Marriott and Carnival Navigate the Experience Era with Customer Intelligence
Worldwide, research shows that people would rather spend their money on travel instead of buying things. That’s good news for companies in the travel and hospitality space, but it’s no guarantee of success. As customer expectations are rising, customer demographic profiles and the devices/channels they use to engage are ever-changing. And, for brands like Carnival and Marriott, as they add brands to their portfolio to meet new market needs, their own companies are shifting and expanding. As such, for many travel and hospitality companies, these challenges are compounded by the difficulty of managing a stable of proprietary brands that have historically competed with one another.
Both Carnival Cruise Lines and Marriott Hotels have figured out solutions to the expanding complexity of meeting customer needs by embracing the experience business era. Rather than viewing customers through the lens of independent channels or brands, Carnival and Marriott have consolidated customer information and placed the customer in the center. They’ve eliminated the traditional view of exposing departmental silos to a customer and put the customer first— harnessing technology to transform their customer intelligence capability in order to meet these needs throughout the customer journey, no matter where and how customers engage.
By looking at their solutions and path to success, companies inside and out of the travel and hospitality space can gain a better understanding of customer intelligence and how it can equip businesses to be successful in the experience-business age.
1. Pivot to Consolidation
Carnival shifted from seven agencies supporting six of its brands to a single agency and then further consolidated technologies and platforms to streamline processes. The result is a company that can harbor competing brands that work together to deliver amazing customer experiences by sharing information about customers and their preferences.
Like Carnival, Marriott’s pivot from a decentralized portfolio of brands to consolidated brand marketing means that customers can have a seamless journey from the moment they first think about going on vacation, through the research and exploration stage, to their booking, throughout their stay, and onto the next dream. The result is a 70 percent year-over-year increase in bookings through the mobile app, a 62 percent reduction in cost for new Marriott Rewards enrollments, and an 85 percent reduction in cost for new installations of the app.
Even for companies that don’t manage competing brands, consolidation of technology between business functions can pave the way for collaboration and information sharing. The result is improved communication internally which creates the opportunity for improved communication externally.
2. Pivot to Technologies that Enable Consolidation
To see these kinds of sweeping changes, companies need to invest in the right technology to draw out insights about customer needs and wants in order to provide excellent customer experiences instantaneously and at scale. During the 2017 Adobe Summit, Julie Hoffmann, head of industry strategy for travel and hospitality at Adobe, said, “About 76 percent of travel and hospitality companies said having digital capabilities is a priority, yet only 12 to 13 percent actually have the customer intelligence technology to provide the seamless customer experiences Carnival and Marriott can. That’s a big gap. The good news is that, once we get past that gap, travel brands can leverage increasingly advanced analytics technology to gain an ever-deeper understanding of their customers, their behavior, and their needs.”
In fact, Marriott already does this. Andy Kauffman, vice president of digital marketing for Marriott International, says, “Our company is going through massive change. We’re consolidating our 30 brands onto a common platform that enables us to deliver unique brand experiences that resonate in a way that promotes customer intimacy. Mobile has been a tremendous success, but we can’t look at the mobile app differently from the website. We have to look at everything as one guest interacting with us. Technology is a key part of that.”
In order to have this kind of success, companies need to bring their disparate data stores together into a consolidated, central location for the entire organization to use. Doing so means that different departments can communicate and collaborate more effectively for the benefit of the customer.
3. Pivot to Personalized Customer Experiences.
Likewise, Carnival had to undergo a digital transformation to meet customers’ real-time personalization expectations. Traditionally, the company housed 10 different brands that all competed with one another. The company removed the technological barriers to collaboration by consolidating customer data. As a result, the brands were able to see how they actually complemented one another — each seeking a slightly different optimal profile in its customers.
Josh Leibowitz, chief strategy officer and senior vice president for the Carnival Corporation, tells more about the situation. “Historically our brands competed because we made acquisitions that were never integrated. There was never a goal to centralize, so the different brands continued to compete like they had before acquisition. We didn’t want to create a large corporate center, but we needed some commonality in order to work together. Technology has played a key role in terms of removing barriers to bring together people, partners, and platforms to enable change and get us to a better place.”
As a result of the change, a customer who begins by exploring Carnival’s Princess Cruise Lines might be redirected to their Cunard cruise or whichever other proprietary brand cruise will give the best-fit experience. The idea is to find out as much information as possible about the customer’s expectations and then match that customer to the cruise line that will provide the right experience. By doing what it can to give a personalized experience, Carnival believes that customers will return to its stable of brands for future cruises.
4. Pivot to AI
By mapping out customer preferences and profiles, companies pave the way for automated personalization at every point of the customer journey. With a robust data set to learn from, artificial intelligence (AI) can quickly and effectively sort through to provide the right content to the right customers at the right time to lead them along the customer journey.
Marriott starts this the moment a potential customer makes a search online. Andy explains the process. “Take a customer who searches for ‘New York hotels.’ They land on Marriott.com and start looking at the Marriott Marquis, but they aren’t ready to buy. Later, on their mobile device, we follow up with a specific retargeted ad for the exact hotel they looked at with a real time price. They tap through but still aren’t ready to buy.
“The next day, they navigate over to Marriott.com on their laptop. Thanks to our AI-driven system, we change the banner they see to something specific for them — New York. Now they get their third look, but instead of looking at the Marriott Marquis, we introduce another brand that they may not have considered yet, the Renaissance New York Midtown.
“They still don’t buy, so we follow up with an ‘abandoned search’ email. In the past, this would have taken us days to process. Now we can deliver it in less than an hour. And once the customer buys, our interaction doesn’t end. This individual doesn’t have our mobile app, so we find them on Facebook and invite them to download the app in order to use mobile check-in at “The Renaissance New York Midtown hotel” — the very hotel they just booked.
“They download and get our new app experience. The day before their stay, they receive a push notification inviting them into the app to check-in and see the new ‘in stay’ mode. This mode is highly personalized based on where they are in the travel journey. Via mobile check-in, we start introducing different things that they might enjoy once they arrive.
“We bring our Marriott travel editorial platform into the app and start introducing different ways that they can have a better experience in New York City. And not just a better stay at our hotel, but a better experience in New York City in general.”
That may seem like a lot to take in, but thanks to AI and analytics, most of it happens without a marketer ever needing to be directly involved. The result is a polished, seamless brand experience culminating in an amazing real-life experience that connects back to the brand and builds deep loyalty — all thanks to incredible personalization.
5. Pivot to Customer Intelligence
Ultimately, in order to stay the course and overcome the challenges facing travel and hospitality firms, brands need to learn from what companies like Carnival and Marriott are doing. By consolidating data into a real-time, operationally ready and central location, companies can improve their customer intelligence, internal communication, and collaboration. Real-time centralized data also empowers analytic technologies and AI to further accelerate and refine customer intelligence — all leading to improved customer experiences, relationships, and loyalties at scale.
But, in the experience era, the need for advanced and seamless customer intelligence isn’t unique to the travel and hospitality industries.“These pivots are all possible when a shift to a customer centric versus channel view is made. Channels are always changing and brands that organize by channel can start to evolve over time by following a similar path of Carnival and Marriott.” shared Julie Hoffmann, head of industry strategy for travel at Adobe. The alternative — failing to harness consolidation and data into customer intelligence efforts — would have long-term market share implications that could be insurmountable over time.