Some might think marketing the seven seas is a simple task, but Carnival Cruise Line CMO Kathy Mayor would beg to differ.
A typical day for the marketing chief consists of performance optimization, strategic planning, partner development, and learning, she told CMO.com. Digital is now at the forefront of everything the cruise line does, and the strategy is four-pronged: targeting people prebooking, before they set sail, while they are on a ship, and once the trip is over.
In the interview that follows, Mayor talks about the importance of customer journey mapping, a typical day at the office, and some of the company’s successes over the course of the past year.
CMO.com: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at Carnival?
Mayor: I consider myself fortunate to have worked for great companies and with great leaders, learning brand management at Procter & Gamble, strategy and analytics from McKinsey, loyalty and CRM at Caesars Entertainment, and social and ecommerce at Las Vegas Sands in China.
My career highlights and accomplishments have run the gamut, providing a solid foundation to take a role aimed at elevating the Carnival brand. Over the years, I’ve set a Guinness World Record, helped clean up an oil spill with dishwashing liquid, designed and pitched two $4 billion integrated resorts, grown WeChat followers three times in nine months, and generated 45 million views on Weibo in 12 months. Not many people would move halfway around the world from Macau to Miami, but the Carnival Cruise Line leadership team and marketing function were so compelling, and I knew it was something I wanted to be part of.
CMO.com: What does a typical day look like for the CMO of Carnival Cruise Line?
Mayor: A typical great day has me enveloped in a mix of performance optimization, strategic planning, partnership development, and learning. Our performance optimization efforts are focused on understanding how we are performing against our lagging and leading KPIs and optimization actions we can take to adjust the trend. Our strategic planning work is focused on assessing current and upcoming marketing campaigns as well our product development life cycles, some of which require planning three years in advance. On partnership development, it’s meeting with outside folks who know our customers, the broader market, and new technologies to build learning and relationships to raise our game. In all cases, I learn something new, which allows me to help the marketing team not only do things better but also do better things.
CMO.com: Who is Carnival’s target market?
Mayor: Carnival thinks about targeting in psychographic terms. Our guests share Carnival’s values of participatory fun, authenticity, and accessibility. They look to “come as they are” and “come together for fun.”
CMO.com: How does Carnival use digital to create meaningful travel experiences?
Mayor: We think about the customer journey from prebooking, to precruise, to during cruise, and to postcruise. It becomes our responsibility to enhance the experience and the service at, and across, each step via digital. Our award-winning website helps prospects choose the right destination and ship and plan their onboard and onshore activities in advance. Our Hub App provides real-time information on the many entertainment and dining options and helps families and friends stay connected while they’re at sea.
CMO.com: What have been some of Carnival’s biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?
Mayor: First, preparing for the arrival of our newest, most family-friendly ship, Carnival Vista, we named Miss USA Deshauna Barber as our godmother. Carnival Vista has just been awarded 2016 Best New Ship by Cruise Critic, and Miss USA has inserted our brand into conversations about breaking through gender and race barriers, which was particularly relevant this political season. We are proud of that.
Second, leveraging our partners, such as Guy Fieri and Cat In The Hat, we have executed a series of activations in key markets. Guy Fieri, a longtime Carnival partner, has followed up his Guy’s Burger Joint with a new concept restaurant, Pig & Anchor Barbecue. At an event in New York, we treated media and influencers to a tasting of a few Guy-inspired dishes that are served onboard, as well as many of the brews served at Vista’s onboard brewery. Nearly 1 million fans also tuned in to a Facebook live stream with Guy. When Cat In The Hat announced he would be running for President, he and his running mates–Thing One and Thing Two–chose Carnival as their campaign headquarters at sea. At three key markets across the country, we hosted campaign rallies with the Cat. This entertaining and educational program is designed for the more than 700,000 children who sail with us annually and is culturally relevant at this time.
Third, we are innovating across immersive technologies and social marketing. In fact, our work was cited by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as a best practice during the Travel CMO Summit. As an example, Carnival was the first to leverage Facebook Canvas (below) and our 360 video features Easter eggs, magic tricks, and gamification.
CMO.com: What’s your biggest challenge as it relates to digital?
Mayor: As prospects explore more on mobile but continue to transact more on desktop, cross-device attribution to arrive at a single view of the customer and optimize marketing investment is the biggest challenge in digital.
This is balanced by the biggest opportunity in digital, which is to leverage immersive technologies to help prospects get as close to trying cruising risk-free and without needing to physically be on a ship, and artificial intelligence-powered chat and conversational commerce, to help those new to a cruise through their first purchase and planning.
CMO.com: What are your top three strategic marketing priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?
Mayor: Our first priority was to launch the Carnival Vista when she arrived in New York in November and in her homeport of Miami in December. There is no better way to launch the most family-friendly ship, which features a suspended cycling ride, a kaleidoscope-inspired water slide, and the first IMAX at sea, than by celebrating with military families with the help of seven-time Grammy award winner Carrie Underwood and Operation Homefront.
Our second priority is to inspire new-to-cruise rookies via the five private destinations that Carnival calls on–Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico.
Our third priority is to launch Carnival Vista’s sister ship, the Carnival Horizon, which will set sail in early 2018, making all of 2017 a critical time to drum up interest and engagement.
CMO.com: You’re currently running the “Brand New View” campaign. What’s the strategy? How will you measure success?
Mayor: The Carnival Vista was designed to bring the inside out with alfresco dining restaurants, Havana-inspired cabins with hammock-fitted patios, and a suspended cycling ride with great views of the sea and shore. The “Brand New View” campaign anchors on these first-at-sea features and invites new-to-cruise rookies to see vacation, cruising, and Carnival with a new perspective. Real-time views and click throughs, as well as post-campaign research, will measure immediate traffic generation as well as brand lift.
CMO.com: What’s your mobile strategy? What have you found works and does not work for your target audience?
Mayor: On social, we have leveraged mobile functionality, such as 360 viewing, to provide immersive experiences, and these outperform static photos. Prebooking, we have optimized the experience to make search and shopping mobile-friendly, resulting in dramatically increased mobile conversion rates.
During the cruise, we have enabled our guests to not only plan and transact onboard, but also connect with their travel parties and with others who are like them. Carnival’s guests embrace connecting with friends old and new, and stay connected long after the cruise. Mobile enables that on a ship at sea.
CMO.com: How about social media? People post their vacation pictures all the time. How does Carnival leverage that?
Mayor: Carnival thinks about social across content, campaigns, commerce, and community. On content, we lean into both influencer and user-generated content to drive social advocacy and engagement. Specifically, we help our fans be the star both when we feature them on our social accounts, as well as on the large screen on board, which we refer to as “Wall of Moments.” Looking forward, we will be helping our users capture and share content not only using their own devices, but also making infrastructure advancements to encourage additional sharing on social.
CMO.com: If you could give CMOs and aspiring CMOs one piece of advice, what would it be?
Mayor: Work for people who you will learn from and who believe in you. At the beginning of any new role, I did not always have specific experience in the marketing discipline, industry, or geography, but the people I worked for believed in me enough to give me the opportunity to stretch and learn. Embrace ambiguity, surround yourself with experts, and have true self confidence–that which is anchored within versus dependent on external validation.