Viewpoint: Tom Seddon chief marketing officer InterContinental Hotels Group

  • Click here to read the cover feature ’Gambling on the future’
  • Click here to read how ING Direct France monitors its brand reputation online and in call centres
  • Click here to read how Gatorade has aligned its brand product teams for a more effective social media strategy

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We used to have a digital team but now it is part of everybody’s job. If I think back to the changes we have gone through in the past three to five years, I’m not necessarily surprised by the fact that 75% of CMOs are planning to reorganise this year.

Travel has been at the cutting edge of digital for quite some time. About 80% of our customers have some form of digital interaction with us before they buy, and we have a rich opportunity to interact with people once they have bought.

Probably 20% of our business is transacted online and it is growing. The investment you need to make in your web presence is pretty high. Individual transactions might not cost much but what does is the investment needed to keep pace with change.

There aren’t many parts of our marketing organisation that don’t work in the digital space. We have just finished a relaunch of our biggest brand, Holiday Inn, which took about three years. Last year we debuted a completely integrated global campaign including our loyalty programme, confirmation emails and PR. It required a lot of people to be part of it and it helped that everyone was thinking about digital as part of their work.

The tricky part is you have to have an odd combination of frameworks and hard [fixed] ways of working, and at the same time pay attention to the human dimension, making sure people trust each other. You have to make sure people actually want to work together and I think it is easy to forget that side of things.

Using social media takes training and attention, because handling that interaction is quite different to handling a private [face-to-face] interaction with a guest. Every word you say is permanently there. We are putting better listening tools in place to make it consistent. We’ve had patchy coverage and now we are moving towards a global supplier. We operate in 90 countries so we have to listen in all the languages and then train people to follow up at a property level.

Budget is an interesting one. It is not always cheaper working in the digital space. So it is great when you can find something that is cost-effective such as the launch of our Indigo brand in Shanghai. That had a huge impact in China, which is a very complicated, expensive media market, so it would have been very hard for us to get the same level of attention via traditional means.

In terms of skills, we have had to get people working differently. In particular we have a big emphasis on integrating our messages on paid, owned and earned media, which has taken a lot of effort.

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