How Multi-Channel Analytics helps IHG understand its Customers

InterContinental Hotels Group is one of the world’s largest leisure businesses* managing 4,800 hotels and 710,000 guest rooms in nearly 100 countries. Over 350,000 people work across IHG’s hotels and corporate offices worldwide. Over the past four years, IHG has invested significantly in multi-channel digital analytics, turning what was a Cinderella discipline into the beating heart of the global business.
Based out of the company’s Atlanta HQ, Garrod Gibb leads a global digital analytics group of 16, with teams in Atlanta – Georgia, Salt Lake City – Utah, Charleston – South Carolina, and Manila – Philippines. He is responsible for the online voice of the customer, AB testing, digital analytics, and call center analytics. Here, Garrod explains how intelligent and timely interrogation of digital data has transformed IHG’s ability to understand and serve its customers better.
What challenges did you face when you took on this role?
When I arrived at IHG in 2011, the company was using an older software implementation managed by a pretty small team. The management were understandably cautious as they were not sure how much, or if, they could trust apparent trends in the data. We saw a great opportunity to help create a new way of thinking. In the past four years, our use and application of digital media analytics has shifted in some pretty significant ways. We have made smart structural decisions, are confident in the insights and implications we get from our data, and are now a digital-first business that’s got new and powerful reach into its digital properties.
What are the particular challenges in the hotel sector that you look to solve with digital analytics?
We’re in the hospitality business, which continues to evolve and shift with our customers’ expectations before, during, and after their stay. The way we develop a relationship with customers – online as much as in person – is a key driver of satisfaction, repeat business, and creating preference for our brands. So we use digital analytics to gain insights into who our customers are, what they want, and what they prefer. For example, we analyze the text of all calls we receive at our call centers to understand what may be missing or confusing about the web experience, and then use this information to take the right actions to solve it. Also, our call center staff can see what a customer has seen online immediately before calling, so we can serve them better. In both cases, we’ve created a feedback loop between our digital and voice channels, and this has enhanced overall customer experience.
And how about the challenges of trying to institute multi-channel analytics across multiple brands, markets, and languages?
It’s true that each brand within each market behaves differently, and we do have a very large number of market/brand/language combinations, as our 9 brands are present in almost 100 countries. While it can be difficult to understand all of the local nuances, with our team and structure in place, over the past four years we’ve demonstrated that it can be done, successfully.
What is the scale of return on investment you get from digital analytics?
Multi-channel analytics significantly reduces the guesswork from design, waste in process and time, and better enables our commercial teams to focus on the right things. We’ve learned, for example, through urgency message testing “Book now – just four rooms left at this price!” has little impact on people traveling tonight or tomorrow,impact on people traveling tonight or tomorrow, but a major influence on those traveling a week from today. These insights allow us to understand our customers’ motivations like never before.
Generally speaking, we can see returns in the order of 600-800 percent for single tests in terms of ROI. And we can tell we’re doing things right when our annual results reports are full of digital success stories about the outcomes of our campaigns.
Tell us about how you use AB and multivariate testing to optimize the performance of your digital properties.
AB testing is probably the most valuable and powerful tool we have. While knowing what has happened historically allows us to predict the future based on historical customer behavior, AB testing allows us to isolate and control for particular variables among specific audiences – such as the impact of messages about urgency of available hotel rooms for people traveling tomorrow – and tailor more impactful promotions accordingly. Like everything our team does, AB testing allows us to understand different customers better and segment our targeting with more impact.
How do you balance in-house resource with external support?
Over the past four years, our team has grown from four to sixteen, and now reaches across four sites and three time zones so we function around the clock. We’ve grown our capabilities and capacity to enable us to innovate and serve our multiple brands and geographies at scale. In addition, we’ve partnered with Stratigent since 2011. Because they’re solution-agnostic, they give us unbiased advice about the tools we should recruit and deploy. They’ve evolved to become a strategic partner for us due to their understanding of both technology and the digital analytics space. This combination of in-house and consultancy expertise means we continue to advance on our strategic goals.
And finally, what do you see as the biggest challenges in the coming years?
If I had to choose, I would say two: data and people. With the explosion of data sources and data types – particularly from mobile – we need to apply the same rigor to the new data we’re acquiring as a business, and integrate it with what we’ve already got. But to do that, we need to expand to include more high-quality analysts across our business. This is not just a challenge for IHG or the hospitality industry; it’s a challenge for all businesses and organizations across the world.
This article is featured in 'Response,' an international publication focusing on marcomm insights & news from across the globe. 
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*IHG’s (InterContinental Hotels Group) portfolio of hotel brands includes InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts, HUALUXE®Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo®, EVEN™ Hotels, Holiday Inn® Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Express®, Staybridge Suites®, and Candlewood Suites®. In January 2015, IHG acquired Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, the world’s leading boutique hotel business.
This article was originally posted on The article was derived from the Ebiquity interview with Garrod Gibb – Director, Digital Analytics & Site Optimization at InterContinental Hotels Group.
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