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Marriott exec: Transaction-based loyalty programs require deeper understanding of customers

NEW YORK ? A Marriott International executive at Forrester?s CXNYC 2016 said that the proliferation of transaction-based rewards programs means that brands must understand members? triggers and interests in order to connect with them more fully, showcasing another opportunity for mobile?s precision.

During the session, ?Getting Customer Understanding Right,? the executive discussed Marriott?s upcoming merger with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, as well as the consolidation?s implications for both hospitality companies' popular loyalty programs. He also deemed Marriott?s ongoing dedication to improve its rewards program ? which has a frequently used mobile application ? with various digital initiatives as imperative in today?s sector, due to the thickening competition.

?Customers have choices like Airbnb or a plethora of choices on Travelocity and other [online travel agencies],? said Thom Kozik, vice president of loyalty at Marriott International. ?We have to show our appreciation and loyalty to them.

?When I walked into Marriott [for the first time], I was blown away from the expertise in email marketing.?

Loyalty in return
Mr. Kozik posited that marketers must understand cultural differences relating to their loyalty programs in various regions. For example, rewards programs are perceived differently by customers in Asia than they are in the United States.

Additionally, brands with smaller physical footprints must try harder to garner new loyalty members, while those with larger distribution footprints must focus on promoting consumers' early entry into memberships.

Marketers must consider how their loyalty programs offer benefits to customers, especially since individuals are only one click away from a brand?s competitors in today's marketplace.

However, the ubiquity of mobile enables consumers to access their loyalty accounts more easily, meaning that brands must be quick to study customer behaviors and serve them more relevant rewards and experiences.

The hospitality industry in particular has plenty of aspects to consider when it comes to loyalty. Mr. Kozik discussed a personal anecdote in which he detailed his experiences taking clients out for coffee at a Ritz-Carlton property in southern California.

He spent nearly $10,000 dollars at the resort over a two-year period, but Ritz-Carlton did not recognize him as a frequent customer since he never spent a night in one of its rooms.

This example displays how hotel brands need to be keyed into how individuals spend their money at any location on-premises. Consumers who regularly visit a property?s on-site bar, spa, golf course or restaurants should also be catered to as loyal individuals.

Marriott is currently working to reconnect all touch points around engagement back to the holistic view of the customer, a goal that can likely be reached with the help of mobile and email marketing.

The company seeks to understand what triggers and interests consumers across its 19 different brands, a number that will soon jump up to 30 brands after the Starwood Hotels acquisition is completed.

Nailing down brand identity
Mr. Kozik also revealed that Ritz-Carlton loyalty members are not issued a plastic card until they hit the elite tier, due to cost-saving measures. 

Additionally, 41 percent of that program's members do not regularly stay at Ritz-Carlton properties. Instead, they stay at Marriott?s more inexpensive resort brands, such as Residence Inn and Courtyard.

This underscores the aspirational nature of Ritz-Carlton.

?The only person who knows they?re a Ritz-Carlton member is you,? Mr. Kozik said. ?That tells us that this is [because of] identity.?

Once brands nail down their identity, customers will behave irrationally. For example, they will line up outside the Apple store in mid-winter to be the first to receive a newly-released product.

?Once you have that connection to identity, that level of [customer] understanding gets visceral,? Mr. Kozik said.