We recently spoke with Wesley Albaugh, Manager of Personalization for Hilton, to discuss Hilton’s top priorities, approaches to personalization, and remaining competitive in the evolving hospitality industry. What became clear after just a few minutes of speaking with Wes was how quickly their strategies influence the company’s ability to provide guests with seamless, progressive digital and on-property experiences.
In this interview, you’ll read about:
- How Hilton creates personalized cross-channel journeys to boost loyalty and sales.
- Their strategies to create cohesive experiences.
- The technology and tactics they use to retain customers, regardless of the channel the guest books through.
And with that, let’s get started...
What are your team’s top priorities at the moment?
Our team specifically is focused on creating personalized cross-channel journeys. We're a pretty new team, so when we first started, our focus was on platform integrations and figuring out how we would execute certain things, building processes, etc.
Now we're able to focus a lot more on strategy, and digging into and finding opportunities where we can insert ourselves to connect the customer’s digital journey, whether that's using our real-time decisioning engine or building personalized messaging. We're ultimately trying to send the right message at the right time on the right channel for each customer who chooses to engage with us.
"We're ultimately trying to send the right message at the right time on the right channel for each customer who chooses to engage with us."
Today’s consumers are more connected and distracted than ever, abandoning travel bookings 82% of the time. How has shifting your focus to 1:1 personalization and behavioral marketing impacted Hilton’s strategies?
It's actually a really great story for us. Historically, we've done a lot of batch-and-blast campaigns. Email, specifically within the organization, was used as a cash lever that could be pulled any time. The problem with that strategy is you start to burn out your audience quickly, the channel becomes less effective, and you end up having to increase your sends to try to keep up with the results you were seeing previously.
That’s exactly what happened for us: All of the channel KPIs started to decrease, and we knew we had to make changes to our strategy. As we began leveraging more personalization and 1:1 marketing, and actually saw the difference in engagement from those types of communications, we slowly weaned off that cash lever mentality. We built more personalized 1:1 communications and built them in a way that was automated, where it wasn't taking any more time to execute than it would a typical batch-and-blast. By doing this, we were actually able to cut back on all our batch-and-blasts and create new personalized email vehicles.
Now we send fewer emails over the same time period, but our engagement and KPIs are up. Really the moral of that story is more email does not result in more revenue—more personalized email and communication results in more revenue.
"More email does not result in more revenue—more personalized email and communication results in more revenue."
Yes! That’s a story we hear a lot and a story we try to tell because we believe in the same thing: More is not more, better is more. Have you seen an increase in customer loyalty from these personalized campaigns?
Although we can’t measure loyalty specifically in terms of actual numbers we are collating, there are definitely indicators. We're seeing amazing results, and we've actually found some of the hyper-personalized emails don’t have to have a marketing message to become some of our highest performing emails. Things like loyalty statements that include stats on where customers are at with their tier status or yearly anniversary messages that give stay information—such as how many days they’ve stayed with us, how many brands they’ve visited, or how many cities they’ve been to. “Year in review” mailings where we highlight a bunch of customer stats perform really well, too.
Ultimately, people like learning about themselves, so anything that is hyper-personalized and specific to the customer always performs well regardless of any direct messaging around marketing or a CTA. That’s when you know you’ve created loyalty—when you don't have to resort to gimmicky sales tactics and flooding your customers’ inboxes to drive performance metrics.
Speaking about loyalty and data, are you leveraging that differently in personalization now, and do you have plans to leverage that elsewhere?
We see success whenever we leverage behavioral data coupled with loyalty data. Personalizing messages by incorporating behavioral data and telling customers, for example, “You’re only two stays away from Gold. Go ahead and book that trip to New York you’ve been thinking about,” is crucial. Mixing loyalty and behavioral data drives great results for us.
"We see success whenever we leverage behavioral data coupled with loyalty data. Personalizing messages by incorporating behavioral data is crucial."
What is your approach to connecting and leveraging customer data to create a cohesive experience?
Our data has been historically pretty disparate. In some cases, we've engaged different partners and vendors to help us leverage data and create workarounds to get the data we need.
Right now, we’re in the midst of a large-scale data project to bring all data sources into a single environment. This makes it easily accessible to the marketing teams that need to leverage it.
What has been most important to you when choosing a customer/behavioral data solution?
We like to work with flexible platforms. We need the platform to plug in seamlessly with whatever system we have. We don't subscribe to many all-in-one solutions as it relates to martech, so we try to seek the best partners in each space with flexible platforms and the ability to connect well.
"We don't subscribe to many all-in-one solutions as it relates to martech, so we try to seek the best partners in each space with flexible platforms and the ability to connect well."
Last but not least: What do you predict will be the biggest shifts/trends in Travel and Hospitality in the coming year—and how do you plan to tackle them?
I think we'll continue to see technology transform the hospitality industry, especially the on-property experience. As we continue to enhance our app, customers will engage with us on digital channels more and in ways they haven't before. That opens opportunities for teams like ours to make sure the customer's digital experience is cohesive, connected, and personalized.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about Hilton, Wes! Looking to adopt similar strategies to activate customer data and drive bookings and engagement through personalization? Download our Travel & Hospitality Behavioral Marketing Playbook.