Industry Update
Opinion Article10 December 2013

Digital Intelligence for Hospitality and Travel: The technology landscape

By Natalie Osborn, Senior industry consultant for SAS Institute’s Hospitality and Travel practice

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Last post I explored why hospitality and travel organizations need an analytic-based approach that focuses on using the masses of digital (web and mobile) data that is available to help identify what customers are searching for online and how content and search results can be tailored to deliver what the customer wants. This week I spoke to Suneel Grover, senior solutions architect for digital intelligence at SAS about the technology required to support such initiatives.


Suneel sees the need for added marketing technology investment borne out of the extra pressure on campaign management as a result of more focused targeting. "If, instead of targeting a mass audience with one approach, we need to target 10 segments across different channels with multiple, unique approaches – this creates challenges for campaign management processes," he said. The complexity to accurately target and execute has driven greater adoption of marketing automation technology. "It is the joining of human subject matter expertise and software technology to utilize data, analytics, and business rules in addressing this new, hyper-targeted, integrated marketing world,' he explained.

And it doesn't stop at marketing automation, which traditionally includes replacing the myriad of high-touch repetitive campaign execution tasks with software. Suneel elaborated that marketing operations technology can further supports this cultural marketing shift. "Marketing operations technology enables an interactive user environment to handle creative processes, digital assets, leadership approvals, third party partner efforts, time lines, and much more," he explained. As marketers imagine new and adventurous approaches using new forms of data and analytics, special consideration must be given to the process of execution. "Failure to execute will limit data-driven marketing's potential, and this is why strong recommendations have been surfacing around campaign management automation and operations technology," Suneel said. The alternative is that the propensity for human error will increase, reaching unstable levels and result in negative customer experiences.

Optimizing all of your customer touch-points

I asked Suneel how to bring together all of the data on your customer touch points and get the best results. He explained that it is making the most of all of this data on your customers that will provide the best results. Suneel identified that analytic-centric approaches such as marketing optimization provide the underlying technology to make the most of this data. "The practice of marketing optimization is the endeavor to contact the right customers with the right offers at the right time, while staying within budget and channel capacities, all without cannibalizing future sales or burdening customers with too many messages," he explained. Marketing optimization helps to maximize economic outcomes by making the most of each individual customer communication. This approach increases marketing return on investment by determining the best offers for individual customers and by providing analysis of the most effective way to spend the marketing budget while considering business constraints, such as channel selection and capacity, offer promotion strategies, and contact policies.

Suneel outlined three main benefits of implementing marketing optimization technology:

  1. Improved return on investment for marketing
  2. More focused contact strategy
  3. Increased organizational efficiency

"The return on investment for marketing is derived from several areas of improvement, including increasing targeting effectiveness which results in higher response rates, improved channel effectiveness, reduced spending on campaigns, fewer deleted e-mails and fewer unwanted ad solicitations," Suneel said. The math-based approach offered by marketing optimization techniques produce results that are superior to segmentation and rules-based approaches to prioritizing marketing offers. When it comes to contact strategy, Suneel explained that complex contact policies are required to avoid over-saturating customers and violating corporate governance requirements. "Marketing optimization techniques can eliminate uncoordinated and conflicting communications while incorporating relevant relationship factors such as customer risk, advertising exposure and house-holding into the optimization to ensure that valuable customers are receiving the best possible set of communications across every channel," he said.

Lastly, marketing optimization techniques can show where and how changes in channel usage, target customer segments, campaign budget, and other constraints will affect the business, and highlight financial opportunities and unused capacity. "All of this improves your overall organizational efficiency," Suneel said, "keeping you from spending time, resources and budget on campaigns that do not bring the desired results." Overall, marketing optimization blends technology, methodologies, and Big Data capabilities to address the business challenge of making the most of customer interactions across all digital touch points.

Recommendations for getting started

I asked Suneel what recommendations he has for organizations who are embarking on a deeper dive into digital marketing and technology. He gave 3 pieces of advice to those who are embarking on this journey. "First – take it in stages," he said. Suneel recommends that an organization develop practical, and most importantly, rationale goals that are achievable given annual budget constraints, and current work force skill sets. "Second - do not abuse the power of data-driven marketing," he recommended. There have been plenty of well-publicized cases of organizations going too far and upsetting their customers due to privacy concerns. Suneel recommends that hospitality and travel marketers educate themselves on these case studies, and avoid falling into these types of situations. "Your brand has everything to gain (or lose) in how you leverage this new opportunity," he said.

Finally - be open to learning new techniques to solving business problems, and focus on communicating the value to your organization in a manner that everyone understands. "Your efforts should not just be at the data-scientist level," he said, "business leaders will not adopt data-driven marketing and analytic strategies if they do not understand what is happening. Interpretation is everything."

Is your organization enhancing its marketing process with analytic technology? What are the benefits that you have seen so far? We'd love to hear your success stories!


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Natalie Osborn

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