MGM Resorts' Lilian Tomovich goes Vegas-style big on experience

"It's all about the experience and marketing helps deliver that."

Whether you love it or hate it, the one thing you have to admit about Vegas is that it’s exactly as over-the-top as it promises to be. So, if you have a presence in Las Vegas and you’re going to make a brand promise, you had better deliver on it.

Lilian Tomovich, chief marketing and experience officer for MGM Resorts International, is one person who’s gone all in to ensure that the entertainment behemoth delivers on its promise of wowing its customers not only in Vegas, but also across its portfolio globally.

Before launching its dynamic 'Welcome to the Show' campaign — the first for the organization as a whole — Tomovich led a global transformation to ensure that the brand promise was embedded in the organization, not just wishful thinking flaunted in a flashy 30-second spot.

The Drum had the opportunity to speak with Tomovich at her office in the Bellagio about the transformation.

First, give us the backstory.

Our president, Bill Hornbuckle, was chief marketing officer when I joined. We were challenged in delivering the guest experience we wanted from a digital and marketing perspective because each property operated as a separate business; every hotel had its own website and technology platform, which meant we couldn’t leverage our size and scale to drive efficiency and a unified guest experience.

Bill wanted to create a centralized marketing organization with centers of excellence to help deliver a more effective and consistent guest experience. Basically, he said, “Go make this happen.”

So, I led the transformation of the marketing organization to a shared-services model, which included the creation of marketing centers of excellence that would allow us to scale. And we consolidated our digital marketing platform on to the Adobe stack so we could begin building our martech capabilities.

Now, as chief marketing and experience officer, I lead a team of 400-plus marketers from across our properties and in corporate. I’m responsible for marketing and the guest experience. That includes everything from advertising and brand management, loyalty marketing, digital strategy, e-commerce, and social media, to guest strategy and consumer insights and research, to partnership marketing, internal and external agency management, media strategy, and public relations.

And leading with ‘experience’ in your title?

That’s the business we’re in. It’s all about the experience and marketing helps deliver that. It’s important to be customer obsessed and put the customer at the center of everything we do. Our mission is to wow every guest who walks through our door. MGM Resorts exist to entertain the human race.

Talk about the repositioning.

We know our top 1% of customers exceptionally well. They drive 45% of revenue. That top 1% receive a very personalized level of experience. They have a “host” who knows everything about them: their favorite restaurant, their wife’s birthday, their favorite college football team. Think of them as your best friend. The opportunity for us is to deliver that level of personalized service at scale to the other 99% of our guests.

We’re in the people business and are very clear about that. We deliver exceptional experiences when you visit any of our properties and attend any of our shows, visit our restaurants, or play a round of Blackjack. Now, we are hyper-focused on delivering those same experiences in the digital world.

We conducted research on who we are in the hearts and minds of our consumers. The research helped inform our decision to reposition the brand from a hotel and casino company to an entertainment company.

Then we set about building the brand and culture from the inside out, training all 78,000 employees in the experiences we expect everyone to deliver. We were very focused on making sure that before we told the world that we’re an entertainment company, we wanted to make sure that all of our employees were ready to deliver on our promise of wowing the human race.

To align with our brand, we built our guest service strategy around the idea of, “Welcome to the show.” So, we trained our employees on SHOW. S stands for smile and greet the guest. H stands for hear their story. O stands for own the experience. And W stands for wow the guest. Once that was complete, we launched, “Welcome to the Show,” our first-ever parent brand campaign for MGM Resorts.

What are some other key changes you’ve brought about since taking the marketing reins?

We hired our first chief digital officer, Kelly Smith, and launched a new division called Digital Ventures to fast track our digital capabilities. We wanted to change the way we look at the digital experience and amplify digital by leveraging data to drive personalization.

MGM Digital Ventures is focused on digitally transforming the company by driving enhanced guest experiences — to unencumber the digital team from the IT organization, so they could be agile and focus on our mobile app, website, and personalization and leverage our marketing tech stack.

We want to use digital and data to help us in being customer obsessed. That includes leveraging data about the “frozen middle” customers, so we could get to know them better. We want digital to play a role — make it easy for guests to do the things they want to do, when they want to do them; for example, order towels or room service by using our app, but balance that with human interactions. When people come here, they want to talk to people; they want that human connection.

So far, it’s working and we’re seeing results. In the past few years, we’ve doubled our e-commerce revenue and launched a new mobile app with a 4.8-star rating in the Apple app store and increased customer engagement through our app.

And outside of marketing?

We opened T-Mobile Arena and three multibillion-dollar resorts. We developed the brand for and launched our first professional sports team, WNBA’s Aces. And we even launched an album on iTunes, Universal Love — celebrating the LGBT community — which reached #9 on the iTunes pop chart.

That’s huge.

My own aha moment was the scale of what we do. MGM Resorts is a mashup of several massive businesses. We have on average 5,000 rooms in a property, versus 200 average in most hotels. Bellagio alone is a billion-dollar business with about 8,000 employees.

What many people don’t know about us is that we are the third largest entertainment company in the world in terms of ticket sales after Live Nation and AEG [Anschutz Entertainment Group]. And we’re the largest non-chain restaurant company in the US.

We continue to focus on positioning ourselves as one of the greatest entertainment companies in the world with a team of marketers who know how to deliver on our brand promise every minute of every day, because we truly are in a business that never stops.

So, what’s next?

We conducted a study of entertainment on the psyche: 92% of consumers say entertainment is important to mental health and that life without entertainment would be lacking. People crave live entertainment — because there’s nothing like the feeling of live.

Our next big campaign will be about the power of live entertainment. It’ll be a great extension of our brand platform.

Prediction: What’s one way digital will help your marketing over the next few years?

In our business, digital has revolutionized how people book hotels and vacations. Imagine how much revenue we now capture by consumers booking online because of the simplicity.

For us, in this industry, we need to put the power back in the hands of the consumer from an experience perspective. Imagine: you want a cocktail by the pool, you order through a mobile app, and the RFID tag on your chair directs the server to you. Or you can set the temperature for your room before you get there.

We’ll use digital to deliver better guest experiences for times when guests prefer not to wait or rely on others. But we still have to balance that with human connections. After all, we’re an experience business and human connection matters, arguably now more than ever.

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