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Some Science Behind Personalization

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June 12, 2015
Marketing Trends
Dan Phillips - dphillips@dare2i.com

I just had the best travel experience of my life. Who said traveling was such a pain? It all started about a month before my trip to San Francisco. You see I had to go out there for some training, and it was going to take the better part of a week, from Tuesday morning straight through to Friday afternoon. So, from my laptop at home here in Atlanta, I started doing some research on flights. I checked a couple of airlines’ websites and had a problem with one of them trying to decipher their rate codes. I called the airline’s toll-free number and that agent knew exactly what page I was on and walked me through the screens up to the booking process. I decided not to book a flight yet as I was still considering my options.

So, I started my daily routine, and brought up my news website. Before I could read the articles of interest, an ad popped up. And guess what, it was for a hotel in San Francisco. As a matter of fact, I was already a loyalty member of that brand and it offered me a great deal, with an extra night for less than half price. So, I booked it and then went on to check my favorite sports team’s score from the night before. There, on the side, was an ad about a deal on new luggage. Well, my bags had seen better days and this stuff looked so strong that a gorilla couldn’t hurt it. I bought some.

I went back to book my flight, now wanting to add an extra day at the end.  Booking it was no problem, and I even got a better price than I remembered seeing the previous time. When I finished booking and looked at my itinerary, a picture of really nice headphones showed up on the screen. Atlanta to San Francisco is a pretty long flight. How cool would it be to have noise-canceling, awesome sounding headphones on while jamming to my favorite tunes the whole way?

A couple of weeks before my trip, I received a welcome email from the hotel. What was really neat about it, is it mentioned that my favorite band just happened to be playing in San Francisco on Wednesday night and the hotel could get me backstage passes. I have got to say, I was really looking forward to that. A week before I was to leave I happened to get this email from a restaurant that had just opened near my hotel. It was celebrating its grand opening the Friday night during my stay. Chef Gordon Ramsey was to be there doing a book signing. I love cooking and pretty much have my TV at home playing one cooking show or another. There was no way I was going to miss this!

Well, I landed at SFO and received a text message from a private limo company wondering if I would like a lift to the hotel. On the ride, another text, this time from the hotel, welcoming me to the city and letting me check in online. I did and got a QR code as well as directions to bypass the front desk and go straight to a room key dispenser. How neat is that? On my first night there, I was walking through the lobby toward the doors thinking about dinner. A new text message comes up, from the hotel. I didn’t know it, but the special that night in the hotel’s restaurant was Spanish seafood, which I love. I just love paella, so I turned right back around and went to the hotel restaurant. What a great dinner!

The Wednesday night concert was fantastic. On Friday night I went to that new restaurant early, and I got Chef Ramsay to autograph his new book. On Saturday morning, the hotel sent me an email letting me know that late checkout was available for an extra 10 bucks. And, the hotel recommended a couple of things I could do with my day, including a bike tour, a wine tasting tour, and several other options. My trip was just great. Oh, and the training session wasn’t bad either!

Some Players
Whether you like it or not, or know it or not, most everything you do is being tracked by somebody. And, all of that makes up what people call Big Data. A few of the companies that work in this area with application to the hotel industry include Sojern, Nor1, Gravy and Cardlytics. A quick way to categorize these four companies is in the type of data they collect, and then how it is used by hotel companies.

Sojern collects data on consumers’ intent. “Through our platform and billions of traveler intent signals across online and mobile channels, we drive direct online demand to put more heads in beds for our clients,” said Kurt Weinsheimer, vice president of business development and data partnerships. “Sojern closes this gap between travel intent and hospitality outreach by collecting traveler search data and matching it to the appropriate hospitality business based on the reason for travel and past buyer behavior.”

Nor1 focuses on real-time, post-purchase transactional data from booking engines. “We provide data-driven pricing and merchandising solutions to maximize incremental revenues for hotels and resorts worldwide,” said Jason Bryant, founder and CEO of Nor1. “(Our company) is creating the fusion between technology and guest experience.”

Gravy’s data is all about customer behavior and interests. David Dague, vice president of marketing, said, “Gravy applies its knowledge of the definitive local events and activities mobile guests attend both while on property and in between stays to uncover their interests and affinities, enabling hospitality companies to personalize guest experiences throughout their journey: pre stay, on property and post stay.”

And, Cardlytics tracks the purchases you make and where you spend your money. “Our first party data, gained through partnerships with thousands of financial institutions, including Bank of America, Lloyds Banking Group and FIS, provides a unique, whole-wallet perspective on consumer spending across all categories and geographies,” Jared Luskin, senior vice president national retail and travel partnerships at Cardlytics.

The Science Behind it all (Or, Should Consumers be Worried?)
When asked how Sojern collects its data, Weinsheimer said, “We only collect anonymous data that does not include personally identifiable information (PII) like name, telephone number, address and email address.” Sojern records, via anonymous cookies and server-to-server integrations, what actions and pages a site visitor has browsed on its partners' websites. After you do an online search, cookies keep the information about pages you have viewed and products searched or bought. However, the data remains anonymous and Sojern is unable to identify the visitor.

