Expedia senior marketing director for EMEA Andrew Cocker is in his busiest period. Just after Christmas is traditionally the most important time for holiday advertising, and, on top of that, he is working with a new creative agency and launching a new, documentary-style TV campaign.
But he took time to talk to CMO.com and started by explaining his role at Expedia.
Cocker: I look after the brand marketing team, and the role is about doing three things: driving profitable visitor and incremental transaction growth; driving a more cohesive customer experience alongside our UX and product teams; and building the long-term health of the brand.
CMO.com: How is the team structured and how do you fit with the other bits of the business that you just talked about?
Cocker: Marketing is structured into a combination of geographical and functional experts. For example, on the media side, we have functional experts in the key areas of TV buying, programmatic display/video, and SEM, who interact with engineering, analytics, product, etc. on a daily basis. As a global business, it’s also imperative that we have local language and insight ensuring we go to market in the most culturally relevant way. There’s a really impressive collaboration culture at Expedia, so for most major projects, we have cross-functional teams that are made up of people from complimentary areas of the business.
CMO.com: How does digital fit in?
Cocker: There isn’t a digital department. Everybody’s role in Expedia is digital and analytical, in some shape or form. We’re a tech business operating in the travel vertical, not a travel company trying to figure out the tech. The thing that drives us is our application of the scientific method—or test-and-learn, as we call it at Expedia. That approach empowers everybody in the organisation to continually refine the travel experience, and make it more efficient.
Having that mindset means that we place a lot of emphasis on the measurability of our actions, which goes to the heart of the classic digital mindset. Four years ago we were doing a handful of tests every year, and a handful of engineering releases associated to those tests. Today we’ve got tens of thousands of tests, and a continuous stream of hypotheses to test, on the product, on our marketing campaigns, on any part of the site.
CMO.com: How do you see marketing campaigns fitting with that way of thinking?
Cocker: There isn’t such a thing as a marketing campaign anymore, certainly at Expedia. We’re in a state of continual optimisation. Over the past two years we’ve transitioned from a traditional multi-channel marketing approach to one that’s fully focused on delivering a very measurable impact to the bottom line.
As marketers, we’ve got so many channels at our disposal, but we’ve found that, by focusing on fewer channels, and then rigorously optimising them, we can better give travellers targeted messages specific to where they are in the travel funnel, which, in turn, leads to profitable transactions.
There’s also a significant opportunity for us to align the organisation around a very cohesive, consistent customer experience. When you look at the companies who are very successful in this area, they’ve managed to operationalise what I call purposeful cohesion.
On the purposeful side, it means everything they’re doing—marketing, product, communications—stems from a very clear set of values and principles, which all of the employees live and breathe.
On the cohesion side, everything feels, looks, and behaves in a very recognisable way. That focus enables companies to operationalise a clear purpose. We know that’s incredibly important for any modern organisation, both on the customer side, but also in attracting the right kind of talent who wants to work for companies that have meaning in the world.
CMO.com: Do you buy into the philosophy that customer experience is what builds brands now?
Cocker: Absolutely. It’s an enormous opportunity for companies, but delivering a very consistent user experience is difficult. Take Expedia as an example—we’ve got flights, hotels, car hire, activities, and rail, all in one experience. That’s an incredibly complex ecosystem of products.
In order to be world-class in each of those product verticals, you need teams that are very focused on them. But if you’re structured around verticals, you need to ensure that when a customer goes from one to another, the experience, tone of voice, photographic style, and everything that goes with them is consistent.
CMO.com: How are you approaching that problem?
Cocker: In stages. First, everybody has to be aligned around a consistent purpose, a set of values, and the things that come from that, in terms of tone of voice and visual identity. Getting buy-in from all the stakeholders is obviously key before you can progress, because, otherwise, you’ll start doing experiments in one area, but they won’t ladder up to anything bigger.
Then you can do smaller experiments to start aligning different stages of the funnel. We do everything through a series of A/B tests, starting with the most highly trafficked customer experiences or user journeys. The benefit of that is you can get a signal much quicker. We can get to statistical significance far faster on a highly trafficked area and know when we’re making the right kind of bets. Then we can move into the smaller areas once we’re confident we’re moving in the right direction.
It definitely changes the marketing relationship in the organisation. Maybe 10 years ago that relationship was more focused around campaigns and TV advertising, and now it’s about partnering much more closely with product, UX, and engineering, to ensure this strategic thread is woven through every part of the experience.
CMO.com: We interviewed the marketing director of UKTV a year ago, and he said that, as CMO, he feels he should have oversight of what anybody who has contact with customers is doing. That’s a very different set of relationships compared to even a few years ago.
Cocker: There’s certainly a thirst for all the customer-facing teams to work together inside Expedia. The product and UX teams want to partner with us because it’s a big challenge that we’re all trying to solve together, and none of us can do it on our own.
For example, we recently repitched our creative business. We’re now working with Fallon, who fully embraces this concept of customer experience and placing it right at the centre of things. It isn’t just about creating an ad, it’s thinking about how an idea can transform across all areas of the customer life cycle. For that to work effectively we need the close help of many teams outside of marketing.
The creative side of the marketing role hasn’t diminished. We’ve just got more insight, more data than ever before to shape and mould our creative briefing. As a discipline, marketing has always been insight-led, psychology-led. Now it’s how you ensure you’re processing the right bits of information, and acting on them quickly enough, because the signals are coming in far faster than ever before.
CMO.com: Can you give me an example of this in practice?
Cocker: The shift in creative direction for our new campaign is a good example of a creative process that still starts with rigorous consumer insight to understand the strategic territory that we’re in, and then pretesting our ideas through a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research.
The core innovation for us this time is around our filmmaking. We’re not increasing our production budgets, despite there being so many more opportunities for people to consume content now. That has forced us into relooking at how we’re doing things. We’ve moved away from the traditional ad shoot. We’ve focused on a more documentary style of filming, to capture real people in real situations. It allows us to shoot multiple different iterations of product messages, but all interspersed through a more emotionally engaging film.
Our pretests have been very strong, and we’ll be in-market in the next couple of weeks with this new approach. Essentially, it means that we’ve got some master films—two to three minutes—which tell more of an emotional story, and then as you move down into the shorter lengths—the 20 seconds or 30 seconds—we’re able to tell more of a product-led story.
It is designed to allow us to be able to test anything in real time. We use a TV attribution company called TVSquared, so within seconds and minutes of the ad airing, we know exactly how many people have come to the site. That helps make the short-term decisions, and then the longer-term decisions are taken when we have a month’s worth of data, rather than a day at a time.
CMO.com: How are you thinking about personalisation and relevance?
Cocker: Personalisation is obviously a huge opportunity. It is also a challenge, technically and in our ability to be able to deliver succinct and bespoke messages at scale. We’re investing quite significantly in programmatic, which does that. If we know where a traveller is looking to go, then the more bespoke and personalised we can be about their destination or about what they want to do, the better performance we’ll see as a result. But we’re very much at the start of this journey.
CMO.com: You’re also looking at voice interface technologies.
Cocker: We’re investing in voice recognition and natural language processing technologies to gain a deeper understanding of the rapidly evolving field of voice-centred interactions. We’ve just launched our first voice iteration with Amazon’s Alexa. It allows customers to receive important travel updates and information in an easy, intuitive way. Travellers can hear details on upcoming trips purchased on Expedia with other embedded features that let them ask for specifics regarding hotel bookings, flight status, loyalty points balance, rental car reservations, and so on. We’re continually looking to give our customers even more ways to get real-time travel updates using whatever device they choose.