Marriott International isn’t joking around when it says that mobile it its sweet spot. The hotel chain’s app is responsible for around $1.7 billion in annual gross bookings.
But the app – a revamped version hit the App Store on Tuesday – is more than just a booking tool, said George Corbin, Marriott International’s SVP of digital.
“Customers expect more service to be handled through their device,” Corbin said. “It’s about utility, not any one single feature. We want our app to be open while they’re traveling, not just when they’re booking, and we want to meet more of our customers’ needs when they’re on the go.”
Roughly 60% of Marriott’s traffic comes from a mobile device. But macro trends in the travel industry also are influencing Marriott’s decision to invest in its app, which recently passed 10 million downloads.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the number of people making international trips is set to nearly double by 2030 to almost 2 billion. Roughly three-quarters of booked rooms will be occupied by Gen Xers, millennials and Gen Yers by 2018, and by 2020, millennials will be responsible for nearly 50% of all spending on business flights, predicts the Boston Consulting Group.
Almost half (46%) of millennials book travel on a phone or tablet, and 74% search for travel-related info on a mobile device, according to a report from digital agency Internet Marketing Inc.
AdExchanger caught up with Corbin for an update on Marriott’s mobile strategy.
AdExchanger: How do you use mobile to personalize the customer experience?
GEORGE CORBIN: We’re using the app to simplify the travel experience, remove the friction, be as relevant as we can be and, most importantly, to power better service throughout moments in the journey. Mobile can deliver more of what the customer needs during each part of their trip, and we can use data, context and new insights to personalize their stay.
What have you learned?
We’ve found that people don’t want features, they want to get the job done during every step of the guest journey. We did extensive quant testing and evaluation to find the moments that matter most. We call them “halo moments,” like “My reservation wasn’t in order when I showed up,” “My room wasn’t ready,” “I need a recommendation on where to eat” – moments that can have a disproportionate impact on a person’s likelihood to stay with us again – and we’re addressing them in the app.
What data does Marriott look at to make the app tick?
Data informs everything that we do. We look at the actual behavioral data, how people are using the app, what they’re clicking, when they’re not, which features they’re interacting with, where they’re having a problem, etc., and we survey our app users about their experience with the app. We get 20,000 in-app survey responses per month. That’s a lot more than you get in the App Store.
We do glean some good insights from the App Store as well, but usually those are the more extreme opinions. If there’s an outage one afternoon and someone can’t log into the app, trust me, the App Store lights up.
We also track intent to recommend, which is one of the highest indicators of loyalty. Not only did I like it, but would I recommend it to someone else. We’ve found that to be a very good proxy indicator of their likelihood to stay with us again in the future.
How do you approach user acquisition?
This is where the app dovetails closely with Marriott’s loyalty strategy. Obviously, we can deliver the best possible experience once someone is a member, which is why we want direct access to and direct relationships with our user base.
We make extensive use of Facebook as part of our acquisition strategy. If we know someone has an upcoming stay booked but they haven’t downloaded the app yet, we reach out with an ad to say, “Hey, if you download the app you’ll be able to check in quicker and make special requests.”
We also have our owned channels, including the website and email, which remains an effective acquisition channel for us to reach people on our list with very targeted messages intended to drive downloads and get people to complete trials. Once they start using the app, they hopefully see value and stay.
What’s Marriott’s app retention strategy?
The more utility you can build in, the higher the adoption will be.
Take something like a service request. If someone has an upcoming stay, they can tap to make special requests before they arrive, like asking us for extra pillows or to leave candy and roses in the room because it’s your wedding anniversary. Once guests are on the property, they can connect with a real person to chat and have their needs handled.
Retention also ties back to personalization. We rolled out something called “modes” in the new app that changes the screen a user sees based on the context of what they’re doing.
Someone in stay mode, for example, would see a screen with information about their specific hotel and the mobile check-in and service request buttons would be more prominent. If a guest recently stayed with us, their initial screen will be the reward screen with account information so they can see if their loyalty points have accrued.
This is not a one-size-fits-all app. The data told us what we needed to do.
Do you gather insights from in-app chat interactions?
We don’t want people to be turned off – or for them to turn us off. We’re looking for the sweet spot between service, relevance, being helpful and anticipating needs without crossing a line. This is going to be an area of experimentation for us, but I can’t say we’ll be hitting our guests up with restaurant recommendations at every hotel they stay at based on a chat interaction they had with us in the past.