Hybrid marketing in a price crisis: easyHotel CMO Rav Dhaliwal

When COVID-19 hit, budget hotel brand easyHotel switched from performance-led customer data marketing to a “humanistic” approach.

Now chief marketing and digital officer Rav Dhaliwal is ready to blend both performance and brand-building whilst going beyond crude “last-click” attribution.

As consumer price inflation begins to bite, is easyHotel’s core low-price message back in charge?

I interviewed Rav for The Map‘s CMO Hotseat. Watch the full interview, or get abridged highlights below.

1. Investing in customer data

DC: You’re both chief marketing officer and chief digital officer. What does that suggest about the approach that easyHotel takes?

RD: “We’ve got a very data-driven approach to marketing, a very evidence-based decision making approach.

“Over the next few years, we’re looking to invest more in Big Data and segmentation to ensure that we get a really relevant response from customers … What we are looking to do is to amalgamate the data side and the mar-tech side of our business with the brand marketing side.

“We’ve brought agile work streams into the business. That’s enabled us, throughout a period where trading was slightly lower than everybody wanted it to be, because of the pandemic, to really focus on project work and really improving the nuts and bolts and the core digital infrastructure in our business.”

2. Restarting pandemic relationships

DC: How have you pivoted your marketing strategy through COVID-19?

RD: “We really pivoted away from core trade messaging around price and promotion because we didn’t really feel that that would get the cut through at that moment in time … You really need to reassure customers on a humanistic level that you are a partner of choice, that you are somebody who can be trusted …

“What we’ve been able to do since then is effectively relaunch the business very, very fast … There’s a lot of pent-up demand in the market … We want to build those relationships again, we are looking to build content that speaks to our customers about the relief that they can potentially travel in the future …

“If you’ve gone on that journey with a customer already, then it doesn’t really feel like a shot out of the blue to be looking those types of conversations, whether it’s through CRM, social on-site, through our app, etc.”

3. Campaigns for new selling points

DC: Where does advertising fit into the customer journey?

RD: “What we now see is the ability to use through-the-line marketing to ensure that customers are understanding and getting key pieces of value-add about our room product… How are we trying to do things in a different way? Are we trying to be more sustainable? Are we trying to make things really easy for the customers so that they’re not standing waiting for five minutes when it could take one? …

“What we’ve tried to do is hone on key attributes, things we can stand behind …

“Those have already started going into our main-line campaigns. As we go to 2023, where the whole sector will rebound in a really strong way, we feel that, by taking those steps now, we will be really well set-up for the future.”

4. Media in a marketing hybrid

DC: How do performance and advertising fit the customer journey?

RD: “It’s a hybrid approach of both … We want to broaden the funnel at the top but then get more qualification through the funnel system towards the bottom end …

“Whilst we use always-on performance media to traffic ROI to the site, for various hotel openings have used broadcast media, above-the-line street advertising et cetera to really get leverage in those new communities …

“Looking at our roadmap for the future, that not only encompasses the UK, but also Europe. In those markets, our brand awareness is slightly lower, so we will be looking at other ways of using broadcast media to really get cut-through in those markets.”

5. Don’t rely on last-click

DC: How do you draw a line from an ad exposure through to bookings?

RD: “A lot of companies still obviously use standard last-click attribution … What we try to look at is the real key points of influence across all the customer touch points in the journey. That means that, for example, you don’t necessarily down-weight something because it’s not the last click, but it gets extra credit …

“Otherwise, you tend to see people who obviously just look at what’s in Google and think, ‘Right, well, display didn’t drive that much’. Actually, there is a more nuanced discussion to be had about the instigation of the customer.

“It’s up to us to interrogate that data and to look at various attribution models … Traditional performance marketing has its job, but it never always tells the true story.”

6. Learning from agency expertise

DC: How do you lean on agencies?

RD: “We have both in-house teams and agencies. We have a bit of a hybrid approach. I’m always a big believer in collective learning. Having worked with a lot of really good agencies, I believe there’s a lot we can learn from them.

“These guys have big client rosters, they have other clients doing things in a very different way. We are at a phase in our journey where we are humble enough to learn from others as well.

“We’ve learned a lot from our agencies in terms of how to use MarTech in a very critical way to assess outcomes of what we’re doing in terms of budget planning, for example, in terms of how we get product to customers in a really smart, efficient way.

“Our approach is ‘more heads’ – obviously, sometimes that means more cost but, from our perspective, we see that paying back.”

7. Price-led brands’ new moment

DC: With consumer price pressure growing, has easyHotel’s USP come back around?

RD: “What we are really looking to do in the future is to educate the customer that the value is built into the price of the room and that …

“As regards inflation in a macro sense, it’s obviously a big concern. I think geopolitics will continue to play into that, we’re seeing the price of oil, et cetera …

“So I think we’ve got to be really on the ball in the next few months as a business about how we talk about value and how we, in a retail sense, ‘EDLP’, ‘everyday low pricing’… how do you speak about the impact of that on the customer’s life?”