Two of the travel industry's largest hotel companies face off on their direct marketing prowess

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Two of the travel industry's largest hotel companies face off on their direct marketing prowess
Two of the travel industry's largest hotel companies face off on their direct marketing prowess

Both companies launched their rewards programs in 1983. IHG has more than 52 million members while Marriott has 33 million. Only 20% to 25% are estimated to be active at any chain, adds Don Berg, VP of loyalty programs at IHG.

Meanwhile, IHG is trying to gain ground on Marriott, which sends 66 million e-mails each month. Within the past year, IHG, which sends 30 to 40 million e-mails a month, consolidated its transactional and promotional lists, which is allowing it to segment its database and send highly targeted messages.

“A year ago, we had a fragmented situation relevant to the infrastructure,” says Lincoln Barrett, VP of guest marketing at IHG.

However, this practice has been in place for years at Marriott, “We actually score every single customer to every single hotel and create billions of rows of data, really to pull through and activate that in a meaningful way with the customer,” Berhens says. “So in e-mail, 80% of the content can be versioned to that individual customer.”

Behrens estimates that a campaign of 3 million e-mails may include 2.9 million different versions.

Mobile marketing is another way that the brands are reaching their loyalty members. IHG debuted its apps for Droid, iPhone and the iPad earlier this year, while Marriott has apps for both BlackBerry and the iPhone.

Both companies maintain that direct mail is instrumental in their marketing strategies, but say they have cut back in this discipline.

Direct mail from both chains is largely targeted at their loyalty members, but with the help of its newly implemented database platform, IHG says it has ramped up efforts to contact non-members through direct mail.

In social media marketing, Marriott has been more successful in growing its audiences on social networks, although not because IHG has shown a lack of effort.

IHG has tried trendy location-based services like Gowalla and Topguest and run Twitter giveaways, which it says were successful in having followers retweet deals and generating bookings.

As of September 1, IHG's Twitter feed had 4,414 followers, while Marriott International's had 58,726. Neither has particularly impressive numbers on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Bill Marriott is one of the few CEOs with a blog — an August post about his father generated 66 comments.

IHG seems a bit more daring with its tactics, evident by its participation with its Gowalla campaign, in which customers could “check-in” using the service and earn gift cards or double Priority Club Rewards points.

Marriott, too, isn't standing still. Last fall's launch of its multiyear “Driven” campaign for Marriott Hotels & Resorts, in which it recruited actual customers through social media to promote the chain, shows its willingness to innovate.

Brand Champion

While there isn't a wide margin between the two companies' direct marketing efforts, Marriott is just a step ahead in several areas. Its brands are stronger, it has succeeded in building a large social media audience, and because its integrated database has been in place longer, its e-mail marketing is more refined, although IHG is quickly catching up there.

IHG, however, routinely presents fresh ideas, including in the important area of mobile and social, which in time could tilt the scales in its favor.

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