3 ways Booking.com is improving its B2B marketing game

Director of digital experience shares how the travel marketplace is using data and technology, context and experimentation to improve its engagement with 2.5 million global partners

Breaking down data systems and silos, walking in the shoes of your audience and committing to continuous improvement are providing the foundational marketing blocks for how Booking.com manages relationships with its complex network of global partners.

Speaking at this week’s virtual Adobe Summit, Booking.com director of digital experiences, Lydia Kroos, shared how the online travel marketplace is working to lift its experience game from a B2B marketing perspective. For Kroos, Booking.com’s stated brand mission to make it easier for people to experience the world provides the North Star for partner relationships and engagement.

But achieving that is no mean feat. Booking.com has 2.5 million partners globally, providing 29 million listings on the platform. It has 10 message types or topics it’s engaging with its partners around, from legal and commercial advice to brand communications, and it needs to communicate in 43 languages. In addition, the marketing team connects with partners through 12 digital channels, such as in-app and email channels, which are also complemented by physical channels such as field account management.

Step 1: Unite the data and tech

For Kroos, the first step to making this kind of complexity easy is beginning with scale in mind, then taking small steps to get to the desired destination. “We look at the plan and dots on the horizon, but quickly go to the first step we need to take to get to that destination,” she said.

To get there, it’s vital to bring the data and systems together and break down any silos. Kroos noted Booking.com’s technology ecosystem supporting B2B marketing extends from internal apps and third-party tools, such as Marketo Engage, through to CRM, event management, marketing algorithms and translation tools.

“We have been using various tools for couple of years and felt we have had added value from every one of them. But to go to the next level, it was super important to connect those dots and tools in the ecosystem,” Kroos said. “Connecting internal systems with third-party APIs isn’t easy but we have made great progress, and it’s what allowing us to leverage our data and go to the next level.”

Step 2: Audience context

But technology is only as good as what you can do with it. As a result, Kroos’ second must for B2B marketing is walking in the audiences’ shoes.

“You have to start with the context of your partners,” she said. By way of example, Kroos noted the distinct challenges different geographies have faced as the COVID-19 global pandemic, lockdowns and restricted travel took centre stage in 2020.

“When COVID first hit, we saw different countries being open with no government restrictions, whereas others were in lockdown. That has been changing daily as the first wave, second and third waves hit. The challenge for us was to make sure we supply right communications to the right partners,” she said.

“That started by analysing destinations, starting with data first, and building a data model taking into account the booking and search patterns onsite plus on our app, where travel was possible and the intent to travel. Third-party data was also taken into account, such as the number of published COVID cases in each country.”

Data, however, is not a solution in itself and this form of insight was supported by local teams with on-the-ground knowledge of local situations. “When our data model proposed a certain state of destination, we had this validated by local teams,” Kroos said.

“At any moment in time, we had the opportunity to have picture of the world and their state. That was the basis of our communications.”

Kroos highlighted two email newsletters as example of Booking.com’s response to partners. One was sent to partners experiencing immediate stress from COVID lockdowns and provided support and information on how to deal with lot of cancellations. Another version was sent to destinations in a better position where travel was possible and included commercial advice of making the best of that situation.

Another example of data-driven marketing was the work undertaken around the Genius loyalty program. This sees partners providing benefits and exclusive discounts to Booking.com’s most loyal customers.

As a program that needs to benefit both consumers and partner, Kroos said her team has worked to create a strong onboarding journey for partners to make the most of program participation.

“We were seeing some partners were getting lost. It also takes a while to see the benefits of being in the program, and some were churning while others had lots of questions,” she explained. “Starting with data, and taking into account partner experience, we created a sign-up confirmation to set expectations for partners, making sure they were onboard a journey. We also provided content for them specifically on the topic of pricing, so they know contextually where they fit.

“From there, partners go on an onboarding experience. For top partners, a personal touchpoint is that account managers get in touch to talk about where they are and answer any questions. Then after those first 30 days, there is full confirmation, plus hard numbers and reporting so partners can see the value the program is bringing.”  

Results from the program of work include a double-digit reduction in churn, plus double-digit growth in partners leaning into the program more and providing benefits to end customers.

“It’s an example of walking in shoes of audience then optimising to make things better,” Kroos said.

Measures adopted to gauge impact include research and satisfaction surveys to learn where things are going well versus room for improvement, Net Promoter Scoring plus qualitative insights from partners, but also use of internal data to track actual partner behaviour and business metrics.

Step 3: Continuous improvement

All of this feeds into Kroos’ third pillar on B2B marketing success, which is experimentation.

“We take all this and make it the basis to create hypotheses for new experiments to try and take that next step and iteration in partner experience improvement,” Kroos said. “What I have learnt the hard way is that nine out of 10 experiments fail, even if you have hypotheses based on partner insights, data and gut feel. That means you need to experiment, experiment and experiment.”

As an illustration of the many types of small experiments Booking.com is undertaking, Kroos noted work on calendar page improvements after noticing a significant amount of inbound queries from partners around calendar syncing. By using different images and headers, the team decided to break articles into multiple sections to make them easier to navigate and digest. The team is now investigating scalability of such UX updates across all help articles.

Another test was around partner hub mobile headlines. Booking.com had noticed a majority of users signing in on desktop devices but needed to improve visibility of sign in on mobile devices. The test saw a ‘profile icon’ added to mobile headers that either prompted user sign-in screen or takes logged in users to their profile page. While there was an increase in profile pageviews of 26 per cent, this did not have significant impact on signed in users in general.

“These are all small experiments – trying to improve and improve is important to us to foster a continuous improvement cycle,” Kroos said.  

“So we begin with scale in mind and take small steps to get to our destinations. We do this by breaking down system and data silos and connecting all the dots across the ecosystem. And we try to live and breathe what partners are feeling, then experiment and experiment to validate our hypotheses.”

Check out more of our coverage of data-driven marketing in B2B:

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