Nor 1 collects real-time data from its hotel clients’ booking engines, directly through integration with their PMS or CRS, “or through strategically timed extracts,” Bryant said. “We are fully safe harbor certified, PCI compliant and ensure that the data is fully scrubbed of all PII and anonymized before being processed by our decisions engine.”

For Gravy, different data means different methods. “Through simple integration with our hospitality clients’ mobile loyalty apps, Gravy anonymously gathers attendance signals from guests’ mobile devices as they enter, stay in and exit these geo-fenced locations,” Drague said.

Consumer privacy is paramount and is highly important to companies of this nature. None of these companies work with any PII (personally identifiable information). Additionally, the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners has issued a standard for consumer privacy called Privacy by Design (PbD), and the U.S. Government has created the Telephone Consumers Protection Act, both to protect consumer privacy.

Readers of Hospitality Upgrade will recognize that property management systems, central reservation systems and customer relationship management systems house their own silos of Big Data. In order to leverage the intent, behavior and/or purchasing data described above, a hotel company will need to match specific consumer data from those sources to their own consumer data, all the while protecting privacy. To do this, there are data matching companies, such as Acxiom, LiveRamp (now an Acxiom company) and Epsilon, to name a few. This will enable a hotel company marketing division to send personalized messaging down to the individual level while protecting anonymity.

All of this data, and the messaging that can be applied to it, is useless unless it is relevant to the guest. Hotels need to communicate pertinent information before the guest wants it. While demographic information such as Baby Boomer and Millennial remains important, another way of looking at guests is understanding that we now have a Generation C and a Generation i. Gen C refers to people being always connected. Age is mostly irrelevant; it is more about an attitude and a mindset defined by the following characteristics: connection, community, creation and curation. Gen i could be a bit more age defined, but refers to our population that demands needed information at the touch of a finger.

All of this data capture and matching results in creating guest profiles. Marketing campaigns can take place at any time and target customers using myriad criteria. Some campaigns take place through the customer’s computer while away from the individual hotel.  Some are reaching guests’ personal devices either away from the hotel or in it.
RoamingAround helps hotels connect with their guests while they are on site, via geo-fencing and beacons. “All of our solutions are guest centric and derive from tracking the guests’ location,” said Michael Garvin, president and CEO of RoamingAround. “Beacons are typically Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices that omit a signal that is received by a smart device. Once the device receives the signal, the software on the phone identifies that device/end user and takes a specific action based on the digital settings for the device’s location and the end user’s preferences.”

Another interesting application is geo conquest. With a service like Gravy, which would enable a hotel company to see what other hotels their loyalty members are spending time in, and like Cardlytics, which will show where loyalty members are spending money outside of that hotel brand, hotel companies can now target marketing to get those guests back.

Obviously there are many more companies in this space than reflected in this article. Leveraging guest profiles, compiled from multiple sources, to personalize and enhance the guest experience multiple times throughout their life cycle of travel is getting easier and more cost effective.

Find options to employ these tools in unique ways. And, being a consumer yourself, the next time you have a fantastic trip and a wonderful stay, it may not just be coincidence!

Dan Phillips is a partner at Dare to Imagine and can be reached at dphillips@dare2i.com.  


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Phases of the Guest Life Cycle
and What You Can Do About It

A commonality between all phases of the guest life cycle is to provide attentiveness, consideration, recognition, and, appreciation to guests at all times. There are many terms used for the various life cycles1, such as:

  • Inspiration or Dreaming Phase – where a customer, who may not yet be a guest, or a repeat guest, begins to consider a trip; communicating with rich images and videos integrates well in the guest mindset at this phase.
  • Trip Planning and Research – where the guest/customer is leaning toward making the trip; communicating by providing guided access to information combined with relevant offers and promotions is key.
  • Purchase, Booking, Making a Reservation – at this point the guest wants to feel comfortable that he has made the right choice; communicating by upselling other hotel amenities and/or providing local experiences should be considered.
  • Pre Arrival, Preparation, Experience – the guest will need some reminders about the hotel stay, communications could include ways of making the check-in process easier (pre-check-in, kiosks, hotel apps, etc.). In addition, guest-specific promotions, offers and information that will enrich their experience during the travel part, during the stay, and when the leaving property must occur.
  • Arrival, Check-in – the guest needs to be recognized upon entering the hotel; communication to staff of guest arrival, greeting of guest by staff, validating that guest requests have been attended to, effortless check-in, etc., are important.
  • Stay, On Property – maintaining a high level of service, processing guest service requests, staff recognizing value of guest and acting accordingly, and continuing to provide personalized experience opportunities are paramount.
  • Departure, Checkout – effortless checkout, thank you messaging, folio delivery, surveys and links to social media provide great post-stay marketing opportunities.
  • Sharing, Engagement, Post Stay – supporting and interacting with guest-generated comment on social media sites is an important practice.
  • Off-property, Considering Return Visit – continuing touches with the guest, sharing new developments, providing information about specific experiences or events that the guest has expressed interest in but are located in their home neighborhoods are also great practices.

1 References for guest life cycles, Margaret Mastrogiacomo, “Does Investing in Social Media Advertising Pay for Hoteliers,” and, Ahmed Mahmoud, “Customer Experience Strategy for Hotels and How it can Generate more Revenues.”

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