Behind Expedia’s Media Enterprise

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ExpediaMediaMany know Expedia.com for its bevy of hotel-booking businesses such as Hotwire and Hotels.com, but its burgeoning media services division is a lesser-known Internet name.

Expedia Media Solutions provides access to an active audience of 70 million monthly users. The business connects advertisers to in-market travelers across a wide range of supply sources and partners like Travelocity, which Expedia essentially “powers” in search results.

Noah Tratt, global VP of Expedia Media Solutions, gave AdExchanger the backstory on its travel media business.

AdExchanger: How did Expedia.com’s Media Solutions business come about?

NOAH TRATT: The group started in 2007 and, I’d say from 2007 to 2009, we were really focused on travel. The group was called Partner Marketing and we were very focused on suppliers and how we promote suppliers within our store. Starting in 2009, we started working with nonendemic partners to evolve our offering to accommodate nonpartner marketing business needs. We went through a two-year period where we learned a lot and improved, which has helped us be a better media company.

Do you serve the agency, advertiser or both?

The idea of doing media on Expedia was a response to our supplier relationships. The hotels we worked with wanted to find ways to amplify their product, service and brand on Expedia and our other properties. Over the last couple of years not only have we become a more global company, but we’ve realized that the innovation we’re investing in is not just relevant to those suppliers, but nonendemic advertisers as well. We’re really excited about a recent DreamWorks Animation campaign we helped with.

Obviously travel is a sweet spot for us, but we also work with financial services and automotive companies, movie studios, electronics manufacturers. If you think about your last business trip, and your thought process around getting ready for that trip, you can see that we are close to consumer decision-making and purchase in many different ways.

We’re seeing a trend of ecommerce sites or travel suppliers broadening their data-targeting capabilities by eyeing demand-side platforms. How do you target media using your audience data?

We partner with a number of different companies, but we have built out segments to allow our advertisers to target specific audiences. A decent portion of the customers who shop on Hotels.com and Expedia.com have been segmented by us as business travelers, so that can be a segment we could use to target advertising against. It goes back to, “Do we work mostly direct or mostly with agencies?” I think one of the secrets to our success has been the direct relationships we’ve been able to build with direct marketers and where more of the innovative things we’ve been able to develop have come through. But we work with both.

What challenges are associated with monetizing that audience data while preserving a solid customer experience?

The role of media within an ecommerce environment is definitely a source of conversation not just at the data level but in general. What’s the highest and best use of real estate? We want to do our own merchandising as a business, so how do we think about merchandising in light of taking revenue from an advertising campaign? We have a very data-driven decision-making process at Expedia and test and learn underlies every decision we make. It’s great as a media business because it allows us to involve our partners and say, “We don’t know exactly how mobile or Pinterest will influence the travel-planning process, but would you like to experiment with us?” Those conversations have worked to build trust and better-performing campaigns for our partners. The figure we’re allowed to share is that the media business at Expedia grew 31% year over year during Q4 2013.

Does Expedia Media Solutions house its own creative organization?

We do have creative teams both in Bellevue (Wash.) and in London. We experiment with lots of different platforms for our own campaigns and partner campaigns. We’ve done sweepstakes on Facebook before that integrated partners for our FriendTrips campaign effort. We’ve done a number of different campaigns now via our Viewfinder blogging platform that tap into our investment there. We’ve done brand marketing cooperative investments together with a number of different partners. There’s a cool campaign going on right now, called the Great Tea Party, that we’re doing with Visit Britain. Our creative services folks worked on it with them. The goal is to expose people to areas outside of London in the UK.

Can you describe the campaign with DreamWorks? The results seemed impressive – nearly 100,000 sweepstakes entries and something like 5.5 million impressions across social in two weeks. This was a combined paid and earned media effort?

DreamWorks Animation wanted to drive awareness that the film “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” was coming out, and they wanted to drive ticket sales for the film through creative engagement. .We had two metrics for measuring campaign success. Sweepstakes entries were very important to them and that became the call to action in a lot of creative. The movie was about time travel and a dog and his boy and using a wayback machine to travel back through time. In the movie they travel to Greece, Italy and France, so there was an opportunity for us to do a "travel the world" sweepstakes and one of the assets Expedia as a company brings to the table is we have over 1,000 market managers in cities around the world whose job it is to work with hotels that are in that market.

We promoted the sweepstakes, and were able to solicit great offers through [those market managers]. There was a display element to the campaign that kicked off before a blogging and content element came in – seven to 10 days before the film hit the theaters.

You have many different formats. How do you approach picking the right ones?

I would say placement performance is all about goals. We recently did a very large global campaign with a large, European hotel chain and their advertisements appeared on eLong (Expedia’s exclusive travel affiliate in Asia), Hotels.com and Expedia sites around the world. They had a brand-awareness metric they wanted to hit since their brand is not well known outside of their home country in Europe and I would say the display ads did a nice job of funneling people to a custom solution that we built for them that was meant to highlight what made their brand special. It was very upper-funnel-type metrics.

We also work with hotels that are very desperate to drive traffic on the weekends since they’re traditionally known as “business hotels." There we might do focused placements in hotel search results and direct-response language that would have a price or some other offer in it. It really depends on the goal of the campaign.

 

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