TripAdvisor Journeys Into Non-Travel Advertising

Up until last year, TripAdvisor primarily sold to travel advertisers and online travel agencies. But that’s changing out of necessity.

TripAdvisor’s core hotel ad business has declined as Google encroaches on its hotel research-and-booking revenue with its own planning tools. In TripAdvisor’s most recent earnings report, revenue from hotel ads shrank 14%. So the 20-year-old company is pitching nonendemic marketers in verticals like finance and spirits who may want to reach its 460 million monthly users in 49 countries.

To spearhead this diversification strategy, TripAdvisor hired Christine Maguire from Condé Nast in April to lead a team of 170 as VP of global advertising revenue. Her role spans product, operations and sales – a modern combination that expands her focus to generating topline revenue while also building a sustainable, profitable business.

In the months since Maguire joined, the company has released 10 beta versions of ad products to appeal to different marketers’ needs. One allows advertisers to use TripAdvisor’s data and ad creatives to reach travelers on Instagram or Facebook. Another adds a branded content offering. A third, to be introduced later this month, is a self-serve advertising portal for smaller businesses. A fourth brings in outstream video.

Maguire talked to AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How fast is TripAdvisor moving to diversify its business?

CHRISTINE MAGUIRE: We’ve launched six beta solutions and dozens of new initiatives were underway within three or four weeks of me starting. I could see things from the outside, but once I got under the hood, I saw even more opportunity. To come in and build new disciplines, talent and solutions that didn’t exist before is really exciting.

How are you getting your underlying data infrastructure in order to roll out all these new products?

I’m a big believer in building the operational infrastructure while you’re rolling out things and getting key learnings in the market, and then scaling.

We’ve been aggregating explicit and implicit signals from our audience for a long time, we just haven’t had the ad infrastructure to maximize that. We have all the right expertise in terms of engineers and data scientists, so it’s about how to flex them to focus on what marketers are looking for and ultimately get the right kind of outcomes.

Do you use a DMP or CDP?

We have a proprietary DMP and have been building turnkey segments for a while. It’s what we’re doing with them to enrich them and optimize them that’s different.

And we’re creating more custom data products where we can ingest a marketer’s CRM files, marry that with third-party transactional sources and then create predictive models to target the right users on different platforms. We have been doing that for the past six months.

Publishers have been trying to sell marketers on the value of their data for a long time, but many prefer their own data or the ease of third-party data. Do you see that changing?

Third-party data is definitely the easiest, but it’s also the most diluted. It’s referring to things that are many stages out vs. having the richness of what is actually happening and from having that relationship with the consumer.

How does using your first-party data on Facebook work if clients want to maintain control of their own Facebook buying?

Facebook has rolled out things like the limited pixel share, which gives attribution information, and the handshake tool, which gives them the same analytics. So they can get consolidated analytics and transparency, but you’re aligning with our brand messaging, our creative, our first-party data. The impact is going to be different.

Yelp removed display ads from their site, because the clutter was impacting performance of their native ads. How is TripAdvisor going to balance having endemic and nonendemic ads on its site?

It goes back to personalization and being able to infer the consumer perspective through machine learning and data science and then serving the right ad, whether it’s a sponsored listing for someone looking for a restaurant or a display ad for someone in discovery mode.

You’re running operations, products and sales, which spans both a CRO or COO role. Why is TripAdvisor set up that way?

I think it’s a unique spin and new way to think about running a media business. It’s not about being solely topline revenue-focused like a CRO, but diversifying across different media solutions and building profitable margin within all the things you’re doing. That means thinking about how you operate the teams internally, or how you create the right solutions to maximize the margin and overall deal size.

How does this setup create the right incentives compared to media companies that split up the roles?

I have friends at every single media company, and they all struggle with how to set up an organization that’s enabling all the right behaviors that are going to maximize profit. It’s not the same as it was 10 years ago. Media solutions have become extremely complex and fragmented. You need to take people into account with your margins as well as the hard costs of platforms. And you need someone owning that holistically and making all the right calls for the business.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m a big believer in bottoms-up decision-making. I’m one person, so I can only set the strategy and hire the right people, and then influence and empower the team to make the decisions every day. We’re moving quickly. Not everything can ultimately be done perfectly, but if you’re making eight out of 10 decisions right, you’re moving the ball forward.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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