Expedia MD: How we're rallying around the customer

In CMO's series of CEO-level profiles, we chat with MD of Expedia, Georg Ruebensal, about his views on modern marketing strategy and the CMO

Expedia MD, Georg Ruebensal
Expedia MD, Georg Ruebensal

Expedia Australia’s managing director, Georg Ruebensal, talks about how the group is striving to improve customer lifetime value.

Marketing and digital… go hand-in-hand for us. Too many companies have very different presentations of their offline and online presence, but we see each as an extension of the other. As a full-service online travel agent, we don’t own the end product (the hotel room or airline seat), we are only selling a ‘commodity’. Therefore, apart from the scope and range we offer, our product differentiator is user experience. Whether we talk to customers at the top of the funnel through an inspirational TV campaign, target travellers when they are ready to buy through retargeting or other direct response channels, or address those in the final purchase stages on our website, the core brand story remains the same: Expedia is the place to go for any of your travel needs.

As a CEO, my perception of marketing… has and hasn’t changed in recent years. The importance of marketing hasn’t changed at all, but yes, our understanding of it certainly is continuously evolving. Gone are the days when we only looked at brand, database and search engine marketing. The business opportunities – and risks – have increased considerably, with new players and concepts that didn’t exist a few years ago. Then there’s the ever-evolving social landscape, retargeting and custom audiences to address, plus a new breed of meta and affiliate travel sites. All of these provide new opportunities to position our products and services.

Today’s CMO… must integrate and work with all teams to ensure our brand message reflects our products and lives across all touchpoints – from advertising, customer acquisition and retail to the offline and post-trip experience. Equally important is identifying and capitalising on new trends and marketing opportunities, which almost always these days are data driven.

We are developing a business culture focused on customer centricity… by striving to understand what our customers think about Expedia, from booking until they have returned from their trip. To do this, we have implemented a Net Promoter Score (NPS) across many touchpoints. We have a large screen with our current NPS in the staff kitchen, and each new rating we receive pops up in a coloured tile with the products booked and customer commentary. That alone is driving good conversations. The NPS is also fully embedded into our KPIs, driven by a dedicated customer experience director, and has the same business prominence as the financial results. We are now translating a 1-point change in NPS into actual financial gain/loss based on customer lifetime value, making it even more tangible for everyone to rally behind our customer value proposition.

Related: Dell, Expedia share how they're striving to improve customer engagement

Big data recently helped us… enhance our US flight search capabilities. The average number of searches a customer makes per booking has increased from 15 to 48 over the past few years. Our recommendation service, which will soon launch in Australia, uses patterns from how other travellers search for the same route, and finds alternatives such as different airports, dates or airline combinations.

One game-changing technology trend impacting our industry… is the advance of multi-device shopping. Understanding our customers’ path to purchase is no longer as straightforward as it used to be and the relevancy of technology previously used has been reduced. This is something that impacts all of our customer touchpoints and marketing channels, so making smart technology investments has become an even greater priority.

About the company

Expedia is an online-based travel agency providing business and consumer booking services for flights, hotels, car rentals, tours and holiday package deals. The US-based company has 20 localised websites, plus mobile apps and Facebook properties, and claims to have millions of users planning travel activities via its site every month.

This article originally appeared in CMO's June 2014 magazine edition. To subscribe to your complimentary copy of our print title or our weekly newsletter, subscribe here .

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