Cover Story : Seeing Single
IHG’s data consolidation project makes good first impressions a snapDecember 2010 By Heather Fletcher
InterContinental Hotels Group's customers were behaving in real time while IHG was still behaving in batch, reads the paraphrase of what may soon become a legendary quote within the travel industry.
Quote provider Lincoln Barrett, vice president of guest marketing and alliances for the United Kingdom-based hotel giant, is credited with having the vision to evolve IHG from a near-time to a real-time marketing organization by improving its customer relations management and creating a single view of the guest. Gone, for instance, are the days when IHG updated customer information in its database at least 30 days after a guest's action—such as a hotel stay. (In her May 19 blog post, Forrester research analyst Shar VanBoskirk quotes Barrett as saying that IHG previously updated its data in such batches.)
Real-time marketing became possible in 2009, when the hotel chain made major changes to its CRM infrastructure.
"IHG decided to focus and standardize our three core platforms to help increase a lot of our operational efficiencies," says Kevin Hickey, IHG's global manager of lifecycle and email marketing.
So out went the request for proposals to help IHG automate its digital communications, with email as the backbone, and in came winning bids from StrongMail, Unica and Teradata for a marketing and transactional email platform, a campaign management solution and a data warehouse, respectively. Also, Smith-Harmon provides email creative services, program strategy and template optimization; and Return Path aids in deliverability management. Oh, and IHG currently performs its own analytics.
It may seem like a lot to keep track of, but Hickey says the process used to be a lot more manual and fragmented with, for instance, two platforms handling just email.
"The data environment wasn't really able to handle a lot of the complex processing that we wanted to do," Hickey says. "And then the non-automated environment and those processes made it really impossible to scale. So that's why it was essential to have it consolidated and get to that single view of the customer."
Barrett adds: "Transitioning into a real-time marketing organization is an extension of IHG's principal mission of delivering the best customer experience—whether during a stay at one of our properties, or in the email we send to keep customers informed and engaged. By integrating StrongMail with Unica and Teradata, we now have the ability to automatically deliver relevant one-to-one messages in real time—which is a critical differentiator for us in a hugely competitive space."