What is Consumer-First Marketing?
Consumer first marketing is the heart and soul, and should be at the heart of every great marketing strategy. It’s about understanding who your consumer is, who is it that you are entering into a relationship with, and understanding who that person is, what motivates them and every touch point, every piece of communication is designed to connect with that consumer in a meaningful way. In the world of marketing you can very easily lose yourself in science and processes and channels, hierarchies, platforms and the like. You can lose sight of WHO you are trying to talk to. A strong marketing strategy, consumer first marketing, puts your consumer at the heart and soul of absolutely everything you do, and if you do that then you’re on the right path.
Welcome to Tourism Upgrade, the podcast unpacking marketing trends from travel, tourism and marketing leaders. I’m your host, Holly G, and today we welcome Lee Siefken, Director of Marketing at Intercontinental Hotels Group. We will be chatting about consumer-first marketing. Welcome to Tourism Upgrade, Lee.
HollyG: Before we dive into today’s topic about consumer-first marketing, I wanted to ask you to share a little bit about your career and your tourism marketing experience. You’ve got a pretty awesome job now, and I know you’ve had some great roles in the past. What’s some of the campaigns or activities you’re working on or some cool ones that you’ve worked on in the past?
Lee Siefken: I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve had a rather exciting career. I’m lucky enough to have worked with very big global brands. Most of my career to date has been with the Walt Disney company, and during that time I worked on anything from the publishing to the film to the consumer product side of things. My last role within Disney was with the Parks and Resorts side of the business, so that put me in the travel industry. From there, I was absolutely hooked. That’s when I discovered the InterContinental Hotels Group, and went from Parks and Resorts and planning and that field to luxury hotel marketing, that’s where I’m in today.
HollyG: Do you see similarities from a marketing perspective with other industries in tourism?
Lee Siefken: Yes, absolutely. I think from a marketing standpoint, on the topic we’re going to talk about today, the fundamentals are the same. It’s about a relationship with the consumer and how you engage with them. Whether it’s tourism, whether it is publishing or simple as toothpaste, there are a lot of fundamentals that transcend all industries.
HollyG: I’d love to talk about consumer-first marketing with you. Can we just start by talking about, what is consumer-first marketing?
Lee Siefken: From my perspective, it’s not complicated, it’s not rocket science. It’s the heart and soul, and should be I guess at the heart of every great marketing strategy. It’s just about understanding who is your consumer, who is it that you are entering into a relationship with, and understanding who that person is, what motivates them and every touch point, every piece of communication is designed to connect with that consumer in a meaningful way. I think in the world of marketing you can very easily lose yourself in science and processes and channels and with hierarchies and the like, and different platforms. You can lose sight of who you are trying to talk to. A strong marketing strategy puts that consumer at the heart and soul of absolutely everything you do, and if you do that then you’re on the right path.
HollyG: I guess so that means one of the first steps when we’re thinking about our marketing is just coming back to really understanding who our consumer is.
Lee Siefken: Absolutely, absolutely. That is a lot easier said than done though, and I think that’s often the difference between a great marketer and a good marketer, is how do you really understand who your consumer is and what motivates them?
The difference between a great marketer and a good marketer, is how you understand who your consumer is and what motivates them.
HollyG: Do you have any advice on that, on doing that, on going down that path of understanding who our consumer is?
Lee Siefken: Yeah, absolutely. Taking a step back and depending on who it is, taking the time to look at it from a number of different ways, yes, there is third party research out there that can be absolutely fantastic and do that, but then at a really base level, spend some time 1 on 1 with that guest. I guess the one thing I would all customer, sorry, it’s the lingo of the travel industry. One thing I think that is important in this is when you come to understand the guests, and our guests, again, this is the differentiator, it’s more about understanding what is their need, what is their why, what motivates their behavior? We can easily differentiate in terms of geography, income, but you’ll only get so far. You have to take the time and effort to understand the guests at a deep level, and what it is, what’s their need and what motivates their behavior.
HollyG: I think that’s a really good point, because I think we’re used to in marketing really focus on the demographic, or the geographic, or the age or the income. I think it’s just changed so much, it’s really hard to define your target market by those things. It’s more psychographic and other things.
Lee Siefken: Absolutely, absolutely. It does make it far more grey, but human beings aren’t black and white, we are grey. You have to find a way to work within that space.
