I just attended Unica’s annual Marketing Innovation Summit (MIS) this year in Orlando.  I sat in on a few terrific conversations about making multi-channel marketing a reality.  Here is the first: An overview of Intercontinental Hotel Group’s (IHG’s) use of data-driven marketing to improve communications with existing customers and prospects.

Lincoln Barrett, vice president for guest marketing and alliances, shared that, for IHG, building a customer-centric marketing strategy hinged on three different, but overlapping, initiatives:

  1. Invest in technology
  2. Expand into new frontiers
  3. Build a centralized customer organization

Each of these initiatives is still a work in progress, but excellent progress has already been made in each one. 

Invest In Technology

Step one here was to build a new data warehouse and real-time data mart that would allow IHG to match the data it was gathering through proprietary and third-party sources to existing customer information.  This step also made it possible to gain immediate access to data for analysis or campaign building purposes – a significant upgrade to IHG's previous functionality, which updated records in batches and only made data available some 30 days after a customer incident (like a hotel stay).

The next step was to expand outbound campaigns beyond email.  Technology upgrades (using Unica) automated internal campaign processes, created localization capabilities (for franchisees to create programs customized to their locale and customer relationships), and integrated call center data and activities with outbound campaign management.  As part of this step, IHG also streamlined its formerly multi-agency model into a single global agency.

The third step is where IHG is now, further development of multi-channel coordination.  In this step, IHG intends to integrate more and more channels together as well as begin to optimize the content, offer and timing of messages in different channels in order to maximize return and customer relevance.

Expand Into New Frontiers

This initiative is really about learning to “think beyond the booking.”  That is, how could interactive marketing create more and different ways to grow revenue, increase loyalty and satisfy customers?  IHG has identified the following new frontiers:

  1. Right-time marketing – This means sending outbound messages (like through email) to follow up a valuable customer action.  The example Lincoln provided was emailing a guest immediately after he attains gold status to congratulate him, make him aware of his enhanced benefits and encourage future stays and engagement with IHG's brands.
  2. Non-member marketing – Only 40% of IHG’s business comes from members of its Priority Club.  So IHG now uses its new data environment to identify and catalogue valuable non-members through cookie data, Web behaviors.  IHG creates lifecycle campaigns, customized onsite offers and targeted media buys targeted at non-members.
  3. Glocal communications – That’s right, not global but glocal; IHG encourages franchisees to leverage global assets in a way that is customized for their specific hotel and customer base
  4. Extend traditional campaigns – This effort is about using interactive tools to announce upcoming traditional media campaigns, or following up campaigns with targeted interactive ones to give handraiser customers an easy way to convert.
  5. Channel synergy – Here, IHG is intelligently using its channels to promote other channels.  OR, it is using data gained from one channel to improve the relevance of communications in other channels.  For example, it improved the content and layout of its PIN reminder email (you know the email you request when you can’t remember how to log in to your account on a Web site) to include dynamic offers related to individual user profiles.

Build A Centralized Customer Organization

This step included a wholesale reorganization where IHG product, channel and sales teams were all aligned under one executive – an EVP of the customer.  As Lincoln explained, these three groups still sometimes have different interests, but they are now much more aware of each others’ efforts, and can more easily create aligned goals.

This step also included a corporate re-education to help the entire IHG organization change its expectations about what it wanted to get out of each customer touchpoint.  IHG is working to define that each time a customer interacts with IHG, it is an opportunity.  One which allows IHG a chance to a) sell rooms, b) sell something else of value, c) change the customer’s beliefs, or d) learn something.

If you are thinking that the above sounds hard, you are absolutely right.  And in Lincoln Barrett’s words, this is precisely why customer-centric marketing is a huge competitive advantage.  It is so hard, that most companies won’t try it, or will try and fail.  So companies who dare to take on the challenge will be among the few who create the kinds of memorable experiences that customers crave.