CRM data combined with audience data from website visits could give marketing campaigns a personal and relevant boost. David Benady reports
Hotels and travel brands are sitting on a goldmine of data about their customers. Indeed, many travel operators hold extensive customer relationship management (CRM) databases with the names and addresses of passengers and guests, their destinations and lengths of stay.
Needless to say, this data is used for email and direct marketing campaigns to encourage repeat stays and purchases. There is a growing realisation, however, that firms could create far more powerful and more relevant digital marketing campaigns by combining CRM data with audience data gleaned from website visits.
One luxury hotel group with extensive data on customers is Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts; it operates about 100 luxury hotels around the world, mainly in China, and its brands include Traders Hotels and Kerry Hotels.
The group offers regular guests membership of the ‘Golden Circle’ loyalty scheme. As part of this, members receive additional benefits and can amass points to be used for stays, spas, sports and dining. The hotel group keeps in regular contact with Golden Circle members, mainly through email marketing and mail shots for the most loyal customers.
According to Widhadh Waheed, director of e-business at Shangri-La, the chain uses customer data for people who have already stayed at one of its hotels but new prospects visiting its websites are retargeted using programmatic advertising.
“What we do is retarget people who have come to our website and tried to buy something. Maybe they have filled out a form, are a loyalty member, or have bought from us before. Anybody who does that and leaves, we retarget them,” she says.
Prospecting for new customers is one thing, but once those are secured personalisation becomes more important. “The Golden Circle team can use our CRM data to send new messages that are more targeted to people who have already visited our properties or who have already proven that they are loyal customers,” explains Waheed.
Shangri-La is now considering how best to use programmatic strategies for digital advertising to loyalty members. To this end, the chain is looking to create its own Data Management Platform (DMP), a piece of software that stores information about prospects, potential audiences and anonymised data on customers.
In what could be defensive move against the OTAs, some believe that there is a huge opportunity for hotel and travel brands to make greater use of their customer data to inform digital marketing.
Anand Siddiqui, UK director of insight and audience at programmatic ad agency Xaxis, says travel brands need to digitise their customer data and then use it to improve their online advertising campaigns.
“They are sitting on millions of records going back a number of years, they know seasonality, they know destination, they know the profitability and capacity of routes and so on. They know all this data and they know people who typically will buy a flight to a certain destination and book a hotel or a car or buy insurance,” he says.
If this data can be digitised and fed into a DMP, it can be used to create powerful online and mobile advertising strategies targeting not just prospects but previous customers too. Profiles of previous customers can also be used to build up a picture of a typical customer, which is then used to target ‘lookalikes’. In other words, people who have similar attributes such as those with comparable job titles who travel globally.
Siddiqui says many travel brands are now setting up their own DMPs and looking to feed their CRM data into them.
To be used in digital marketing, CRM data needs to be anonymised and have personally identifiable information (PII) removed in line with privacy regulations. Once this is done, Siddiqui believes travel operators stand to massively boost the effectiveness of their online marketing and it could even help them outperform the OTAs.
In a CRM database, you know everything about the transaction but you know nothing about the customer journey and there is a growing recognition that this is where the value lies. “You don’t know how the user got there but the CRM file doesn’t tell you anything about the triggers that drive that conversion or the emotional responses, so we are seeing the clients starting to adopt their own internal DMP,” says Siddiqui.
Linking up the rich, personalised data held by travel companies with anonymised audience insight gleaned from analysing digital activity is a powerful combination and one which more travel brands will consider in this cutthroat digital world.