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Red Roof Inn Turns Weather Woes Into Major Sales

Much of the conversation among marketers today focuses on Big Data. More specifically, how marketers can pare it down to make it useful. Leveraging open data—or free information such as government stats or weather information—is one way marketers are using Big Data to inform their campaigns in real time.

In fact, marketers for hotel chain Red Roof Inn saw an opportunity to use this past winter’s weather data to turn travelers’ woes into valuable offers and increased sales.

“We wanted the data to show us how to compete [during the harsh winter travel months] when it was so competitive with other hotel companies, and [then determine] how this data could help us outsmart them,” says Marina MacDonald, CMO of Red Roof Inn.

Marketers at Red Roof Inn started by taking inventory of the available open data and then plucking information that would allow the hotel chain to make relevant offers to stranded airport passengers in a record-setting winter, MacDonald says. An estimated 2 to 3% of flights were cancelled daily—that’s 500 cancelled flights and a total of about 90,000 stranded passengers each day.

“We knew about the weather [data], flight cancellations, and the fact that people would be stranded,” MacDonald explains. “We [surmised from] that information that [stranded airline passengers] needed a place to sleep overnight. We have those accommodations for them.”

MacDonald adds that after taking stock of relevant open data inventory, the marketing team at Red Roof identified which devices these airline passengers most likely were using while stranded—an important detail that determined how to craft and deliver offers. “We knew they were going to be on a mobile device,” MacDonald says. “We wanted new customers [who were using those devices] to see [offers for] our hotels. And we needed mobile messages that [would stand out]…. Those were the key drivers for us.”

MacDonald and her team also realized that in addition to harsh weather conditions and flight cancellations, the location of several Red Roof Inn hotels near major airports put the company in an optimal position to craft enticing offers.

MacDonald says Red Roof Inn relies on Web search to drive more than half of its digital bookings; and marketers there knew just how important presenting a timely offer in the right context would be to attract Web-surfing, stranded customers. So with flight-tracking technology from digital marketing agency 360i, the team at Red Roof Inn crafted a campaign based on open data: weather information, flight cancellations, and customers’ locations. An algorithm that considered the varying travel conditions also used time of day and volume of cancellations to determine the most opportune time that a message, such as a mobile ad on a tablet or phone, would appeal to stranded passengers. Then, those ads were personalized to each customer.

“We knew where the customer would be; for example, at Chicago’s O’Hare airport,” MacDonald says. “Then we delivered a personalized message reading something along the lines of ‘Stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare? Check out Red Roof Inn.’”

The ads were not only timely, but also contextual. The messages automatically updated and let customers know information such as how far the nearest Red Roof Inn was from them.

“Because of this campaign our business was up double digits system-wide,” MacDonald says. “It was a double-digit growth because it was unique.” With a campaign fueled by open data and a solid strategy, marketers for Red Roof Inn turned thousands of flight cancellations into opportunity and eventually sales.

“This was a great campaign because we had higher share of voice; we were at the top [of ad search results],” MacDonald continues. “We had the worst winter [in years], but we still saw double-digit increases in the first quarter; we saw a 10% increase from 2013 to 2014.”

MacDonald says leveraging open data will continue to be part of the marketing strategy at Red Roof Inn in its continued effort to attract and retain new customers. “Because we used [open] data we were at the top,” she says. “We were specific. We knew exactly where our customers were and [open] data allowed us to be [there for] them.”

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