Data-informed creative vs creative-informed data: Expedia Group Media Solutions head of creative partnerships, Angelique Miller

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As brands increasingly move to take marketing capabilities in-house, The Drum interviewed one of the pioneers of in-housing, Expedia Group Media Solutions, about what the future holds for their in-house team.

Historically, people think about ‘Expedia’ as the online travel agency, where you can go to book hotels, flights and cars, or look for the best deal on a trip. You might not necessarily think of them as a creative agency or a media solutions expert, or indeed know that they’ve been behind some of the most successful travel campaigns of the past few years.

Expedia Group Media Solutions as a media publisher and content creator

Expedia Group Media Solutions is the global digital advertising organization of Expedia Group, connecting brands with hundreds of millions of consumers across Expedia Group’s global portfolio of travel e-commerce brands. The in-house agency of Expedia Group Media Solutions, Creative Partnerships, represents the broader scope of Expedia Group’s overall strategy — and with Media Solutions Creative Partnerships in the mix, they are both an online travel agency group, media publisher and content creator in their own right.

“We’re going beyond being an online travel agency where people are making purchasing decisions and transactions,” explains Miller.

“Our mission is to connect our brand partners to hundreds of millions of travel consumers across our network. We exist across 75 countries, in 35 languages, and our platform generates 144 million monthly unique visitors worldwide.

“This is a hugely powerful audience to tap into and we understand there is a real need to serve up relevant and engaging content to them, far before the time and place where they might be ready to book a trip. That has been the impetus for why we want to bring a lot of the content creation in-house.”

Expedia Group Media Solutions first made the decision to start bringing capabilities in-house five years ago, with the launch of Creative Partnerships. Today, it has specialists across digital, data, creative and media, creating everything from interactive experiences and gamification, experiential marketing, co-brand marketing video production and social activation for some of the world’s biggest brands – and not just in the travel sector.

“We're producing inspirational content, forecasting and predicting trends and are utilizing new technology like AR and facial recognition.” said Miller. “The majority of our partners are other brands that want to reach our audience - traditional travel brands, hotel and airline partners, destination tourist boards – where we can help inspire people to travel, tell the story of a destination and uncover local hidden gems.

“But where it gets really interesting, is where we work with partners who might not be the first brand you'd think of when it comes to travel, or brands who want to try a completely different approach to traditional travel marketing” says Miller.

How to balance data-informed creative with creative-informed data

For the highly-anticipated sequel to Kingsman; Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the Creative Partnerships team worked with Visit Britain to create a more exciting and adventurous way to explore the most iconic cities and landscapes, through an interactive campaign on [JM1] and on Facebook Canvas, which helped American travellers to see Great Britain through the eyes of a spy. The fully integrated digital campaign took soon-to-be travellers on a gamified journey, in collaboration with 20th Century Fox, to help users discover experiences ‘fit for a Kingsman’ and craft their ideal British travel itinerary.

Similarly, the Creative Partnerships team created a campaign for The Hawai'i Tourism Authority that was the first to use facial recognition technology in a marketing campaign. The interactive experience provided personalized itineraries based on viewer’s facial reactions to stunning videos that showcased the beautiful landscape, activities and culture that make the Hawaiian Islands unique.

The team developed a branded microsite with traffic being driven from six Expedia Group brand sites: Expedia; Hotels; Hotwire; Travelocity; AirAsiaGo and Wotif. The microsite was [JM2] centred around videos featuring drone footage of the Hawaiian landscape, activities and people. Users were prompted to grant access to their web camera and opt in for the custom-built facial recognition software experience. As the video played, the facial recognition software analysed the users’ physical reactions and identified which footage they responded to in the most positive way – which in turn, produced a customized travel recommendation. The campaign generated a whopping 115:1 ROAS and 20% year over year increase in passenger demand.

“We have a brilliant insights and planning team to help inform our strategies and creativity and help get us to the right idea,” says Miller. “Striking the right balance is crucial. Some people will think everything needs to go toward programmatic and technology, others think that if you go too far towards programmatic you miss out on the storytelling.

“What we are finding is that it's the balance of the two - having data-informed creative and creative-informed data. You can tell this great story to your audience, but you also need to know that your content is being seen and experienced by the right person, at the right time.”

With an ever-growing in-house team built from creatives, designers, developers, researchers, strategists and social media experts – how can they be sure they have the right people in the room on a client brief?

“What's great about it being in-house, is that we're able to tap into so many different people within our Expedia Group family,” says Miller.

“It's not always the most creative person in the room that has the great idea - sometimes it's the data engineer that's uncovered a piece of insight that could help inform a specific strand of strategy that you wouldn't have even thought about before. By having different people that you can tap into in terms of background and skill sets - you're able to produce something much more interesting, than you would have if you just had a load of really creative people in a room together, all trying to get their idea heard.”

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