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Marriott Bringing Beacons To 500 Hotels By The End Of 2016

After an initial installation two years ago, Marriott has beacons in 21 hotels today. At the IAB Mixx conference, Marriott’s Karin Timpone discussed how its thinking about proximity marketing has evolved.

Marriott International, having completed its $13.6 billion merger with rival Starwood Hotels, is expanding its use of beacons from 21 hotels today to 500 by year’s end, a spokesman told GeoMarketing.

During an appearance at day two of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s MIXX conference, Marriott’s Global Marketing Officer Karin Timpone discussed the evolution of the chain’s loyalty programs and how beacons enhance the guest experience.

“When I first got the company we did some learning exercises,” Timpone told Epsilon/Conversant CEO Bryan Kennedy on stage. “I was reading a lot about beacon technology, and I thought there were some cool things we could explore. We should put beacons in our hotel just to see who we target a message for most effectively.”

That initial beacon placement was done at the one of its largest hotels, the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina, in July 2014. It was a part of a broader set of marketing initiatives associated with under Marriott Rewards called “LocalPerks.”

Conversant/Epsilon CEO Bryan Kennedy Interviews Marriott's Karin Timpone at IAB Mixx
Conversant/Epsilon CEO Bryan Kennedy Interviews Marriott’s Karin Timpone at IAB Mixx

From Guest Messaging To Guest Experience

The LocalPerks effort involved offers geotargeted to Marriott guests’ smartphones during their stay in the hotel. Using Beacon technology, participating hotels could send guests push notifications on their mobile devices as they moved about the property. (When asked about which beacon platform Marriott uses, a rep said only that “We have multiple vendors.”)

Offers were tailored to specific Marriott locations, ranging from food and beverage to spa to golf. The plan also called for LocalPerks to include Marriott Rewards offers in the neighborhoods surrounding participating hotels.

“I remember in the past when I worked at an agency, it would cost almost a fortune to get a square foot of marketing space,” Timpone said. “With beacons, I thought, ‘Wow, we have a whole hotel — we can do a beacon to see how many people respond. And people did respond. Over time, as we learned more, we ended up changing the purpose of use of that beacon. They thought it was for a particular marketing kind of message. Now it’s evolving and we’re going in to hundreds of hotels. We’re evolving so that the use case has a combination of messaging, but also enhancing to get the experience. ”

The Meaning of Loyalty

“Loyalty is absolutely a dated concept,” Thom Kozik, Marriott’s VP of global loyalty, said at Forrester’s CX NYC event in June. Focusing on “[the customer’s] loyalty to a brand doesn’t work anymore; it needs to be about our loyalty to them.”

As he elaborated in a conversation with GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain, Kozik said that generic points-based rewards programs are not enough to keep customers coming back; in the on-demand era, personalization and individual experience are what win the day. Consumers want upgrades and offers that are tailored specifically to their needs.

In her conversation with Epsilon’s Kennedy, Timpone highlighted several ways loyalty marketing has evolved to be more personalized, particularly in mixing social media connections.

She also highlighted some news that Marriott has made recently regarding its merger with Starwood: Members of both rewards programs will have their loyalty accounts linked sooner than previously expected.

“It’s very unusual from the very first day to have this kind of benefit for the customer, but it leads back to what I was talking about in the beginning: we have a very customer-centric mindset. And there, simply, is no better mousetrap in marketing than loyalty.”

Checking In With A Pokémon Go Master

Just as brands were scrambling to come up with ways to latch on to this summer’s Pokémon Go craze, Marriott Rewards immediately connected with Nick Johnson, the self-declared master of the game who was the first person in North America to capture all 142 characters.

In July, Marriott said it would sponsor Johnson’s quest to travel the world to capture Pokémon Go characters.

The connection started with Marriott’s M Live team, which monitors social media chatter related to Marriott and its guests’ interests. The team is also designed to cut across marketing silos that in the past would have hindered different areas of the company from reacting seamlessly and quickly to opportunities.

“My team was listening on Reddit that Nick had made this accomplishment in North America,” Timpone said. “We started a dialogue with him about what he was going to do next. We said, ‘You could go around the rest of the world.’ We have the most impressive portfolio of brands around the world, 30 brands around the world, and so Marriott sponsored him.

“His social media, story telling about all of our brands, our portfolio made possible by our loyalty program,” Timpone continued. “It’s just amazing. That was just in real time. It wasn’t something that longed after, it just started happening, we’re really publishing a story online for a customer and really inserting our hotels in their conversations. That’s really I think the modern way of thinking about marketing. It’s not just a one way conversation anymore.”