Parthasarathi Mandal, Director (Digital Marketing) - South West Asia, Hyatt International
You cannot think about digital and offline in isolation any more. This is the biggest shift that has happened in our thinking and I think this has happened in the industry, in general. It is so much a part of our lives today, that our approach also has to be integrated taking into consideration how consumers’ decision making and the way they consume information has changed.
You cannot think about digital and offline in isolation any more. This is the biggest shift that has happened in our thinking and I think this has happened in the industry, in general. It is so much a part of our lives today, that our approach also has to be integrated taking into consideration how consumers’ decision making and the way they consume information has changed.Parthasarathi Mandal, Director (Digital Marketing) - South West Asia at Hyatt International is a marketing professional with over 13 years of experience. His expertise ranges across a variety of operating mandates, including marketing, e-commerce & social web, brand management, advertising and communications, etc.
As Director for Digital Marketing, Mandal believes that new learnings will come when brands listen to their customers, and the digital medium has a big role to play in this regard. In conversation with exchange4media’s Abhinn Shreshtha, Mandal shares insights on Hyatt’s digital and social initiatives, among other things. Excerpts. Q. Please give us a highlight of your digital and social media strategy. How do you align digital campaigns with the overall marketing strategy? Right now, it is less about alignment and more about having an integrated approach. We believe that most of our target audience are consuming digital content and it is affecting their lives in a big way, so we do everything online as well as offline to ensure that we have a holistic messaging and are reaching out to everyone across the entire spectrum.
There are two parts to our approach, with one being the macro approach, which is more strategic in nature. Even on the tactical side, depending on whether it is an offer or something else, the integration is done in a manner that best suits the medium. So, there could be occasions when the promotion is purely online, sometimes the skew would be more towards offline, but most components are present in various proportions. We don’t think of them as separate any more. This is the biggest shift that has happened in our thinking and I think this has happened in the industry, in general. You cannot think about digital and offline in isolation any more. It is so much a part of our lives today, that our approach also has to be integrated taking into consideration how consumers’ decision making and the way they consume information has changed.
Q. From a marketing standpoint, what are the objectives of your digital campaigns and promotions? Every industry has one expectation – to drive people to your door. Whether it is through phone calls or emails or walk-ins, in the end the objective is to create a better understanding of your brand. Therefore, our objectives are also fairly simple. Clearly, at this stage, we are trying to get people to understand who we are and what we stand for. The beauty of the digital platform as opposed to any other is that it is an active search platform. Right now, the focus is on informing people about the various brands that Hyatt has, so that each brand has a different identity for the customer. The other focus is leveraging the digital and social media movement in a manner that allows us to engage with our guests much better and create larger opportunities for interactions. These two are the core of everything we are doing on the digital platform.
Q. How is Hyatt creating more engaging conversations? One of the things we have started to do recently is get more contextual in our advertising. We have moved away from very generic messaging to a more individualised and context-driven advertising. This is one thing that I think is happening in the industry and definitely at Hyatt. The other thing is that we are starting to leverage the social platforms to engage customers. A lot of brands use social media, but many of them use it as just another mouthpiece, but the nature of the medium is such that people want to engage with the brand only if it is relevant to them. What we are trying to do is trying to be relevant to them.
So, we flipped around our approach from being company-centric (what we want to say?) to a much more user-centric approach, where we are much more keen to understand what the user is interested in and then initiate conversation or engagement, depending on what the user shows interest in.
Q. Please tell us something about your digital plans for 2014. This is a big year for us. We are trying to do a lot more on the digital and social front, especially a lot more experiments than we have done. Social media and brands are going to be a focus for us. The mantra for the team is user engagement. We want to be user-centric.
Q. What are the challenges in the digital space for a brand? One of the biggest challenges is that by entering into a very open and public kind of media, it exposes you to a whole lot of misuse. There have been incidents in the past – and I am sure there will be many in the future too – where people have misused this opportunity or platform to spread things that might be misconstrued or be without merit. In a way this is great because it makes us more accountable and transparent. The challenge is that people have the ability to misuse this medium, but the potential or opportunities far outweigh the challenges.
Q. So, how does Hyatt handle such cases? It has not to do with Hyatt; it doesn’t even have to with the industry. If something like this happens, the best way to handle it is to put out the facts so that it is public and let people make their own decisions. One of the things we have to believe in is that given the right information, people will make the right decision. So, the best thing to do is to be factual and transparent. I think those days are gone where you could influence people; people nowadays have access to a lot more information and I think it’s a lost cause and also foolish to do that. If you have nothing to hide, then my personal opinion is that you need to be transparent. This is the power of the medium.
When Wikipedia came out, people were apprehensive, but look at what has happened. Here is a self-regulated ecosystem, which is probably given more credibility than any Encyclopaedia in the world.
Q. Do you work with digital agencies for your social and digital activities? Also, how do you manage independent teams across your properties spread throughout the globe? We work with external agencies for our digital activities and some parts of our social media. However, most of our social media is taken care of internally. Like I said earlier, if you are genuinely interested in engaging with your guest or potential guest, then you have to do the due diligence and labour yourself.
The simplest way to describe our system is that it is a decentralised empowered system. So, while there is a fair amount of help, support and ideas that flow from the central team, the teams in individual hotels have the flexibility to do what they need for their particular market. The appreciation of the fact that localisation or regionalisation is very important is ingrained in our system. The overall objectives are obviously common, but each team has the flexibility to interpret the recommendations in the manner that they feel is best for their region.
Q. Could you give us an idea about how digital spends have increased for Hyatt? The digital area has increased significantly as a focus area and you have to put money behind the focus, which we are doing. There is a significant increase planned, but it will be mostly for experimentation. I think what is very important to understand from the hospitality industry perspective is that it is still maturing and, therefore, it is important for us to understand what works and what does not. What might work in an evolved market for the hospitality industry might not work in a non-evolved market. Similarly, what might work for us might not work for a different brand in the same market. So, when I say that user engagement and relevancy will be our focus areas, we are going to experiment a lot along these areas. Some of them may fail, but that’s okay since that also teaches you. We are allocating more budgets for experimenting with stuff so we can take quick decisions about what works for us or not and implement quickly.
Q. What are your expectations from your digital agency? Why do you work with an agency? One of the reasons is because it is an extension of your team. It gives you more minds, more people, etc. Agencies have the opportunity to help us gain insights on the trends and what the competition is up to. Also, as a client, sometimes we get too focused on our own industry, whereas there are many other industries which are in various stages of evolution. The agency works with multiple clients across multiple industries. One of the key roles an agency can play is as a cross-pollinator of good ideas and learnings across industries. I think this is one thing that can seriously add value for any client. For example, something might be happening in the FMCG sector that could be extremely relevant to the hospitality sector.
Q. Speaking of cross-pollination, what are the key things that the hospitality industry can learn from other industries? One of the things that hospitality industry can definitely learn is how to handle large-scale promotions. What generally tends to happen is that the hospitality sector is very property-centric. Large scale, synergistic national or international campaigns are not in our DNA, as opposed to, say, a FMCG brand, which is quite comfortable doing large-scale promotions.
Another thing could be card campaigns and airlines and the way they run fantastic loyalty programmes. There are some great loyalty programmes that the hospitality sector runs, but there are other industries that run loyalty programmes too and I am sure we can learn a lot from them too, maybe not the way we run loyalty programmes, but how to leverage user intelligence to provide better, personalised user engagement.
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