The growth and influence of social media continues to impact nearly every brand and vertical market as consumers increasingly turn to fellow consumers to inform purchases rather than the brands themselves. One of the most powerful examples of this is the growth and influence of ratings and reviews communities across the travel, retail, and entertainment industries. In fact, a recent 2011 study by Forrester Research conducted in the travel industry found that nearly 50 percent of consumers won't book a hotel if it doesn't have an online review. Additionally, PhoCusWright research found individuals who read online travel reviews were 59 percent more likely to book, further highlighting the enormous power of user review communities in the purchase process. As a result, leading brands in the travel space, and hotels in particular, are doing a dramatic about-face, which is the subject of a fascinating article in the June 2012 issue of Travel + Leisure. What was once an adversarial relationship is no longer. Instead of issuing a flurry of lawsuits against online review sites for publishing false or misleading reviews, hotels are either launching programs of their own or just simply joining forces with sites like TripAdvisor.
Specifically, mega brands like Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and others are embracing reviews to various degrees via their own websites and loyalty programs. While TripAdvisor remains the 800-pound gorilla with more than 60 million reviews and opinions, individual hotel brands have some unique assets and opportunities of their own and, if leveraged correctly, could be instrumental in the way they define a consumer's experience with their brands. So what's the magic formula?
It's a brave new world and the scenario laid out above is not only possible, but actually in practice today among a small percentage of innovative brands. The trick for many of these brands has been the ability to carefully apply "the magical" aspects of today's data and technology while avoiding the "creepy" factor. For those brands in testing mode, success is tied to being transparent and appropriate. This includes providing appropriate notice, choice, and access to the data they have and collect about an individual so that in the end the consumer remains in control - and that is exactly the way it should be.
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Michael Della Penna is senior vice president of emerging channels at Responsys. His responsibilities include spearheading the overall strategic direction, partnerships, and solution offering across emerging channels including social and mobile for the company. Michael is a seasoned marketing professional with a long, proven track record of launching successful marketing, branding, and sales strategies for leading public and private companies. Most recently, Michael founded SuiteDialog, a full-service email and social CRM agency that helps brands ignite conversations and cultivate relationships with customers across the social web. Prior to SuiteDialog, Michael founded Conversa Marketing, a social CRM company that was acquired by StrongMail Systems in 2010. Before branching out on his own, Michael served as chief marketing officer for Epsilon, a leading provider of multichannel, data-driven marketing services. Michael's other key marketing leadership roles include CMO at Bigfoot Interactive, VP of strategic development at CNET Networks, Inc., and VP of marketing at ZDNet. Michael received a B.B.A. and an M.B.A. from Hofstra University.
March 19, 2014