Q&A: Grazia Ochoa, director of global digital marketing, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

Q: How have you worked to engage mobile consumers, particularly through search?

A: We have been quite active in the mobile space, recognizing mass proliferation and adoption of devices, and the unique targeting opportunities enabled through mobile. We invested in mobile audiences, using upper funnel tactics and key performance indicators throughout 2011, including display and rich media brand buys on smartphones and iPads.

We have also been active in mobile search. Our mobile search campaigns, which we manage by device type, have been live since 2010. We implemented Google’s click-to-call functionality in 2011.

Q: What kind of results have you been seeing?

A: We have experienced higher conversions by allowing customers to call directly to our call centers. While we obviously prefer the transaction to occur 100% within digital, we are happy to intersect the customer where they are and service them as they wish to be.

We have also tested destination search through mobile with the hypothesis that lower competition means lower cost-per-clicks and potentially a more urgent need — such as next or same day — may yield stronger results. We continue to test in this area and utilize as needed for properties where occupancy levels dictate.

We are embarking on a display buy via smartphones that is DR-focused, and which is measured through key performance indicators for Westin. We had held off on DR display buys until now as we were waiting for the tracking methodologies to improve.

As more consumers turn to smartphones to find information on products and services, brands are overhauling their desktop search strategies for mobile.

Click to read the full story.

Q: Would you say that you are prioritizing mobile search, or are you optimizing other channels like email or your e-commerce sites?

A: It’s a priority. It’s where the consumer is, and with 30% of all hotel-related searches coming through mobile, we must prioritize. That said, we take a portfolio-managed approach. We’ve given more slack to mobile given the attribution challenges, but we expect these to be rectified over time, and we’ll be looking at mobile like we do anything else. We put our dollars where it delivers first.

Q: With all of these efforts, what have you found to be the largest obstacles in relation to search?

A: Tracking continues to be a challenge. We can’t track as we do on desktop. For example, with last click or multi-day window, we must use same-session tracking. But we believe our mobile marketing is producing more results that we can specifically tie back as we do in desktop. Tracking across devices — from desktop to mobile and back again — is also difficult to track and understand. Flexing to consumer intention is problematic — but a fun challenge. It’s also difficult to understand what the consumer really wants, whether that’s making a reservation, [or] finding an address or a phone number. We would bid differently, or not at all, if we understood the true demand of the consumer.

Q: From the perspective of Starwood’s customers, what are the biggest barriers to engaging with mobile search?

A: I think smartphone buys are inhibited by screen sizes. You can get great canvasses to tell your story via desktop units … [But] iPad buys are terrific canvasses — size, functionality and creative — and the prices have dropped considerably since 2011.

Q: In which areas do you see growing potential for mobile search?

A: The engines have done a great job of making access to information quick and relevant. We expect that the on-the-go needs for mobile will further drive this need for utility. Geotargeting is interesting and may be a viable solution for the food and beverage side of our business. That said, geo may be interesting for feeder market type of targeting, such as drive-to destinations or last-minute getaways. We are not leveraging this yet, but we will.

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