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TripAdvisor VP Takes B2B Customers On Tour Of ‘Virtuous Circle’

Heather Leisman

TripAdvisor has become a go-to digital destination when it comes to travel planning. As the world’s largest travel website, it attracts 390 million unique users each month who search through more than 500 million customer reviews and opinions of hotels, restaurants, and attractions businesses globally.

Heather Leisman joined TripAdvisor two years ago, with close-to-two decades of travel industry experience under her belt from positions at Orbitz, HotelTonight, and Jetsetter. As head of its industry marketing division, her role at TripAdvisor is to build the company’s relationship with the 7 million businesses listed on the site. In conversation with recently, we asked her what makes the challenge at TripAdvisor unique.

Leisman: Prior to coming to TripAdvisor, my number-one challenge was always how to drive more traffic, more engagement, and increase loyalty. That is something that simply doesn’t keep me up at night now as we already have such a massive audience on both the industry side, which I focus on, and the consumer side. It’s quite a different challenge. Primarily, I’m focused on educating the owners of the hotels, restaurants, and attractions businesses on how they can leverage their presence on TripAdvisor.

Because we list everyone we can find, a hotel is going to be on TripAdvisor whether it intends to be or not. So, as industry marketers, it’s important for us to educate our business users on what they can do to engage with our community and engage with travellers from all across the world.

As well as the three different channels we work with—hotels, restaurants, and attractions—we have owners of different sizes, everyone from a two-room, intimate B&B in the middle of Tuscany, to a 4,000-room hotel in Las Vegas. These businesses have very different needs and very different ways of looking at their relationship with TripAdvisor and engaging. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of information to work through, a lot of awareness building, and a lot of execution to ensure businesses are educated on all TripAdvisor can offer them. TripAdvisor is one of a handful of companies, which is built on the idea of the “network effect.” When it comes to marketing, what does that mean for those listed businesses?
On many travel booking sites, there’s a big focus on the best price. While that’s always a consideration—and, in some cases, the most important factor for consumers—it’s not the only factor. They also want to be sure the hotel they choose is truly right for them. That is where a rich amount of content becomes key to driving consumer engagement. With a brand like ours, we’ve hit a tipping point and created a virtuous circle. The more content we have from travellers and the more content we have from hotels that shows how unique they are, the more engagement we get from consumers, which, in turn, drives more content. Naturally, as more and more consumers are seeing the content on a business’s page on TripAdvisor, the value to the business of what picture that is presenting increases. That is what we call the network effect.

When you look at the numbers, the effect is staggering. ComScore, for example, recently found that one in 10 internet users visited TripAdvisor in July 2016. We now receive, as a site, more than 280 traveller reviews and opinions every minute. And there is an economic impact to this too. A study by Oxford Economics found that TripAdvisor influenced an astounding $478 billion in travel industry revenue in 2014 alone.

So our focus is on helping businesses in the marketing stage. We’ve built tools to give businesses a way to tell their story and let the true essence of the hotel come through. It’s a way to let them control their brand and have a say in how customers are seeing them.

By engaging with customers through our tools, businesses get this natural acceleration that creates both an economic benefit and a branding benefit. It’s really about empowering businesses and giving them the opportunity to engage with the community. Can you give examples of the tools you’ve developed?
 We recently relaunched our subscription product, which we’d had for seven years, and called it Business Advantage. It provides more advanced tools for hotels to help engage customers at every stage of travel. TripAdvisor is unique in that we attract consumers all the way from the inspiration through research and planning to booking. They’re also using us in-trip, and then they’re coming back and sharing their experience.

Business Advantage allows businesses to manage a special-offer feature, so a property can entice customers through a free breakfast or a discount, for example. We also have what we call a “favourite review.” This allows a property to select a recent customer review they feel represents them and move it up to a preferred spot on the page. It’s very clearly marked that this is the owner’s favourite review, but it’s a way to have someone else tell their story right on their page.

They’re all tools that help the businesses retain people on their page, engage them with the property, and give them a better understanding of what to expect when they arrive. There are a lot of photo tools that go along with that subscription as well, so that, again, they’re helping position the property in the way that they feel is most representative. How is your team structured so that you can meet all the different ways businesses engage with you, and the depth of that engagement?
We look at things by channel, so that my team can get an understanding of the path to purchase as well as the needs of the customer because the journeys are so different. For example, if you make a booking at a restaurant, that’s a very short journey, typically on that day, or even minutes before. The hotel experience, on the other hand, is a much longer journey.

We also work closely with our sales organisation, who are out speaking with the properties and interacting with them on a day-to-day basis. How do you communicate with your business customers to assist in educating them? 
 In addition to supporting our sales team, we use dedicated channels to communicate directly with business owners, particularly on email and on our site. Every owner that registers with us for free gets access to a dedicated Management Centre where they can track and monitor the reviews coming in for their business, and, naturally, that offers us an opportunity to educate and assist them. We also have a dedicated part of the site called TripAdvisor Insights, which is a marketing resource for businesses, providing tips and guides on how to manage their presence on TripAdvisor, collect more reviews, as well as offer research and trend insights about the hospitality sector more widely.

Additionally, webinars and masterclasses give us the opportunity to educate owners on key topics and trends in a more personal way. What is the next big disruption to travel that will impact B2B marketing for you?
 It’s such a cliché, but it’s the disruption that has been looming for some time—mobile. On the consumer side, we’re seeing more and more traffic and activity being done on mobile devices. The challenge is to take the breadth of what we do and put that into mobile environment. We have a lot of data to try to surface information to people on this smaller screen and help them get to what they want faster. Mobile isn’t a new thing, of course, but it’s evolving really quickly.

On the owner’s side, we see some shift to mobile in the hotel space, although a lot still happens on desktop because someone at a hotel, or small bed and breakfast, will have desk time when they respond to reviews or deal with reservations and uploading new photos and so on.

We see more of a shift to mobile on the restaurant and attractions side. Those businesses are increasingly being managed via mobile devices or tablets. They’re places where the owner could be the chef, for example, so he’s keeping up with his TripAdvisor-related activity in between shifts or after the lunch rush dies down. How are you responding to this shift?
First and foremost, we are improving the experience that travellers have on our app by adding contextual features that only a smartphone can provide. For example, when you are looking for a restaurant on your smartphone while out and about in a city, the location data on your smartphone enables us to give you a much more relevant recommendation about where you should go. That is something you cannot replicate on a desktop experience. It allows us to more easily identify travellers and diners who want what the listed businesses offer, connecting them to their target customer base more seamlessly than before. What role does data play in your B2B marketing, and how is that changing?
Data is essential to understanding the needs and wants of the customer, whether that’s on the B2B or B2C side. Given our scale at TripAdvisor, we have a tremendous amount of data that we use to identify areas of opportunity—as well as areas of frustration—among owners. For example, we measure the usage rate of our features over time and use that to identify ways to better educate owners on how to use them. One area where we are investing a lot of energy is in identifying ways we can leverage our data to provide more personalised and actionable feedback to owners so we can deliver a more one-to-one experience. What are the big issues facing B2B marketers today?
One big issue that we are trying to tackle is how to create what I call “micro moments” of engagement with owners. Not only are today’s business owners busier than ever, but they are also bombarded with information at every turn. This makes it increasingly more difficult for us, as B2B marketers, to reach and engage with time-crunched owners in a meaningful way. As a result, we are focused on creating micro moments, which are bite-sized pieces of content or information that can be easily consumed and actioned by busy owners.