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How MarTech is Neglecting Guests in the Hospitality Industry


In the older days of marketing, back in the early 2000s, a few brave CMOs invested in some rudimentary tools designed to help better manage their campaigns and audiences. These hardy pioneers sought to organize, analyze and improve performance, and thus created the first marketing technology stacks- integrated systems that brought order, unlocked targeted campaigns, and personalized messages for better results.

Considering how far the marketing industry has come in the past few years is similar to comparing that of quill and parchment paper writing to the evolution of the first printing press.  The changes have been particularly rapid and widely adopted in the hospitality industry. In 2011, there were approximately 150 companies offering marketing technology. That number has now ballooned to more than 6,800 technology-based tools including direct response, mobile marketing, email services, social media, contact centers and many more.

Somewhere along the way, hospitality marketers became stack managers: shadow IT experts who spend more time on technology implementation than messaging, creative development or customer research. Marketing technology budgets now commonly exceed IT budgets and overall marketing software spending is projected to exceed $32 billion this year alone.

For some, the job is now “nothing but the stack.”  

Hotel and travel marketers today face unprecedented pressure to build and manage stacks. Technology and software companies are desperate to control as much of the stack as possible. Internal technology teams are desperate to maintain their seat at the table. And all too often, guests and prospects suffer as a result.

In part, this is due to fierce competition among a few major software players vying for ultimate control of the marketing stack. They envision a walled garden of orchestrated platforms – their platforms – and as a result, have little incentive to build in a way that enables sharing and communication with competitive or ancillary products.  

This problem is most apparent in the collection and distribution of customer and prospect consent and preferences – likes, dislikes, channels of choice, topics of interest and so on. Almost all of these marketing technology systems and frameworks that comprise the almighty stack collect and store preferences. However, their functionality is limited, and few of them are designed to communicate with other technologies or contribute to a holistic customer record.  

As a result, guest consent and preferences stored in a sales CRM system never migrate to customer support, marketing or third-party providers. For example, explicit permission to contact a cell phone – absolutely vital for compliance purposes – lives inside an ESP that can’t interface with the marketing automation solution.

When asked, many enterprise clients often guess that their customer preference information flows through four to six separate, disconnected technologies. Through subsequent analysis, an average of 12-14 distinct systems are revealed- more than double their estimate, as well as clear evidence of deep compliance and customer experience challenges.  

All of this makes sense considering each system is better at one thing than another.

Some hotels want to track their guests from a “sales” perspective – and choose the classic customer relationship management (CRM) solution.  These platforms are geared to enable sales organizations with the information they need to do their job – understand the guest across the lifecycle and achieve insight into what the customer has bought - or could buy - from the company.  

Preference and compliance requires maintaining history – the ability to look back over time as the customer changes from one preference choice to another. With the forward-looking bias of these platforms, use of a CRM-oriented system can leave you with an incomplete picture of the customer and lacking the information you need to answer a compliance inquiry.

If a travel organization implements an outbound email service provider is to send communications to the customer to move them further along in the buyer journey, based on scoring, behavior or company objectives. While these systems extensively cover email as the primary form of communication, the customer is likely engaging with the company across multiple channels. These systems are not incented, nor built, to provide interconnectivity between all of the touchpoints and systems each customer encounters.

Guest and customers expect that when they provide a preference across one channel, the result is shared across the organization. Frustrations exist when the customer feels like they aren’t heard. Preferences shared to one system or employee should easily propagate across all of your outbound communication platforms with a clear understanding of the source of the change.  

If the hotel is counting on the customer identity access management system to solve the problem, they need to look only to their primary purpose to understand why they fall short.  These systems are built to provide the customer with easy access across the enterprise and to more deeply understand them (from third party sources, for example). The power in an effective preference management implementation is found in an ongoing conversation with the customer as their desires change for their stay and how and what they receive in communications across all of the company’s channels.

A complete picture of your guest requires more than just the information you’ve collected from them to date. It also requires that they have seamless access to update their profile data and their preferences as their situation changes. It is not a “point in time” collection. It is a combination of a technology approach with a built-in process that considers the customer and their ability to participate in the preference conversation in an ongoing fashion.

What is the biggest problem hospitality marketers are facing today with these technological systems?

None of them are built with direct customer interaction in mind for the management, maintenance and collection of preference data or to provide compliance support across the enterprise.

Within hospitality industries, a great portion of satisfaction is determined by the interactions a guest experiences throughout their stay. Now, guests are expecting a customized approach in this area; some prefer to help themselves and communicate digitally, while others want to be catered to and rely on face to face interaction. Beyond the need to record and share preferences across all channels, hotel staff need an easy way to be aware of guest’s preference and adjust face to face interactions accordingly.

Hotels and travel companies are always hopeful to find one system that can solve all the needs of the marketing stack, but often forget it is called a “stack” for a reason. Each component solves for a specialized and specific marketing problem. It’s important to consider the original heritage of any system a business might be considering.   



Eric V. Holtzclaw

About the Author:  

Eric V. Holtzclaw is Chief Strategist of PossibleNOW. He’s a researcher, writer, serial entrepreneur and challenger-of-conventional wisdom. He's written a book on consumer behavior – Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior. He helps strategically guide companies with the implementation of enterprise-wide consent and preference management solutions.

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