TripAdvisor’s CMO on its transformation into a booking site

TripAdvisor’s CMO, Barbara Messing, talks to Marketing Week about how the brand is well known but not known well, and how the company’s latest campaign looks to change that.

TripAdvisor is returning to the UK with a new TV campaign aimed at making sure its customers know it is more than just a review site.

The new ad, which airs from today (20 June) sees TripAdvisor use its owl logo as a spokesperson to explain how the company can be used to search, compare and find the lowest price on hotels.

Though the company has had this functionality for a while, it says many people are still not aware of it and use the site merely for reviews. The owl uses the tagline ‘trust this bird’s words’ in the ad to reassure customers of the feature.

Ahead of its latest move Marketing Week caught up with Barbara Messing, TripAdvisor’s CMO, to look at the brand’s transition, its latest campaign and changes to its marketing department.

What is the goal of this campaign?

The campaign’s aim is to raise awareness of what we do. As you know we are a well known brand but we’re not known well. We are known as a place to plan and research trips, not for our ability to book trips. The challenge is because we are so well known for those attributes people only go to the site for those particular reasons.

The goal with this campaign is to use our owl spokesmodel to show how many things you can do on TripAdvisor to help you do your trip. This starts with the price comparison tool, because all travellers want to make sure they are getting the best price.

We are looking to see a lift in native awareness and people’s understanding of us as a brand and as a brand to come to when they want to book. TripAdvisor is not only a place to plan but a place to find the lowest price when the customer is ready to book.

How will the campaign be rolled out?

The campaign will primarily be focused on television though you will see elements of the campaign through other channels including digital and social.

We will use the owl, which has been our logo since 2000, to convey our message. Using such a beloved aspect of our brand is a great way of making sure the brand is identified quickly through the advert.

Do people still use TripAdvisor just to write about a bad experience?

Our average review rating is 4.2 of of 5 and we find people are much more likely to talk about positive things. Overall the lovers seem to be much stronger than the haters and they understand that every property has a bad day. People still tend to read eight to ten of our reviews before booking and this is something we will always lean in to as it is what makes us stand out in the travel sector.

What do you think people in the UK make of TripAdvisor?

People in the UK and around the world have a high awareness of TripAdvisor as a brand and a high trust in it. 93% of travellers say reviews have met expectations when they are back from a trip. However, I think people have such strong habits that that they still view TripAdvisor as a review site and it is always challenging to marketers to change these habits.

Barbara Messing, TripAdvisor’s CMO

The majority of your marketing is done in-house, why do you think this works?

For us it works to use our own core pieces of technology and functionality. We find that when the folk working on it, including engineers, data scientists and marketers, are 100% invested and are thinking like the owners – when every dollar spent is something they think is personally important to spend on or not – we get better results. When we control our own technology we are also able to move very quickly.

That being said, certain things are always great to get externally, particularly when it comes to creative. For example, we work with agencies in the UK to get more creative that is European specific.

In terms of recruitment, do you think it is more important to look internally or externally?

It really depends on the function. I like to help people grow internally and we will always try to find opportunities for stars to grow. One of the positives of being a tech company is we’re mindful to keep people growing. TripAdvisor is not a place where you’ll only get a promotion once every 10 years. But there are times when we need fresh ideas and a new approach to help us look at things in a new way. There needs to be a nice balance of bringing new people in and raising talent.

You’ve been with the company a long time. How has the way the team is structured changed in this time?

I have been here six and a half years now. Over this time I have seen the brand change and accelerate in terms of size and members. We’re up to 130 million marketable members which is fantastic. When I started we were at 40 million reviews in terms of content, we now have 500 million.

It’s wonderful to see growth and it has changed the way we deal with teams. When you’re a smaller company you want functional people to deliver the emails and to get the campaigns growing. But as you get bigger and the problems get more complicated, the disciplines between functions are merged. We’ve grown our talent to think across channels and to keep thinking about differentiation. This is important as the travel industry is a busy category and needs people to work with a cross channel mindset.

What is TripAdvisor’s main focus this year?

We are always looking at ways we can make the mobile experience quicker, and we still find mobile the most important way of getting users to engage with content. We are looking at the ways we can solve the problems consumers have already in terms of mobile, ease and speed. For example, the ability for customers to be sent weather updates and things to do and restaurants near their chosen hotel.

We have also recently redesigned our site and app to make sure we aren’t just focusing on having volume but making it easier for users to use and navigate the website as they move further down the tunnel, all the way to the booking stage.