How Marriott’s Loyalty Data Program Is Driving Its Media Ambitions

Many large brands have in-housed advertising technology as part of a data-driven marketing overhaul.

But for Marriott, the data-driven plan has meant taking more ownership of media production, including travel news sites and documentary features, as data ties creative content to bottom-line results.

Last year, Marriott consolidated data from its Marriott and Ritz-Carlton rewards programs and the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program. Combined, it’s a 100-million-person audience fragmented across hotel chain apps, Facebook platforms, owned sites and even hotel room televisions, said Marc Battaglia, Marriott’s executive director of global creative and content marketing.

“We’re thinking like a media network and have the eyeballs of a major media network,” he said.

Marriott’s content and creative marketing arm is focused on macro brand-building, like tying site engagement to brand lift in follow-up surveys, Battaglia said. But with strong first-party data and even a mixed bag of media channel assets, it’s been able to “go to partners and make a compelling case that there’s a benefit to their audience.”

And co-branding campaigns or marketing sponsors aren’t the only way Marriott’s creative media group generates returns.

As visitor profiles and Marriott’s content personalization improve, Marriott Traveler becomes a more effective funnel for direct bookings.

Travel media in general has become more performance-oriented. Condé Nast Traveler added mobile deep links to hotel and travel apps because affiliate links can be much more lucrative than ad revenue.

Affiliate marketing is one of Marriott’s fastest-growing channels, SVP of global marketing optimization Andy Kauffman told AdExchanger last year.

For instance, working with venues and ticket-based events on co-sponsored hotel deals has been a popular activation for Marriott’s owned media, Battaglia said.

If a partner is willing to pay to attract that traveler as well, the hotel can keep room prices low without eating into its profit margin.

By matching Marriott’s loyalty data to a partner’s first-party data, a joint booking campaign also starts with a well-honed seed audience.

Marriott could execute similar media plans if it, say, paired paid social with sponsored stories produced with a brand-name travel media company like Condé’s Traveler or Time Inc.’s Travel + Leisure.

But “owning our own content is paramount” to Marriott’s content and marketing plans, Battaglia said.

For one thing, as cookie data is increasingly restricted to publishers and not available to brands or their tech vendors, Marriott must own the media to continue collecting data on or targeting its loyalty program audience.

Creative production and data-driven marketing “really need to exist together hand-in-glove to be their most effective,” he said.

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