Data Matters: An Interview with Expedia’s Madelynn Brown

On August 16, Expedia Product Manager Madelynn Brown sat down with MessageGears CEO Roger Barnette for a Q&A style webinar to discuss the online travel giant’s email marketing strategy and data challenges that they face to meet continuously rising customer expectations for their interactions with brands. At very large organizations like Expedia, Madelynn’s role is critical if they’re going to be able to reach their customers with the right content at the right time. If you missed the interview, you can listen to it here. Here are some of the highlights.

Madelynn on …

Expedia’s overall email marketing strategy:

“We have a lot going on from an email perspective, and when it comes to our contact strategy our overall goal is we want to send the right message at the right time. An added piece to that is we want to send it through the right channel.”

The unique way Expedia approaches customer contact:

“I think our strategy’s very unique, just like our travel business. People don’t purchase travel the way they purchase other items. The average customer only makes 1-2 travel purchases a year. So, for us, it’s about how do we maintain that email contact and engagement during those low times when they’re not in the booking mode? So we have the traditional standard cross-sell, and marketing and transactional campaigns, but we also have pre-trip, end-trip and post-trip campaigns. Those are a piece of our strategy where we really want to make sure we’re delivering to customers not necessarily messages to get them to purchase again, but we want to make sure we’re providing value throughout their time with us on their trip with relevant content.”

Adapting to customer behavior:

“We’re now looking at how customers engaged with our campaigns before. What are they engaging with? We’re doing that by leveraging our response data. Another big one is if a customer gets an email and they’re always scrolling to the bottom of the campaign because they’re only interested in loyalty information, we want to make sure we’re learning from that, and we’re actioning on it. Instead of continuing to send you that loyalty module at the bottom of your email, let’s move it because we have the signals that that’s what you want.”

The importance and expectations of personalization:

Personalization’s really critical today. Customers have really high expectations. They’re used to dealing with retailers who do it really well. If they’re shopping for a Florida trip and, for some reason, we keep sending them information about Alaska, they feel like the trust has eroded with them because they keep sending us signals and we’re not properly using them.”

The biggest email marketing challenges for large organizations like Expedia:

“Data sources – not only in big companies like this. It can be very challenging to mine through it all and figure out what you should be using, what’s the purpose, and just not be overwhelmed. Every team is tapping into the data and applying their own business logic and filters on it. All of a sudden, there’s no one holistic view of the customer. It makes it challenging to have an end-to-end cohesive experience for your customer.

“Big databases – It’s a big challenge when it comes to processing time, which directly impacts the whole idea of real-time messaging. With personalization, you want to be relevant but you want to be timely. If your data’s taking a whole day to process before your campaign goes out, you can really miss windows.

“Cross-channel touchpoints – By having a central database, we can better make those decisions” about what’s the best touchpoint depending upon the information that needs to be sent and when it needs to be sent.”

Making personalization more efficient:

“Our main goal is to operationalize personalization. We had to create a recommendation engine to make sure we’re giving our customers the correct content based upon the right time. It used to take us up to 4 weeks to get a campaign out the door. We really weren’t agile. We built these internal tools that allow marketing managers to have more control over their campaigns. Now we can get campaigns out in as little as one day. It does sound daunting, and there’s a lot of manpower involved in these initiatives. It’s a big group effort.”

Her main advice to email marketers:

“My biggest piece of advice would be to strive to get that central customer database. I think that’s the first step. You have to understand the data you’re using, where it’s coming from, if it’s accurate. We have so many awesome APIs and data we can get our hands on, but if you don’t understand how it’s being supported and if it’s being refreshed frequently enough, it’s hard to personalize. Sometimes, we get ahead of ourselves with strategies for cool content to give to our customers before we know if the data is clean.”

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