CMO Interview: How Marriott's APAC marketing chief employs data and digital for customer advantage

And why this chief marketing and sales officer says more marketers need to put customers and staff, and not the martech stack, first

Peggy Fang Roe
Peggy Fang Roe

Marketers that focus on their martech stack first, instead of designing backwards with their customers and staff in mind, are going to run into serious organisational and cultural challenges.

That’s the view of Marriott International’s chief sales and marketing officer for Asia-Pacific, Peggy Fang Roe, who caught up with CMO during a recent visit to Sydney. Acknowledging most marketing leaders are being confronted with the need to better utilise technology to improve the way their brand engages with customers, Fang Roe is quick to advise marketers to consider “the end in mind first”.

“As a CMO, you have this tech stack you have to define and based on what you want to do, there are a plethora of technologies available. But a lot of people make the mistake of going the other way, and saying I’m going to build my stack, then figure out what to do with it,” she says. “You run into so many org problems that way.

“Really, you should think about what you want staff to do, and your marketers to do, and what people will do with the data. That means designing backwards.”

Fang Roe has a wealth of experience in brand management, technology and operational process. She started in a management development program with GE Capital, and secured an MBA at Harvard, before leaping into Silicon Valley at the height of the tech boom.

From working at Amazon as part of a summer internship, she joined startup, Homestead, as director of product marketing. After the tech bust, she went back to GE and mastered Six Sigma, then switched to events and hospitality with Marriott.

Over the past 14 years, Fang Roe has held a variety of roles, from marketing planning to brand management and global operations, where she was heavily involved in innovation work. Nearly four years ago, she became chief sales and marketing officer for Asia-Pacific, one of four regional positions created to reflect a new globalised corporate structure.

It’s a role covering the total front-end of the business and all 4Ps of marketing. “The role of the marketing piece has shifted and it’s becoming more end-to-end, from the product to how you communicate and sell it, to the experience itself,” Fang Roe claims.

“Over the last five years, there has been this tremendous push to bring marketing and operations together. My counterpart is our operations guy - we find we have to work hand-in-hand on almost everything and loyalty, customer experience and data are at the centre of that.

“That’s where I’ve seen marketing change the most. It also follows the evolution of my job, from tactical marketing to focusing on the whole customer experience.”  

Bringing technology into experience

What’s also become obvious is the customer experiences Marriott is designing require seamless use of technology, Fang Roe says. She reports to the president of Asia, as well as Marriott’s global chief commercial officer, who also oversees IT.

“So much of the customer experience is driven by IT, it’s the backbone of what you’re developing,” she says. “It’s not technology to replace people, but allowing our customers to interface with us the way they want to. People are learning, researching, booking and even having services facilitated through mobile and we need to address that.”

As an example, Fang Roe notes Marriott’s new mobile app functionality allow guests to interact with the hotel group purely via mobile, from asking questions to front desk check-in. From a meetings and events perspective, Marriott has enabled mobile functionality to allow meeting planners to interface with staff via devices, as well as use its site, ‘Meetings Imagined’, for ideas and inspiration.

“Meetings as an industry is very commoditised – it’s rates, dates and space. We wanted to be a different player and one of the pain points planners have is trying to one up their last event,” Fang Roe explains. “When we asked those customers what’s one more person and skillset they’d add to their teams tomorrow if they could, they said creative. So we created this website, open to anyone, with ideas and inspiration.

“It also allows us to collect data about what people are interested in – ideas, hotels – then create and design events for people.”

In addition, Marriott is connecting the dots around customer data by building a universal guest ID. “In a large organisation like ours, we have a bunch of systems that don’t necessarily talk to each other, such as systems in the hotel, versus the call centre,” Fang Roe says. “Now we’re connecting all those dots so we can do better targeting and experience.”

Using data to find out what customers want

Another initiative being tested in 40 hotels is providing Mandarin language services to the growing number of Chinese outbound travellers staying in Marriott hotels internationally. To do this, the group is leveraging Wei Chat.

“It sounds obvious but most hotels don’t have it,” Fang Roe says. “You can plan your trip, ask advice on transportation, or how to get to the next gate if you’re stuck in the airport.”

Importantly, the platform is customised so Marriott can track data in the back end, clocking up frequent requests and comparing response times.  “It’s a voice of the customer source for us, but also a way to provide better experience,” Fang Roe says. “We’re learning a lot about the types of requests people have when they’re on property so we can then evolve the property experience. Mostly it’s food options, or suggestions on where to go shopping.”

