Interview: Nick Crawford on the 'Rise of the Robots' in the hotel industry

By Karen Small

With less than five weeks to go to the Hotel Insights Forum, we caught up with 'Rise of the Robots' panellist, Nick Crawford, a senior consultant at Twist Consultancy.

Nick has over 15 years agency & client side delivery experience and is passionate about helping businesses better connect with people.  He is adept at using data insight to create segmentation strategies as the foundation for deploying targeted, relevant multi-channel programs with measurable success. He has expertise in the development and delivery of automated marketing campaigns and content and most recently has supported clients to progress from segmented to machine learnt one-to-one online personalisation outcomes.

We couldn’t resist picking Nick’s brains about automation and new tech in the hotels and hospitality industry. Typing from his hotel room in Florida, Nick gives his reply:

 

BDRC asks: "What are the risks around marketing automation?  What unintended consequences have you encountered that you now know to plan for?"

Quality data is paramount for merged or automated content.  

Take the time and effort to conduct a full quality assurance on your source data both in terms of completeness as well as accuracy.

If you are going to use a data value, e.g. first name, do you have this value for all records and is it correct? This is even more important if separate data sources have been brought together in your Data Marketing Platform (DMP). If you aren’t 100% confident, work to a default value to ensure all versions of a campaign still make sense.

This needs to be managed as an ongoing process. Make sure you know where every data change can occur and the context of how this can happen. When would personal details be updated in the database?  This is vital when there are ongoing multiple sources of data being feed into the DMP. 

As an example of how this can go horribly wrong, I've seen booker names being updated from online data feeds miss-matched from an overnight transaction feed. So the wrong first name and email address became linked. This was due to a guest check out process and multiple bookers from the same device. By defining a rule set for when a record is overwritten and from what source, this can be managed and data integrity protected.

Another key issue with automation is the creation of conflicting messages.

Are all your automated and campaign sends linked and overlaid with all touchpoints?  Or could a past booker receive a reactivation offer in the same week as a special summer offer or the day after a basket abandon? Or could someone who has just booked also receive a display banner, costing you money in PPC and possibly a poor experience with a banner offer better than the booking just made?

Map all automated sends and look for potential touchpoint overlaps to allow a robust rule set and hierarchy to be developed across all activity.  

Very simply: put the customer at the centre of the marketing plan, not as an output point."

 

"What are the biggest technological barriers holding hotels back?"

"As highlighted in the issues around automation, the biggest barrier remains around data integrity and management across separate sources and touch-points.  This is amplified in the hotel sector as there is as much off-line customer interaction as online.  Add to this the fact that any one booker may travel for business and leisure, solo and with family and this creates further layers of complexity to the data management mix.

My advice is always to start simple and prioritise based on the areas that make most impact.

  • Is your basic data set correct and useable across channels?
  • Have you profiled your key customer sets and defined them (accepting that this will not always apply 100% to each booking)?
  • Do you have basic automation in place and is this working correctly and without conflict or touch-point error?

Once this has been deployed, more sophisticated initiatives can be built on this solid foundation, for example web personalisation, in hotel app promotions etc."

 

"What’s the most impressive piece of hotel technology you’ve seen of late?"

"A few months ago I had the pleasure of a visit to the studios of www.polymerse.com for a demonstration of some of the Virtual Reality applications they are working on. One of these was a full recreation of a luxury hotel suite with a view.

One of the biggest questions from a prospect booker is, “will the property be just like the web promotion / brochure?” To some extent the uptake in video content has helped answer this question as well as 'virtual rooms / tours'.  However, the ability to walk through an apartment, gain first-hand experience of the fixtures and fittings and step onto the balcony to see the full panorama, all before committing to booking, has a real impact."

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You can hear more from Nick on technology in the industry at the Hotel Insights Forum where he will join Frank Reeves of Avvio,  Kelly Cronin of Interstate Hotels and Resorts and Steve Lowy of Umi Digital to debate the Rise of the Robots.

Tickets still available at hotelinsightsforum.com

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