Q&A: Expedia’s Noah Tratt

With the final ClickZ Live event of 2014 coming up in Chicago this November, we thought we’d tap some of the expert speakers joining us at the conference to share some of their wisdom with ClickZ readers who may not be able to make it to Illinois to see them speak in person.

In the first of a series of interviews, I spoke to Noah Tratt, senior global vice president at Expedia Media Solutions, about his upcoming session and about how a huge brand like Expedia is taking on the challenge of digital marketing now that companies like Google are celebrating their 16th year in business.

With a dynamic industry like travel, how does a massive brand like Expedia manage cross-platform, multi-screen marketing?

Mobile adoption has skyrocketed in recent years, and with that, we’ve also seen a shift in consumer content consumption habits. Campaigns and messaging should be consistent across platforms, but it’s also important for brands and marketers to understand how, where, and when consumers are engaging with content – whether through test and learn, research, or other methods. Last year, we commissioned a study with comScore to help marketers understand some of these nuances, and we found that there are unique opportunities to optimize content to effectively reach and engage consumers.

Find Yours is a great example of a platform-agnostic campaign that delivers a cohesive brand message, regardless of where the content is consumed. The engagement with Find Yours has been so successful in fact, that the branding has been integrated into the site experience on mobile and desktop, and informs our merchandizing on the site. Find Yours has even sparked an impressive response from our internal teams and has become a symbol for why our employees do what they do – it’s a celebration of travel and our role.

With so many touch points across the purchase journey, what advice can you give marketers on attributing conversions?

Attribution is driven by the type of campaign you’re running; i.e. if you’re running a direct response campaign on a tablet, we know users’ purchases peak during the early evening, so dayparting can help drive stronger returns and maximize potential. You also have to consider what factors are impacting consumers at the time of travel booking; what other decisions are they making, when are they booking?

Our recent Path to Purchase study revealed that consumers often visit retail sites while planning a trip, and news and media sites are more relevant to U.K. shoppers than they are to U.S. shoppers. With the U.S. study, we also found that there are periods within the 45-day path to purchase where DMO site visitation positively impacts conversion. Looking at the time period nine to 24 days out from package booking, people who visited a DMO site prior to visiting an OTA had a 32 percent higher conversion rate. Unique data insights like these can be advantageous, even allowing marketers to target consumers in a way its competitors haven’t thought of yet.

Everything we do at Expedia is measured, and we always strive to secure a positive return on investment (ROI) for marketing campaigns, but you also have to be willing to take some risks and not rely solely on a fixed view of/or one method of attribution for every tactic. We’re very data-driven, but we have a test and learn approach, which enables us to develop innovative ways to market partners’ messages to our global audience. Often this “test and learn” approach comes to light through collaborative experimentation; partnerships help reduce the overall risk investment for everyone involved.

At your session at ClickZ Live Chicago, you’ll reveal a case study about user-generated video. Can you give our readers some insight into how to solicit and manage user-generated content (UGC)? What were the positive outcomes and are there any pitfalls?

UGC is a great external resource to support marketing efforts, but it also takes a tremendous amount of internal and financial resources. It’s a balancing act, because the content has to be interesting enough to drive engagement. There needs to be a sufficient investment to ensure proper management and review of content. Consumers want to share feedback, they want to be acknowledged, and when you ask them to submit you must have the proper resources and approach or you’re going to get a fire hose of content. This content has to be reviewed, responded to, and curated, if you are a brand with a lot of scale and connectivity, this should be considered before implementing a UGC campaign.

Other considerations include frequency – one-off versus an ongoing program; format – video, written submissions or images; and differentiation in a landscape where consumers are inundated with opportunities to share. Brands need to be splashy and interesting to drive engagement for UGC, but not ask too much of the customer. A video submission is going to take more of an investment than writing a hotel room review, and you have to provide clear direction, criteria, and execute an idea that will spark with consumers. There’s a lot to learn, and you won’t always get it right the first time – especially as content engagement evolves and reaches new platforms – but it’s worth testing as part of a broader marketing strategy.

Video isn’t just about YouTube anymore, with companies like Vine and Instagram creating different ways to creatively market through the camera lens. What works for Expedia? Has the optimal length of a successful video shortened or does it depend on the brand?

What we’ve found with video is that length isn’t necessarily the most important aspect – it’s more about the story and creating an emotional connection with and inspiring consumers. Our Find Yours campaign transcends storylines and some of our videos have resulted in tremendous viewership and passalong value, even though long-form content isn’t traditionally known for its virality. Find Your Understanding and Find Your Strength were both extremely engaging due to their emotional storylines and connection to real-life stories. I look forward to sharing more of these examples in Chicago.

How should brands be balancing paid social with earned media now that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are so crowded with companies vying for consumers’ attention?

It’s not so much about balance as it is convergence. By creating a consistent marketing message and integrating across channels, brands can create maximum impact that often times helps break through the clutter. However, you should allocate budget against paid social, especially when looking at cross-platform campaigns. The amount of time spent online, whether via mobile or desktop, has increased, and a good portion of this time is spent on social channels.

Our FriendTrips promotion, the most successful sweepstakes in Facebook history, was wildly successful in part because it was an engaging campaign, but we also invested in paid social and paid media to maximize exposure with a key audience. You need to have scale to be successful, regardless of the platform, and social is integral.

Where should marketers be focusing their time and budget as we look toward the holiday season and 2015?

At Expedia, our business is not holiday-driven, so we don’t have the same pressures of seasonality, but best practices would be to continue to innovate and prepare for what’s next. The only constant is the ever-evolving landscape and changing consumer behavior. There are so many opportunities out there, but marketers have to be nimble and willing to take risks to find the next big thing. Don’t focus solely on what’s working today; invest early and invest often, and be prepared to make some bad bets. When you do implement new strategies or tactics, optimization and refinement will be key to driving results – you won’t often be successful on the first try, and that’s OK.

Noah Tratt will be speaking at 11.45 a.m. on Tuesday November 4 in a session entitled “Achieving Authenticity: User Generated Video Content Transforms Storytelling Power in Find Yours Campaign.”

Get your ticket to ClickZ Live Chicago by registering here!

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