Looking back, when you were leading Hotels.com, how did you look at organizing the marketing function and managing that huge marketing budget?

This is one of the biggest challenges. When I took over, as president, it was one of the biggest challenges that I faced and worried about, from an overall organizational perspective. The reason is because, when you’re talking about building a brand and doing brand TV and so forth, usually, that is a different mindset from a marketing perspective. It’s more creative, it’s thinking about how to create brand affinity and awareness and things of that nature. Whereas, a heavy focus on digital marketing, so SEM and Meta (Metasearch) and affiliates and things of that nature, it’s super technical. Lots of math that needs to go into it. So you don’t, generally, find somebody that can run both of those and be really, really deep on both sides of it.

So when I took over the president role, we actually separated marketing, to a certain extent and created a GM type of structure on the brand side. We had a brand organization and they had all those country managers and all the regional GMs reporting up through that. Then we had a separate digital marketing group, that basically, did all of the SEM, SEO, affiliates, Meta bidding and all the auction driven stuff that required a lot more technical, math-oriented bidding and so forth.

It was probably specific to that type of business, just because there were so many dollars at stake. That’s how we separated it, over time. There are people that know both sides of it, but generally, those are unicorns, that can do both. That was important to how we succeeded.

What were the biggest challenges in driving traffic through both direct but, also, more importantly, from Google?

We’ll start with Google. Through my time there, we would sit down at the table, to talk about our account and our relationship. The sales guys were super helpful. But often, they didn’t know what was coming, from a product perspective. We’d get blindsided, from time to time, from some of the things that the product folks, at Google, were doing. I don’t fault them, at all. Google is a great company and they do what they do. But what made it challenging is, that the search results page, continuously changed. From Google’s perspective – and I put myself in their shoes – they’re trying to reduce the amount of clicks and get people directly to what they need to have answered, as quickly as possible. Therefore, over time, they’ve tried to pull more of that up into the search results page.

Well, that creates a higher level of hyper competitiveness, in the auction. It also pushes down your organic traffic, your SEO traffic. During that time period it was, and still is, a massive change in how that bidding works, what shows up on that first page and your organic traffic is, frankly, diminished in most industries, but specifically in travel. That’s always been a really big challenge for getting traffic.

That said, it is the biggest funnel for traffic coming to your site, so you have to be good at it, no question about it, in that space, especially in a hyper competitive world. You try to compete against that with direct traffic. You try to build a relationship with every customer that comes through your door, no matter what channel they came from, so that you can try to convince that customer to come back to you directly and not have to pay for them again, through Google or Meta or any other paid channel.

What that means is, you’ve got to build your brand up. When I first started, we had a pretty high brand spend. We pulled that down, through the 2008, 2009 time period, because we were spending so much on Google. In 2012, 2013, 2014, we started increasing brand again, because we realized we needed traffic to come back to us directly, for us to be successful. You’ve seen a lot of these OTAs spend more on brand, to bring the customer directly. We spent a lot of money on a loyalty program, which I’m biased, but I think is the best in the business, at Hotels.com. You buy 10 rooms, you get the 11th night for free. That was a big play, to get people to come back to us, directly. You look for other channels. Basically, you’re playing a marketing mix game, where you have expensive channels and more inexpensive channels and you want your mix to be more so, as much as you can, driving the inexpensive channels, to offset that high expense, from Google and the like.

That’s the game we were playing; how do I drive more inexpensive traffic to the site and get people to come back to me direct?

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