'Consumers continue to trust brands that undertake high-profile offline marketing' – Q&A with Hotels.com VP EMEA Matt Walls

The Drum speaks to Hotels.com EMEA marketing chief Matt Walls about the role data, affiliates and loyalty play in the brand’s digital strategy.

Hotels.com's Welcome Rewards loyalty programme recently reached 10 million members, so The Drum caught up with Matt Walls, VP of marketing EMEA at the brand, to discuss loyalty and how it interacts with the rest of the marketing mix, the role of cashback in the brand’s digital strategy, and why TV is still important.How important is the Welcome Rewards loyalty programme to Hotels.com’s digital marketing strategy?Extremely – it allows us to stand out from our competitors and provides an incentive for our customers to return to Hotels.com time and again. We want to show our customers that they are valued so we reward them for their loyalty. It is no secret that maintaining a good relationship with your existing customers is key to long-term success. Not only is paying for marketing to attract new customers expensive but we see our existing customer base booking with us more frequently if they are part of Welcome Rewards. At Hotels.com, we are the middle man between the hotel and our customers, so it is imperative that customers see the worth of the service that we provide. Rewarding loyalty is one way to provide added value. The Welcome Rewards platform is deliberately simple: it is a 'coffee shop' type loyalty programme and therefore resonates with customers. We offer one free night for every ten purchased and stayed, with the value of the free night based on the average of your ten previous bookings. Customers simply pay any taxes and fees. What moves has the business made to create a single customer view?Operating on numerous platforms can complicate the customer journey, but through our dedication to providing first-class mobile booking coupled with Welcome Rewards, we are able to offer a consistent and seamless experience to customers, regardless of device. Welcome Rewards has proved to be an excellent tool for this single customer view. When you log in to your Hotels.com account on any platform, be it mobile, tablet or laptop, you have access to your Welcome Rewards account which shows your past and future qualifying bookings, how many more you will need to earn your free night, how many free nights you have already earned etc. Account details are the same, no matter what channel a customer uses and this provides customers with an integrated multi-platform experience. How do you see loyalty interacting with other parts of the marketing mix?For Hotels.com, loyalty is a key ingredient in the marketing mix. Welcome Rewards in particular gives us a reason to communicate with our customers both in the lead up to the sale and afterwards, particularly by email. From encouraging them to buy to motivating them to leave a review after they have returned from their holiday, Welcome Rewards is a lynchpin for us when managing our customer relationships. TV is also still an important part of our marketing strategy to help build loyalty. Consumers continue to trust brands that undertake high-profile offline marketing and it adds another level of credibility to your brand. However, for many people, the booking journey starts online and in Google. When booking a holiday online, research shows that most people will visit five or six sites but will only engage with two or three regularly. It’s imperative to make your brand appealing to the customer online, to build and maintain their loyalty so that you are front of mind during the booking process. How important is collaboration with your affiliate publishers, and how do you nurture it?We have partnerships with some key publishers in the loyalty space, for example Quidco and Vouchercodes, and have found these partnerships to be extremely fruitful. We have a partner marketing team that nurtures direct relationships with these sites on a one-to-one basis but we also work with affiliate marketing network Tradedoubler. Overall, affiliate is another key marketing channel for Hotels.com. What is the role of cashback in Hotels.com's performance marketing strategy?Cashback is minded towards loyalty, and fostering this is a key focus for us. People might only book a hotel once or twice a year, and we realise the powerful combination of loyalty and cashback. The customer knows that they are getting a good deal so will return to the site and book again. Shoppers are increasingly savvy and, as a result, we have to provide them the right benefits.

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Katie McQuater

As magazine editor at The Drum, I edit the monthly print edition of the magazine as well as commissioning and writing features for the publication.

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