Last week the Share15 team managed to catch up with Alex Edlund, Director of Global Search, at Marriott International for an exclusive interview on the digital revolution at Marriott. As part of the Share15 interview series Alex shares insights into how advancements in technology and user behavior have forced companies to rethink how to best structure and operationalize their marketing organizations. Alex is the Global Director, Search Marketing for Marriott International where he oversees performance-marketing initiatives for more than 4000+ properties worldwide.
Since 1927, when the journey began, Marriott has only had three CEOs. Marriott operates more than 4000 hotels in 70 countries and employs roughly 150,000 people around the world. The Marriott search marketing team manages multiple agencies across the world, responsible for growing search visibility in a multi-billion dollar channel.
The search landscape – search engines in the travel industry
BE: How much has the search landscape changed over the last year?
AE: Search engines are increasingly successful in delivering a single platform experience for your content needs. The travel industry has seen a great change in how consumers behave in search with a growing number of users clicking on links that keep them in search engines. This has many implications-- both for users and companies. We are noticing organic click share decrease as ad space grows and Google Hotel Ads are seeing much stronger integration and click share than ever. As a company we need to understand and act on these trends to ensure we remain competitive in growing search visibility.
BE: What has had the biggest impact for you at Marriott?
AE: The on-going shift in consumer behavior cross-device must serve as the largest impact to how we measure and engage with people. Not only does it force us to rethink attribution, it also drives design and delivery of mobile first experiences that serves content differently. The opportunity to deliver relevant messaging is greater than ever, but there’s also a great challenge in executing that relevance in an increasingly complex environment.
BE: How do you see the space evolving over the next year– what should marketers look out for?
AE: Marketers need to understand that your data strategy is everything to the success of your marketing efforts. Your marketing decisions need to be informed by a model that routinely finds and influences the right consumers in the right moment irrespective of channel. Companies who employ sophisticated data capture, integration, and modeling practices and use this data programmatically will thrive.
BE: What tips can you share on adapting to rapid change in the market?
AE: Advancements in technology and user behavior force companies to rethink how to best structure and operationalize their marketing organization. Gone are the days of channel teams and last-click attribution. Additionally, listen and empower your customers and build trust and loyalty through authenticity. Traditional branding practices are not effective in today’s transparent world. Companies who understand that the power of balance has shifted are equipped to win. Find a way to let consumers advocate on your behalf.
The search, content, and digital media revolution
BE: How are you aligning your content and search optimization efforts?
AE: The two are inextricably linked through goal alignment, injecting SEO visibility into content marketing efforts, and using search insights to shape content calendars.
BE: How critical is measurement of content in your organization?
AE: Marriott has gone through a digital revolution with the establishment of a massive 65-person in-house content studio, MLive, our social media hub and content marketers in every corner. Over the last six months we’ve produced a wealth of content projects such as “Two Bellmen,” “French Kiss,” Marriott Traveler and working together with influencers. Our goal is to become the Red Bull of travel, the world’s favorite travel company and to get there we need cutting-edge measurement. We employ a series of analytics tools to understand what content drives visibility in search, social media, and beyond.
Content marketing and the brand vehicle
BE: Tell me more about your view on the convergence of content and digital marketing.
AE: Content marketing is the new branding vehicle. We connect with our customers by sharing stories that they can relate with and aspire to experience. While our goal remain to put "heads in beds," we must never forget that we are a travel company, and people seek all forms of content to inspire travel. When we talk about native advertising or the idea of using unique and compelling content to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of next generation customers, that starts with great content and digital marketing exposes and amplifies that content to a larger audience. In the last year, no major content project at Marriott has gone without the support of a paid distribution plan, and I suspect we’ll continue that way for a long time ahead. Consumers want information and a reason to care, and today’s successful content marketing builds brand affinity through storytelling.
The orchestration of paid, owned, and earned media
BE: What are the challenges and what advice can you give the audience about the convergence of paid, owned and earned media?
AE: It takes time and orchestration among several, sometimes disparate, groups of people from various departments with different stakes in the game. It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive with all the required orchestration. You’re creating a micro-symphony and if you get it right, you can make substantial impact. If you get it wrong, nothing happens. So, create multiple scenarios with contingency plans to hedge your bets.
Marriott session at Share15
AE: My session covers the previous question about the challenges and insights that we at Marriott gained from a recent project that brought several groups together to create an experience that would lift and shift the perception of Marriott as a travel company. This involved utilizing paid, owned, and earned media to offer a unique experience to our next gen customers.
The Marriott and BrightEdge partnership
BE: Could you tell the audience a little more about how you use BrightEdge and how the platform helps you achieve your business objectives? AE: Data transparency has been a real issue for search marketers for quite some time now. BrightEdge fills a strategic role in Marriott’s search marketing strategy in driving high-impact decisions through content and search insights. The BrightEdge Data Cube is a tremendous technology that gives Marriott insights and captures missed opportunities. The Data Cube continues to be an extremely valuable capability. BrightEdge makes me smarter.
About Share15 – the high concentration of digital and search marketers
BE: Why Share – why do you attend?
AE: ‘Share15’ has evolved greatly over a short span of time. No conference today has assembled such concentration of search and digital marketers from big brands and that’s a very compelling proposition. I want to hear and learn about innovation in our space from individuals in companies similar to Marriott. I am really looking forward to the connections and conversations sparked by like-minded people from all over the world.
More about Alex
Alex is Swedish-born and raised. He met his wife in Spain in 2004 and moved to Las Vegas four years later, where he made a career in digital marketing. Alex joined the largest family in hospitality a year ago to run Marriott’s search marketing program. He lives in Bethesda, MD, with his wife and two kids, age four and two. A soccer fan and keen traveler don’t be surprised if you find Alex singing ABBA in a karaoke bar.
Share15 – join the digital marketing community
This year Share15 is even bigger and better with over 60 speakers from an envious collection of the world’s leading brands. In fact, no other conference compares to Share with regard to:
- Concentration of quality brands and thought leaders at Share15
- Focus on delivery of insights and actionable takeaways
- Zero tolerance on sales pitches
- Attendee profiles across search, content and digital marketing
Space is limited so register now to avoid disappointment. #Share 15 @brightedge