Travel marketing hospitable to data segmentation

IHG’s Sagan talks about how the hotel chain balances relevance with privacy in its segmentation strategy

Q: What is the InterContinental Hotels Group strategy for CRM?

A: A lot of it is consolidation of data and breaking down silos. Every company wants to understand customers and their behavior. The byproduct of behavior is data. It’s hard to get a cross-channel view of what they’re doing behaviorally, so we try to look at it in a holistic way. Then we know what the consumer is doing in each channel and speak to them in the way they prefer.

Q: How much communication is too much?

A: It is very much a process of figuring out the best cadence and content strategy. It comes down to testing. Is two messages a week too much? Certain groups tolerate more. We want to give consumers as much choice as possible.

Q: How do you go about modeling and segmenting your lists?

A: In terms of segmenting, a lot of what we do is with the Unica Affinium [enterprise marketing software] suite. Segmenting revolves around historical behavior. We also use predictive modeling to target. We really run the gamut from very targeted, specific campaigns to much larger offers. But we try to stay away from one-size-fits-all. With channels like e-mail, we can segment on a granular level. It is crazy not to try to do that in every communication you send out.

Q: What are the challenges you’ve seen lately in the travel sector?

A: Leisure is stable, but business travel is really down. That tells us people still want vacations and a sense of normalcy in their lives, which is a positive thing. As people have these points accumulated from business travel, they’re cashing them in to take the family on vacation. More and more people are seeing the points as cash.

Q: What is your approach to managing the ongoing concern about consumers’ online privacy?

A: The Federal Trade Commission can present challenges because of the legal implications of behavioral targeting. The general consensus is that consumers want relevant offers, but don’t want to be tracked. Our challenge is balancing that relevance with privacy.

Q: What is your social media strategy?

A: Everyone sees social as this bright, shiny object, but it is hard to measure success. It’s easy to say “it’s about the conversation,” which is great from a theory perspective. But sitting in front of the C-suite, justifying a conversation with no attainable ROI associated with it is difficult. We have to do more work to define the value and benefit of social media for the enterprise.

Q: Are you more focused on customer acquisition or retention?

A: Customer acquisition is still key. But retention is huge because of the economy. We’re trying to maintain that we hold more value than the competition.

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