the Demands of a Digital World - eMarketer
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How Marriott Transformed Itself to Meet the Demands of a Digital World

August 17, 2016 | Retail & Ecommerce | Travel


Andy Kauffman
Vice President, Digital
Marriott International

Global hotel chain Marriott International has faced the same challenges as many other large brands over the past five years: rapid consumer adoption of digital and mobile platforms, heightened customer expectations, shortened marketing cycles and competition from digitally native upstarts. Andy Kauffman, vice president of digital at Marriott, spoke with eMarketer’s Bryan Yeager about his company’s transformation to meet the real-time, always-on demands of today’s digital world.

eMarketer: In general, how has Marriott’s marketing organization adapted to the demands of a digital world over the past few years?

Andy Kauffman: In the past, we had people focused on their own individual campaigns and maximizing the value of those vs. looking at the totality of the customer experience and ultimately assuring that we were providing more value for the guest or the customer, and in doing so, more value for Marriott.

Fast forward a few years. We put the guests in the center of things now. We look at our journeys across channels. We don’t maximize the value of any individual channel. We look at maximizing the total guest experience and the value that we deliver to them and they deliver to us. That has caused us to break down some walls between historically what we’d call brand marketing and historically what we called ecommerce, the latter of which has become the digital organization as we move beyond commerce.

“We look at our journeys across channels. We don’t maximize the value of any individual channel.”

eMarketer: What other structural changes within the Marriott organization have occurred thanks to this shift?

Kauffman: I now report to our head of digital as well as to our global marketing officer. Why? Because digital is a critical center of excellence for us in terms of the knowledge that we bring to our brands in direct response, but also in managing our products including Marriott.com and mobile. We look at it as an integrated model. As we’ve gone through this journey, we’ve had this mantra coined by [Marriott’s senior vice president of digital] George Corbin that structure should follow your strategy—not the other way around.

Case in point: In my group, I have Marriott.com product management, our acquisition team and a personalization team [that works with both product and acquisition]. We look at the customer journey holistically.

I also have a group on my team that works with each of our brand categories including lifestyle, luxury and our signature brands to enable each of those brands to leverage the capabilities and campaigns we’re delivering for the organization overall. They also make sure that our shared service is tapping into the individual identities of each of the brands.

eMarketer: Was there a single catalyst that drove your organization to make these changes or was it more of an evolution?

Kauffman: I think it’s a little bit of both. We’ve certainly been evolving as we’ve been enabling new capabilities, but we’ve also [been pushed by how the consumer’s behavior has changed.]

Marketing to a baby boomer who would read the Sunday travel section, take a car trip and book their room when they walked into the hotel is different from marketing to a highly digital individual who is bouncing between their iPhone, their tablet and their laptop and wants a seamless experience across all of those devices.

eMarketer: Marriott has the challenge of merging the digital world with its physical products and services. How do you deal with that challenge?

Kauffman: [Looking at smartphones, for example,] when you’re building experiences, it’s not enough to create a great app experience or a brilliantly designed mobile site. [Our processes need to have] “pull-through” behind them to ensure that not only do you get to check in to one of our hotels, but that your key packet is ready upon arrival and our front desk associates say to you, “We’ve been expecting you.”

“When you’re building experiences, it’s not enough to create a great app experience or a brilliantly designed mobile site.”

Why? Because you told us when you were going to arrive through that phone. That’s the marriage of technology and a great operation. It only works if the tech and the touch come together.

We’re a hospitality business where the technology should enable a better experience, not replace associates with technology. When people interact with our associates [the experience is better.]

eMarketer: What is an example of bridging the physical and digital worlds at Marriott?

Kauffman: One example is our mobile request through the Marriott app. After you’ve checked in to one of our hotels, you can make a special request [via mobile]. It starts with a pick list like needing more towels or extra shampoo—the things that we hear over and over again. But at the bottom of the pick list, we ask, “Do you need anything else?” And that’s where an open chat box [appears] so you can interact directly with staff.

Millennials and many Gen Xers would rather text with someone than pick up the phone and call. We’re seeing the associates in our hotels interact with those guests in new ways, from special requests to giving a recommendation for a great Mexican restaurant.

At the JW Marriott in Austin, [Texas], there was an individual interacting with someone at the front desk. They are texting together, and the guest is getting great recommendations for barbecue, for Mexican restaurants and a great bar to go to nearby. And finally they just say, “Can I just come down and thank you for these great recommendations?” And they met.

It was a good moment. The individual went back up to their room and they started texting again. This story shows that guests can interact with us however they want to.

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