HollyG: I agree, I think looking at the 3rd party research is a great step, and then really talking to your customer, or asking your customer what they want and what they need is a good definition. When we’re thinking about consumer-first marketing, is this something that’s always been around, or is it at the forefront more now since we focus more on digital and social media activities?
Lee Siefken: I’m certain you’ll probably get a different answer from different people you ask. In my humble opinion, I think it absolutely has been around since the dawn of time, and since the dawn of marketing. I think that not all marketers and all businesses have done this, and may have got lost sight. Great brands that have really stood the test of time, or broken out of a very competitive industry, they’ve done that because they were consumer-first. I do think it’s been around forever, it’s just that not every brand or company has had that at the heart of what they do from a marketing standpoint. We can get stuck up in transit, and lingo, and the like. We are all very guilty of that, but I think the fundamentals of great marketing has always been the same.
HollyG: What are some of the ways that we can develop a more consumer-focused marketing strategy?
Lee Siefken: It’s one of those things where I think you almost need to be relentless in your commitment to do it. I alluded to a little bit earlier, particularly if you are in a large organization, but it can still happen if you’re in a small. You can easily lose sight of the customer or the consumer, you shouldn’t get stuck in processes and channels, and before you know it you’re in the wrong platforms, you’re doing the wrong programs, or they may feel right but it’s just, you have to be relentless, go right back to the core. Every time you are talking, any marketing campaign, everything that you do, you have to be single-minded in terms of bringing it back. Sometimes it takes a good leader to ensure that the team is focused that way, sometimes it will require you to do your own internal [inaudible 00:07:39]. As a marketer, if you stay true to that, relentless, then you will see the results come to life.
HollyG: I guess that’s the thing with the strategy, if you decide, if an organization decides that their strategy is a consumer-first marketing strategy, then you’re right. Also, if everyone else in the organization is on board with that, I guess that’s part of the process, then you’re right. Being relentless in your commitment, and that’s the strategy, and that’s the core of what you’re doing in all your execution. That’s great.
Lee Siefken: It is, I’ll say one thing though, and it is a reality that I know we all deal with, and this isn’t necessarily symptomatic of Intercontinental, but trying to use, I guess, a measurement that impacts us and the tourism industry. Let’s say hypothetically, occupancy is a KPI within your business. As a leadership committee, as part of a leadership team, your business is not where it needs to be. You can very easily be tempted, and there’s pressure no doubt from the leadership, or from the head offices and the like, for you to do short-term tactical solutions that may grow occupancy. You may do that at the cost of what the guest or the customer actually needs, and this is going to be one of those fine balances that you get in your career as a marketer. You are going to have to stay true, and you are going to have to find a way to sometimes forego the short-term for the long-term.
Or, whatever solution you do go forward with, you keep that guest at its heart. Before you know it, if you head down that tangent, 6 months later it’s going to be very, very difficult to come back. I guess that’s a watch out, because I see it happen across all industries and all organizations. You can get stuck on those short-term KPI metrics, and implement strategies that are not necessarily consumer-first. It doesn’t deliver long-term for you, so it’s one of those fine balances, I guess.
HollyG: No, that’s a good point. I guess that’s why it’s something that the whole organization needs to be on board with. Does Intercontinental Hotels talk about consumer-first marketing, is that a principal that they talk about?
Lee Siefken: Absolutely, look, this is one of the reasons that I was very excited and interested in joining [inaudible 00:10:06] Intercontinental in particular. The guest is at the heart, weave the fabric of everything that we do. For a big brand on a global scale like this, you do have to have an element of standardization, who’s our guest, how do we bring that experience to life no matter what Intercontinental that they’re in, and genuinely, the philosophy, the brand culture, is all about our guest first. Whether it comes from the basic communication that we implement as a marketing team, to our engineering team, to our finance team, the guest is at the heart of every element of our business.
HollyG: Was this similar when you worked with Disney?
Lee Siefken: Oh yeah, yeah. Disney is one of those brands who does it very well, and Disney is a brand that is an excellent example, and answers your question, has consumer-first marketing been around forever? Yes it has, Disney is exactly what Walt Disney’s, I guess, philosophy was built on. Disney is a textbook, wonderful example of where the customer is first.
HollyG: When we’re thinking about these sort of things, in terms of some practical tactics, I don’t know if the word is tactics, but, do you have things like tools, maybe? Do you have things like personas, or those sort of things that you’re working with, and can you talk a little bit about what they are?
