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TripAdvisor: Staying Innovative in the Travel Industry

As the weather warms up, many of us are starting to plan those summer vacations and get-a-ways with family and friends. There are more options than ever before when researching, planning and booking our travel, which is why I was thrilled to get Barbara Messing's perspective. Barbara has been the Chief Marketing Officer of TripAdvisor for the past few years, and we spoke about redefining and growing her company's brand what innovation means at TripAdvisor, and how she jumped from a career in law to marketing.

Q: Hi Barbara, welcome to the CMO Corner! Thank you for your time! You recently helped redefine the TripAdvisor brand to audiences worldwide. What would your advice be to marketing teams that are thinking about doing something similar?
A: Hi Jonathan, thank you for having me! As far as reminding and introducing the brand, we believe consistently getting the message in front of your consumers is vital. That might include traditional marketing, product experience adaptations, changes in mobile experience, it's more likely than not that it's the same customers needing reminders that there's new things out there for your brand.

One challenge I'd caution is that when a brand is well-known for one item in particular (i.e. planning or research), consumer expectations around your ability to continue to do exceptionally well sometimes drop as you transition and introduce new capabilities. One item we frequently think about at TripAdvisor is how we compared to others in the category in terms of that research experience. You need to help drive an overarching business strategy that helps your customer journey from top to bottom of funnel.

The travel industry is constantly changing -- how do you think about staying "innovative" or ahead of the game in your field?
We love to embrace innovation, keeping our fingers on new exciting technologies and experimenting with features that help solve consumer needs. We believe you can solve key consumer needs by tapping into something that consumers have been craving. Focusing on those needs, leveraging new innovative technology to achieve those end goals, and doing so smarter and better than others, that's what we do at TripAdvisor.

We are doing a lot with artificial intelligence these days, which I believe is leading to some exciting, innovative advances for our consumers. As a publicly traded company, we try to embrace that startup mentality while having the benefit of incredible resources and scale at our disposal. At the end of the day, people are frequently most comfortable traveling the same way they have in the past, so we try to tap into that habits-oriented pattern to allow them to have the best consumer experience possible.

TripAdvisor has recently shifted from merely ratings & reviews to a place where consumers can book travel -- how have you approached communicating that to consumers? What were some of the largest challenges as a part of this transition? What most excites you about this new direction now?
Almost 17 years ago, we were the first place where travelers could write their candid reviews. Over time, we have became the leading place where people feel comfortable sharing their opinions and finding the best place to plan their trips.

Naturally we have a lot of traffic and data around how consumer behavior, specifically how it relates to the research phase of consumer travel, which we've been evolving to make more seamless for consumers. In 2013 we launched "Meta" which kept a more streamlined shopping experience, not sending folks to other websites to book, but rather keeping them on TripAdvisor to complete the transaction.

When we look at the holistic site experience, we think about how do we position TripAdvisor where people can plan every aspect of their trip? We're getting to a "one stop shop" mentality for our consumers. Especially with mobile, it's so easy to work with us on our app; the trip will have all that content for you, your recommendations and timeline, all this amazing content geo-located to where you are - the intersection of the full richness of your experience coming together with TripAdvisor and yourself.

That research process is so important in brands raising the stakes, we need to be the pioneers for our consumers to deliver an experience based on what our brand has coming.

What drew you into marketing in the first place?
I went to Stanford Law School and was initially very interested in doing international policy work. But, as technology started coming to the forefront, I started working at a startup called Keene.com. As you know, many people that are involved in startups cover a full-range of responsibilities. Although I started in product, I started to think about consumer experiences and how users were interacting with our product. As the startup grew and my career evolved, I used that background on the consumer experience side to think about the best way to do marketing.

With that background, how do you find it influences your viewpoint?
I would say I'm very rooted in how product is a key driver in telling a story for us, an online experience to drive a brand story. That is the difference for TripAdvisor - with no offline "product" so to speak, our website is our product. Thus, the site experience is the main point of contact for us so we need to make sure it's top quality and the absolute best it can be. How you think about the consumer experience, the personality of your brand, and how you communicate it, is so important. How rich that data is and how you use that data to be informed of your consumers, to have that real mindset is crucial and where we're headed as a company.

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