Booking.com’s CMO on tech innovation and bringing data skills in-house

Booking.com has brought its data function in-house as it looks to improve “speed and context” and better understand how to measure success online.

When Pepijn Rijvers started as chief marketing officer at Booking.com he had clear objectives: he wanted to be better at developing digital channels, increase content-led video and streamline marketing. Three years on he says the success of those goals has been “a mixed bag.”

“One the one hand we’ve been really successful at developing digital video and creative processes that are very scaleable and very data driven. We’ve been successful at scaling TV significantly and native advertising, which essentially is our blog and our blog content on advertisers, is something that has worked really well and we are rolling out across more languages,” he explains.

On the other hand there are still challenges with data. Rijvers explains: “We have not cracked YouTube and Facebook yet. But we’re working really hard with them on solving this. It’s hard to measure success and Facebook doesn’t lend itself to organic advertising very well.

“Luckily both Facebook and Google are very committed to solving it with us and working together on an engineering level to open the gates for a lot of video testing on those platforms.”

The company has just launched its latest campaign, Booking Heroes, which will initially run on social media before being rolled out on TV. Users are encouraged to use the #bookingheroes hashtag to submit stories of Booking.com hospitality providers who went above and beyond for guests.

Keeping on top of tech trends

Given that Booking.com was founded in the midst of the dot-come bubble, it is no surprise that it prioritises keeping ahead of tech trends.

Rijvers says: “Whether it’s through messaging or payment platforms, the way we use technology is changing the way we live. This is a really brilliant opportunity for Booking.com because every technology opens up a new channel or new opportunity to engage with customers.”

While one of the opportunities Booking.com is excited about is augmented reality, the current focus is on developing a voice-activated guide. Rijvers explains: “What would happen if you had an app where you could ask ‘hey what are the nice places to go for a coffee or the best offers for shopping?’ It would be incredibly useful.”

He’s adamant that Booking.com and others like it that put digital front and centre are the future of marketing. “I don’t think you’ll see any business 15 years from now that isn’t a software business. Even the way we buy our groceries for instance is rapidly changing. If you look at Procter & Gamble, if it did localised marketing it could find out much more about consumers. The way we use data to run all our marketing functions will be the way to do business.”

The benefits of in-housing and cutting out the middle man

Last year, Rijver’s moved Booking.com’s digital media buying in-house in a bid to cut out the ‘middle-man’ and he has followed that up by bringing its data operations in-house.

“Booking.com is such a fast-moving environment so if they’re in-house they understand what is going on. It gives speed and context, there’s no sitting down two weeks from now to plan a brief. These people are Booking.com employees, they know our communications and are way more up to speed with what is happening then external agencies.”

That’s not to say it hasn’t been challenging. “It took time to get there, to get the right people, and then innovate and find that value ourselves,” he says.

One thing Rijver’s would never in-house, however, is creative. “Creative is something we would almost always rely on external [agencies] for. That fresh outside view is really good,” he says.

Given Rijver’s commitment to in-house hiring the best people has become even more crucial. What does it take to be hired at Booking.com?

“Given our culture, people who have a passion for data is important but even more importantly we want genuinely inquisitive, open and very humble people. Humble because we don’t want people who think they know everything.”

Character is Rijver’s number one criteria as collaboration is so important at Booking.com. He also recommends having a diverse age range. “We need to have a good mix of experts, so people further on in their career. Together they help to deal with the ambiguity of the job.”

Create brand loyalty

Given that Booking.com’s positioning is focused on price, creating brand loyalty can be tricky. Rijver’s says: “It’s our service that makes people loyal, being the easiest, delivering the best selection always, the best prices and the best content. Doing our job perfectly is what creates loyalty and makes people come back.”

This means that Rijvers believes marketing is even more crucial to drive more people to the site and ensure loyalty.He says that ensuring Booking.com is at the forefront of people’s mind in a competitive market requires “subtly”.

“There isn’t one thing you can do you, you really need to execute well in thousands of different ways, from the way we rank properties to how we use key-words. We need to execute relentlessly all these things well every day, it’s a very competitive space so we’re always on our toes to deliver the best we can.”

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