Lee Siefken: Sure, I’ll give you a little example in terms of how we’re rolling it out in our Sydney property, this I guess is a case study for you. This year in fact, Intercontinental is moving through a little bit of a brand refresh. Moving from the Intercontinental Life to the glamour of the Intercontinental Life, and we want to be the epitome of, bring back the glamour of international travel, which is really exciting. Globally, Intercontinental, we do define who our customer is. They are a well-educated, corporate traveler, someone who is used to traveling internationally, who likes the more understated luxury rather than the overt luxuries. That is a universal trait in terms of who our customer is. When you take a step back and look at our property here in Sydney, and who is our guest, yes, it is intercontinental guests that we are looking at.
There is more diversity, so we have, say, 4 or 5 different types of that intercontinental guest. As a marketing team, and we’re working in partnership with our front office team and our human resource teams, we’ve taken the time to outline, let’s say who our top 5 guest profiles are, and I guess put a face and a name to that, so that universally across the hotel, no matter who you’re talking to, they understand, “Who are our 5 core guest segments, where do they come from, what motivates them?” More than that, what we’ve done is we’ve taken the time as a marketing team to extract what is that deeper why for each guest segment? Why are they travelling, what is it they search for, what do they dream for? When they walk through the doors of our hotel, what is it that is going to make their experience exceptional? They’re never here for a bed and breakfast, they’re here to fulfill a bucket list, they’re here to find love. They’re here to escape the chaos, understanding those things.
We, as a marketing team, help to identify that, but then work across all areas of the hotel to take that and bring that to life in a very real and tangible way for each department, and each person. Whether that is a tool, again, this is a one sheet that explains a guest. We do workshops, we do role play, we have games, we even have programs where our front office team actually spends time out of their normal environment getting to know who that guest may be, and where they would hang outside the hotel, and what experiences they would enjoy, and try to immerse everyone in our hotel, but particularly those who are on our frontlines with the world that is our customer’s world, and then on top of that, give them constant reminders and constant insight and constant tools to keep that top of mind.
That can be in really small, bite-sized segments throughout a week. Like I said, games night, we sometimes do quizzes, just to keep it top of mind, if you know what I mean. There’s lots of different tactics that we roll out.
HollyG: I think that’s fantastic, it’s not just, “Okay, creating a persona and a face and a name,” then you’re going to the next level of really understanding the why, but then I love that idea of really trying to get more into the head of the customer or the guest by hanging out where they hang out, and understanding the world that is the customer world. I think that means it’s really ingrained into what you’re doing.
Lee Siefken: It’s very powerful, after again, be relentless in terms of, you can’t do one workshop or one role play and then think it’s solved. You have to find different ways to keep it in the business all the time, and it’s ongoing. Our frontline team, they already have in their heart and their mind a relationship and a connection with that guest, and it just makes each interaction even more special, and that’s what it comes down to, really.
HollyG: Do you think a consumer-first strategy is realistic for all tourism brands and destinations?
Lee Siefken: Absolutely, and even if you are working on a b to b sense, even if you are not the brand or the tourism body that directly engages with that person who is the consumer, even if you are working on a b to b standpoint, there is still a human being making that decision at a b to b level. As a hotel, we sell bedding and events at the same time. There always has been the question mark and controversy around, does social media apply to b to b? How does that work, what’s the use of a guest profile in that space? It’s always a human decision, and it’s always a human relationship that drives absolutely every business. Consumer-first applies, no matter what area of the industry you are in.
HollyG: Just touching on that social media side of it, how does a consumer-first marketing strategy roll out in maybe some of your social media execution?
Lee Siefken: That’s a really good question, we’re moving through a very big evolution at the moment for our Sydney and our sanctuary co-properties, which I’m very, very excited about. It’s at the birth stage, and hopefully over the next few months we’ll see it all come to life. It’s funny, social media has always been important, but for us now it becomes without question probably one of the most important tools and communication channels. Particularly is if you look at a guest or a consumer going through their purchase journey or that customer life cycle, the dream, the plan and the book stage, social media gives us as marketers an opportunity to influence that customer life cycle in a very, very powerful way. It really is one of the most important tools in a marketer’s arsenal.
Social media has always been important, but for us now it becomes without question one of the most important tools and communication channels.
