Marketing Week: What are the challenges you as a global hospitality brand face in today’s market?
Nancy Deck: A key challenge we face as a global brand – and it’s a good one – is that we are living in the era of the empowered customer. Customers are getting more choice, more customization and more personalisation. They are getting what they want and what they honestly deserve in a way that they never have before.
It’s our job to deliver and in the last year we launched three new reward options that give members new ways to use their points, including booking luxurious suites, upgrading existing reservations and using a combination of points and money to reserve a room. These changes were implemented as a direct result of customer feedback.
MW: How is customer data crucial to your brand marketing?
ND: Customer data gives us the information we need to enhance our guests’ experiences. Over the past few years, we conducted extensive consumer research about loyalty customers and what they want from their loyalty programmes. We learnt that consumers are looking for loyalty programs that go beyond just hotel points and as a result re-launched the Hilton HHonors global brand. Our goal was to shift the conversation from points to possibilities; from being just about rewards to making more of a human connection. We’re really excited about what this shift means for our brand – and that it came directly from customer data and input.
MW: How are you gaining and using customer data in an innovative way?
ND: As a global organization with 10 different brands, 3,800 hotels in more than 90 countries and millions of guests each year, our size and scale provide us with a tremendous opportunity to understand our customers’ wants and needs. We’ve recently launched our Customer 360 initiative, which is a global database of customer insights that includes data from all of our divisions. It takes our customer relationship management to a whole new level, giving us a much better understanding of our guests’ travel patterns and preferences, and other information like hobbies. It is helping us to not only avoid delivering the wrong offer, but to deliver the most relevant one and to participate in a more authentic and responsive dialogue with our customers.
MW: What is interesting and different about HHonors?
ND: Hilton HHonors is the world’s premier guest loyalty programme, linking our 30 million members to Hilton Worldwide’s global portfolio of brands. HHonors provides benefits for our members helping them turn their hotel stays, flights and purchases into travel experiences worth sharing with family and friends. We offer our members the fastest ways to free nights and other rewards in the industry – and we give them almost unlimited flexibility in choosing how to redeem their points.
HHonors is also the only programme that allows guests to earn hotel points and airline miles for the same hotel stay at any of more than 3,800 hotels across 10 hotel brands in more than 90 countries, and we have more than 50 airline partners. It’s important to emphasize that HHonors’ member benefits extend far beyond free hotel rooms and upgrades: They include the HHonors Global Shopping Mall, an online “mall” with more than 20,000 products that can be purchased with HHonors points; Experience Rewards, which allow members to redeem their points for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as flying a fighter jet or trying out a dream job; and travel partnerships with top airline, car rental and cruise companies.
We also stand behind our members by providing cash and in-kind donations to the organizations that mean the most to them – and by providing points to HHonors members who make charitable contributions to certain organizations.
MW: Why is it important to build social media and other aspects of digital media into your marketing strategy and how are you doing this?
ND: At HHonors, social media has been a phenomenal way for us to engage with our customers in a more personal, direct and customized way. This kind of engagement is important for all industries, but especially so for those of us in the business of hospitality.
Take one of our recent marketing announcements: Our “Fast Ways to Free Stays” promotion, which offered our members new ways to redeem their HHonors points. To promote our new products, we launched a social media treasure hunt. Participants in six cities were invited to uncover clues on our Twitter and Facebook properties, and the first 100 people in each city to correctly complete the treasure hunt won a certificate for a free night at a Hilton Worldwide property. As a result of this effort, we gained thousands of new Twitter and Facebook followers and fans, received millions of Twitter impressions and got more than 100 million media impressions.
Another successful social media initiative is ‘@Hilton Suggests’, a pilot “virtual concierge” program running in a few markets. Through a Twitter account, this program links our concierges with our guests, wherever they may be. These virtual concierges provide suggestions about local attractions and restaurants, as well as all of the other advice you’d expect from a hotel concierge. The programme allows us to be responsive and helpful to our customers – even if they’re not physically in one of our hotels. Although it’s just a pilot programme at the moment, it’s been very well-received and we’re hoping to expand it to more markets over time.
Both of these examples show how we’re using social media to drive loyalty and excitement around our brand, and provide even more tailored, personal service to our customers and members.
Nancy Deck presents ‘Points to Possibilities’ at the Customer Loyalty conference on 28th June. The Customer Loyalty Conference, part of Marketing Week Live, takes place at London Olympia on 27 and 28 June and is free to attend for registrants. Find out more here.