Booking.com’s CMO on his unconventional route to the top

Booking.com’s CMO on what the company has been ‘lame’ at and why it has mapped its structure on Amazon.

Booking.com’s Pepijn Rijvers might seem an odd choice for a CMO. He does not come from a traditional marketing background and had never held a marketing role before. He started his career as an entrepreneur in the financial services industry but in October 2008 moved to Booking.com, before taking on the CMO role two years ago. He has also headed up he supply and content team for Booking.com, something he says has allowed him to take a more entrepreneurial, varied approach to leading marketing.

Rijvers believes his untraditional background will help as he looks to develop Booking.com’s marketing strategy and travel direction.

What do you think you can bring to your role as CMO above someone that might have taken a more conventional route?

I have always been an entrepreneur, Booking.com is my first time on payroll, so I have treated it like I would my own business. It has been a bit of luck on my part but I have been able to apply my knowledge from the innovation and tech side. It also helped that I have worked closely with hotel partners and understand their needs and desires to then introduce them to the marketing role.

Less people are going for the conventional route, a lot of people now come from the data engineering and digital side of things.

What would you like to change at Booking.com in your role as CMO?

The content department because we want to change the culture at the company. We are known for our performance marketing but one thing we have been really lame at is developing other channels. These include content led, brand, influencer, sponsorship, video and display marketing. My most important priority as chief marketing officer is to do these things along with the things we are already good at, such as the performance marketing.

How do you build loyalty with the brand given people are on the look out for lowest prices?

Many of our competitors are taking a very heads-on price route but experience and data are much more important. Everyone knows that if you go for the lowest prices it is harder to get customer loyalty, as it is hard to always have the lowest prices. We believe our loyalty is delivered through service delivery to customers and the way they use the product.

To compete on price we are moving towards more unique selling point communication and creating ads out of it. There will also be a lot more on YouTube from us.

We are launching ads on YouTube that authentically talk about the travel experience. These include collaborating with real people and their story, such as Nicole a woman in tech in Amsterdam who is on a mission to have run 100 marathons in two years. The end line will be something like ‘what will your next story be’.

Does the recent news about YouTube and brand safety worry you?

We’re not really concerned about brand safety. We trust that Google, YouTube and Facebook are doing everything they can to make sure our content appears in the right environment. A bigger priority for us is measurement. This is still a problem for so many traditional publishing platforms and content creators.

Without feedback advertisers are shooting blind. We need measurement in place that works, without privacy risks. I don’t need to know how specific people behave, but I do have an interest in the audience I targeted and how they responded to my message.

Are you concerned that a company such as Amazon could disrupt the travel market in the future?

Amazon is a company we like a lot. Our culture and structures are similar due to the fact there is no hierarchy around our decision-making and ideas can come from anyone in the company. We consciously mapped our culture in the earlier years based on companies like Amazon.

As pure online players we felt we could learn a lot from them. Yes, they could be our competitor at some point but we differentiate ourselves by the fact we are truly global. I don’t think there is any other ecommerce brand that has our reach. You could argue Facebook is global but it can’t be found in Japan or China.

Are there any big tech changes you are keeping an eye on?

We are focusing on mobile. The fact people always have a screen in their pockets means we can readily solve their travel problems. So if someone feels they are paying too much for a taxi journey or an experience, they can find out by connecting with us on their phones.

We are looking at things that deliver a service to customers, such as WhatsApp-style chat which allows us to deliver instant gratification to customer queries.

We’re not investing in things like virtual reality as it is still very much in the discovery phase. If you could already just look around that would be great but people still decide much quicker where they want to go through photographs.

This year we will focus on more functional messaging, tied together with more aspirational storytelling. There will be a few other experiments going live that I can’t talk about right now but you will see a lot of innovative advertising coming up from us.

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