HollyG: Maybe we’ll have to do a followup interview after lots of this is rolled out in 6 months’ time or something.
Lee Siefken: Happy to, I’m very passionate about this space, I’m very excited about where we’re going.
HollyG: I do have a question to ask, I love to learn things. When we’re talking about consumer-first, is it in the same vein as personalization, or is that just a whole different thing?
Lee Siefken: I absolutely think it’s in the same vein, because effectively personalization is the result of a consumer-first mindset. Social media can be our example in this instance, in that okay, so we understand who the guest is. If you understand who that is, you cannot communicate to each of your guests in the same way. Obviously then there’s not a consumer-first strategy, is it? All personalization is is you adjusting the conversation that you’re having, maybe the way you talk to them, the channel that you talk to them, or even the product solution that you’re putting in front of them. I think the key is now, if we’re talking about marketing as a discipline and as an art form, is how do we leverage the tools and technology at our disposal and work within a large scale to offer genuine personalization? That is one of the challenges and the exciting developments within our industry, I think, at the moment.
I think you’ll hear a lot more about personalization in 2017, particularly in the same sentence as social technology and the like. As a savvy marketer, you need to find a way to implement personalization on mass scale.
HollyG: I totally agree with that, and that’s actually why I wanted to ask about it. I think that in our industry, we’re just seeing the very, very beginning of personalization, I think people want to do it. They’re not necessarily sure how, but as more and more tools come on board I agree, I think we’ll hear a lot more about it. I’m keeping my ears out for examples and things like that to share on that space, and to learn from. Is there anything else that we wanted to talk about?
Lee Siefken: From a customer-first, the only thing that I would leave with is that marketing, consider the relationship and consider marketing a form of communication. [inaudible 00:20:26] because we’re just talking about it, is make sure in your social strategy, and answering the customer, that you take time to understand what social platform you should use to use what message to what consumer, don’t blanket out messages across your Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat account the same way to everyone, that’s not customer-first marketing. Being on Facebook is just the beginning, you need to then find a way to have an intimate relationship and talk with your customer in the way that they want to engage on Facebook. Facebook is about them building a relationship and learning about people, it’s not a sales one way conversation, if that makes sense. Customer-first and social, you need to implement that personalization around that as well.
Don’t blanket out messages across your Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat account the same way to everyone, that’s not customer-first marketing.
HollyG: People ask me all the time about, “Oh, do I put the same information or the same post across channels?” It’s just like, “Probably not, you’re probably talking to different people, and you need to be aware of who you’re talking to on each channel,” as you say.
Lee Siefken: Totally, and it’s not rocket science. That’s the thing that you really … This is why I love marketing so much. It is not rocket science, you as a brand are a person in your own right, talking to another person. Facebook, or whatever channel it is, it’s just a way to communicate, because you have to communicate in the right style, with the intention to build a relationship. You do not want a one night stand.
HollyG: Where can people find out more about you, or connect with you, if they would like to?
Lee Siefken: LinkedIn is probably the best, Lee Siefken. I have an unusual name, so it should be very, very easy to find, otherwise my email is lee.siefken, so that’s S-I-E-F-K-E-N@ihg.com.
Now it’s time for our thousand dollar bonus question!
HollyG: If you only had a $1,000 marketing budget, what would you spend it on?
Lee Siefken: I think I’ve answered my question for myself. It would be social, but as I say that, I’m going to open another can of worms. It would be creating incredible content and stories.
HollyG: What would you allocate that money to, specifically?
Lee Siefken: I would probably say either depending on what story I’m trying to tell, video would be my number 1, image, or, I’m not a great copywriter myself. Maybe a copywriter, but I would say video would be number 1, for sure.
HollyG: I think we’re going to see lots more interesting stuff happening on video as well.
Lee Siefken: Absolutely, personalization and video will be the hot marketing topics of 2017.
HollyG:You heard it here first. I don’t know if I should ask this, but what if you only had $100?
Lee Siefken: It would be the same, I would be using my iPhone rather than any professional tool to do the same thing. If it was $100, then I may boost what I needed to do to get in front of the right person.
HollyG: Such a pleasure to talk to you Lee, I think this has been very interesting. I look forward to talking with you again in the future.
Lee Siefken: Thanks, Holly.
Tweet me with any comments or feedback @hollygalbraith or email is good too holly (at) hollyg.com.au
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