C-suite perspectives: Accor COO talks customer strategy and digital disruption

In our latest c-suite perspective series, we chat with the chief operating officer of Accor pacific, Simon McGrath, about digital strategy and customer engagement for the hotel chain

Simon McGrath, Accor Pacific
Simon McGrath, Accor Pacific

Accor Pacific’s chief operating officer, Simon McGrath, shares how the hotel group is adjusting its customer strategy to cope with digital disruption.

Our marketing strategy… is based on sound consumer insight and business requirements first, before we consider channels most appropriate for each brand to reach our customers. People are increasingly searching online to find information. For this reason, we invest in search engine marketing and ecommerce websites including Accorhotels.com, as well as branded websites that deliver relevant and up-to-date information about our hotels.

We are also constantly optimising our brand messages online through digital display advertising and providing branded messages on the most relevant platforms, such as TripAdvisor. We listen and talk to consumers via our social networks, particularly Facebook. Our focus this year has been on multi-device engagement.

My view of marketing… is that it is more important than ever if we’re to distinguish our brands in a cluttered environment. Marketers are required to find creative ways to cut through with diminishing budgets, but we also measure the impact of marketing – particularly in digital – on our top-line performance. We have invested in a digital commerce team to complement the marketing and communications team, which ensures we have robust tools and expertise to maximise returns from our primary channel, Accorhotels.com.

The role of the CMO… is probably one of the most critical and broad roles in any organisation. It requires natural intuition and gut feel about behavioural movements in wider society. The CMO needs to be able to take and interpret all the information available and shape this into strategic pillars. These guide and verify product design and customer experience – and then the real heavy lifting begins. The CMO will live and die by communications being grounded in consumer insights. The final skill is clever management of lean resources to maximise brand exposure and engagement.

We’re investing our digital marketing dollars in… integrated brand campaigns that break travel industry norms, leverage our partnerships and our strength in PR. The consumer purchase process for hotels has drastically changed over the past five years towards online. We no longer own the brand conversation, so it’s critical we are responsive to customer feedback and manage our online reputation. Our digital dollars are weighted towards search engine marketing, through which we see a 25:1 return.

Email is also important in acquisition, and 2014 was hailed as the year of metasearch, with 13 per cent growth in the hotel industry. That is a huge growth opportunity for Accor.

We are developing a customer-centric culture… through our Peopleology training program. This provides a framework for understanding people using scientific and emotional insights, and challenges staff to find the right answer to meet our guests’ human needs. Since introducing the program, we have achieved 38 per cent growth in our Net Promoter Score.

Big data… helps us to gauge a customer’s frequency, recency, brand preference and improve our understanding of their relationship with individual hotels, and across Accor’s portfolio. We have a new relationship with InTouch Data to deep dive into the use of data in a hospitality context. And we continue to utilise our loyalty programs to provide tailored events and offers to members.

If I could hire one extra employee… it would be an expert on customer journey, as we need to continually adapt.

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This article originally appeared in CMO magazine, Issue 3, 2014. To subscribe to get your own magazine copy, please register through our online member system: cmo.com.au/subscribe.

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