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In the Las Vegas hospitality industry, standing out from the competition means the difference between hitting it big—or dealing with a bust.
“Las Vegas is a funny market,” said Lisa Marchese, CMO of The Venetian and The Palazzo Resort Hotel and Casino, in an interview with CMO.com. “There’s a lot of product and a lot of choice, particularly in the five-star market. Finding compelling and dynamic ways to stand out and reinvent the experience can be a challenge here.”
Marchese, who joined The Venetian and The Palazzo a year-and-a-half ago, was tasked with exactly that—rethinking and relaunching The Venetian—in an industry where competition for discretionary dollars is fierce.
Two initiatives that Marchese led were key to the relaunch: a new ad campaign and foray into an innovative Facebook Messenger experience, both of which reinvigorated the property and aimed to alleviate prevalent industry pain points.
Marrying TV, Print, And The Experience
While The Venetian had performed strongly year after year, there was a real opportunity to update the brand to reflect more of Las Vegas’ current landscape than it had embraced in the past, Marchese said.
That’s how The Venetian’s first ad campaign in more than 20 years was born. Called “Come As You Are,” Marchese and her team aimed to identify and capitalize on the brand’s white space to determine messaging that was both authentic to the brand and distinctive from what their competition was doing, she said.
The messaging they landed on was “sophistication without the supposed-to’s,” she explained, where luxury is optimistic and engaging, and doesn’t take itself so seriously.
“We wanted to target people who want to have fun. They don’t live their lives with any degree of arrogance or self-importance,” Marchese said. “They’re the people who will fit right into this product and appreciate and celebrate the landscape of really unique individuals, the Italian heritage, and that kind of spirit, vibrancy, and liveliness—the Venetian mindset—without sacrificing luxury in any way.”
It was important for Marchese and her team to focus not only on TV advertising, which premiered in select markets during the Olympics opening ceremony last year, but to marry it with print components and its on-site experience.
Print ads ran in Vanity Fair and Food and Wine, among others, while two major art instillations and a new palette debuted at the resort.
“For us, it was paramount that the visual cues that you see in the advertising come to life through the on-site experience,” Marchese said. “We changed key packs and signage that embraced this illustrative pattern that’s consistent with what you see in the creative advertising. We’re making sure that our great campaign comes to life as you spend time with us in the resort.”
Though the campaign has been live for just a few quarters, Marchese said it has performed well in conjunction with other direct channels.
“We’re happy with the campaign for a multitude of reasons. We’re seeing dramatic increases in our [FIT] business, which is really what we’re focused on as an end game,” she added.
Launching A Frictionless Direct Booking Channel
Following the launch of “Come As You Are,” Marchese and her team turned their attention toward easing a pain point prevalent in the hospitality industry: how to eliminate friction from the guest purchase process.
Apps were a common solution, Marchese said. Some hotels launched apps with SMS features intended to, for example, optimize front-of-house functions. If you needed towels, you could text to request them. But few were using Facebook Messenger, and none were using it specifically as a direct booking channel, she said. Choosing it as a platform was a no-brainer, according to Marchese, given its massive reach and hefty monthly active user numbers.
“If you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and want to make a purchase decision based on the stimulus that’s provided, we wanted a way to keep you in-channel and eliminate some of that friction of going back out to a browser and trying to drill down into a booking engine,” she said.
In May, The Venetian went live with its direct social booking channel on Facebook Messenger—the first-ever for an individual hotel—that it developed in partnership with Let’s Rally, a Las Vegas digital marketing agency.
Users visit The Venetian’s Facebook page to message it directly, or access it via the Facebook Messenger app. The platform uses Microsoft Cognitive Services, which includes the LUIS natural language processing engine—an integration that gets smarter as the number of customer inquiries increases, Marchese said.
When you open a window to message The Venetian, the app responds with a series of options to choose from, which include “Book A Suite,” “About The Venetian,” “Our Pools,” and “Pets & Policies.”
If you choose to book a suite, the app asks you a series of questions, such as your check-in and check-out dates, the number of people in your party, and the number of beds you want. It then checks the availability and redirects you to the hotel’s booking page where your preferences are saved and you can complete your reservation.
“We’re learning what customers want to understand. There’s a wealth of insights that we can start to pull from this channel that maybe we don’t have access to through more traditional research channels,” Marchese said. “When they’re contemplating a booking decision, for example, what are the factors? Is it the pool? Room type? Adjacency? Because it’s a conversational format, we’re learning how the customer thinks about it on their terms versus ours.”
Since its debut, the app has processed more than 10,000 messages, Marchese said. Of those, only nine instances have required a human to intervene, which followed a glitch in the technology, she added.
Channeling A Broader Marketing Context
Marchese began her career on the agency side and later transitioned to consulting before joining the hospitality industry. She said that those experiences helped her think about marketing in a broader context—skills that ultimately contributed to the success of The Venetian’s “Come As You Are” campaign.
“Having that brand acumen and training on the consulting side has really helped me embrace and own critical components of the guest experience—not just the marketing of the product itself, but the crafting of the product,” she said. “A lot of hospitality marketers tend to come up through revenue management or traditional sales. I started with a brand orientation—not necessarily a typical marketing orientation.”
The Venetian’s booking channel on Facebook Messenger was a key component to the brand’s efforts to grab market share back from third-party travel agents and own the guest experience from consideration and booking to post-stay, she said. These are issues that weigh heavily on the hospitality industry as a whole.
“In capitalized assets like hotels, investing in innovative and quick-to-market technology is often difficult,” she said. “You can renovate rooms and change out restaurants, but those are capital-intensive, long-lead projects. For us, we wanted to find more fluid ways to reinvent the experience and get people excited about the brand.”