Collecting data is one thing, but Fang Roe agrees it’s getting insights into the hands of staff that generates better experiences. Traditionally, Marriott’s strategy team identified insights from data, managed the campaigns and product design. But increasingly, the hotel group is trying to figure out how to enable hotels to uncover their own insights so they can deliver a more customised, localised experience.

“Developing from the centre doesn’t work,” Fang Roe claims. “I’m thinking about how to enable the hotel with their own sets of data, and own rights to manage, so they have their own ability to collect insights they can respond to in real time.”

The way Marriott brings data-driven insight to staff is via its guest voice system, which went mobile just under one year ago. “Previously, general managers used to view the report at the end of month or week, what people said on surveys, and it’s too late then,” Fang Roe says. “Now, in real time, they’re able to look at what guests are saying as soon as they check out or fill out the survey.”

Voice of customer doesn’t stop there. Marriott has its own global social media listening tool, called M Live, to listen to what people are talking about in relation to Marriott brands, as well as broader trends. Fang Roe says insights are being used in two ways. One is to provide personalised engagement.

“One thing we recently did was around the Rugby Sevens, where we used listening to find people talking about Rugby Sevens in the week leading up to the event,” she says. “We then targeted them with messages, saying if you post about Marriott, we’ll invite you to our VIP suite. It was a way to target.”

The other way M Live is used is in combination with geofencing technology from Hyper. “We had one guest who went with three friends to the St Regis in Singapore for a vacation, who posted a picture of the pool... The St Regis picked it up, figured out the title of the group post – the group was called ‘guys who travel’ – found out their four names, and then customised towels and left them in their room,” Fang Roe says.

“There is just so much you can do to surprise and delight people, and we’re using a lot of technology and social to do that. That’s our whole industry – we’re trying to anticipate your needs and do something unexpected.”

Keeping the customer loyalty program relevant

Through all of this, the customer loyalty program continues to play an important role in keeping members engaged. At present, the group is working to bring its Starwood and Marriott programs together.

“We have allowed people to ink their accounts so you have matching status, but beyond that, there is the tactical harmonisation of the program,” Fang Roe says. “But we’re also rethinking loyalty as being less transactional and more of a real relationship. Today, our loyalty programs are about earning and redeeming points. We want to make it more emotional and build more of a connection.

For Fang Roe, keeping a customer loyalty program fresh today means offering more than a program. “Loyalty now means you’re in our inner circle, have access to our apps, or we’re tracking things in a more one-on-one manner with you... to interact with you in a more seamless and personal way,” she says.

“We’re thinking hard about how to use the data and personalisation to enable hotels to do more of that.”  

Shaking up the marketing team

To support increasingly data-and technology-driven efforts, Fang Roe has introduced more data analysis skills into the marketing function. Prior to becoming chief sales and marketing officer, the focus was almost all on analysing pricing. To this, she’s added customer and digital analytics.

“All are working together to look at the whole total customer picture,” she says. “We also added an insights person in-market. Previously, all our insights used to come out of the US. Those are the two pieces allowing us to design more holistically.”

What’s also become apparent to Fang Roe is that traditional discipline-based lines, such as sales, revenue, brand and communications, are blurring in favour of collaborative project teams.

“Everyone’s project, no matter where it starts, ends up touching everyone else as it’s an integrated strategy,” she says, adding marketing also has its own technology liaison employee. “We have to think deep about expertise, then broadly when it comes to managing projects.

“We’re formally designed one way, but what I’ve seen with successful projects is we’re informally working together cross-discipline. We’re thinking about how we design the organisation to make that happen.”

Understanding the business end-to-end

When it comes to her top three skills for the modern marketing leader, Fang Roe nominates holistic understanding of the business as number one.

“I don’t know how you do the marketing job anymore without real knowledge of the total business,” she says. “In the past, it was something the CEO or president would do. I find I have to understand the business end-to-end or else I couldn’t do my job well.”

Second is grounding in technology. “My time in Silicon Valley has been so valuable 14 years later because I understand the inner workings of sitting with developers, building websites,” Fang Roe says. “Because I have that logic behind me, I understand half of the work we need to do to deliver on the digital side.

“I think you still have to be creative, but now you have to be analytical so you can be creative. It’s really difficult – starting with end in mind, outcome you want to get and how you build the program and analyse it to move the ROI. You can’t just do great campaigns and get kudos because it was clever, it has to have a measurable outcome.”  

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