As places where people from all walks of life converge, hotels have always been sources of great stories. Everybody knows that—but no marketer knows it better than Karin Timpone. As global marketing officer for Marriott International, Timpone isn't just responsible for the messaging for 4,100 properties doing business as 18 brands in 79 countries. She was brought aboard in 2013 to find the best stories inside that realm, package them for social channels and use them to draw a new generation of guests. Good thing Timpone had some experience at this sort of thing. She previously led the marketing departments for Disney and Yahoo. Timpone spends much of her time traveling in Marriott's far-flung empire, but she was kind enough to give us a call after her most recent return to the U.S.
You were brought aboard in November 2013 to help Marriott draw the "next generation" of travelers. Do millennials have different expectations of a hotel brand than older customers do?
We listened to what millennials were asking, and one thing was being more connected in a relationship kind of way. There are some cues that are specific to newer customers, but that's where a lot of people are going. Mobility, healthy eating—these are things a lot of travelers want.
You were at Disney before coming to Marriott. Can you name one thing that you learned about marketing at Disney that you're applying at Marriott?
I was at Yahoo before I was at Disney, and I had in my hands a rich set of data. Everybody talks about big data, but I had really rich data, so it was an unbelievably rich way of thinking about relationships with customers. And I've organized my entire marketing strategy around this—thinking about the customer's needs, what's relevant to them and communicating in an authentic way.
A recent effort of yours is mcgarrybowen's work on "Make Room for a Little Fun" for Courtyard, which likens business travel to rowing a Viking ship but ends with a guy enjoying a glass of wine. How is that messaging more authentic from what came before?
We made room for a little fun, focusing on the successful traveler who's looking to have some fun on the road and making sure that after that meeting, he's seeing the cues inside the brand that give him the permission to have a little bit of leisure. Let's think about how we really live.
We found a "brand video tour" for Courtyard on YouTube featuring lots of dancing, and then there's "Two Bellmen," an action film shot at the JW Marriott in L.A. featuring a pair of bellmen who stop a heist.
It got a million hits on YouTube. We're talking to the right group of people, and they're starting to buzz about it.
Content marketing isn't a new idea, of course, but why are you investing so heavily in it?
Many years ago I did a master's in media technology and change. I was working in the spirits business [for the Seagram Company], and we were doing provocative advertising on TV. At the same time, I was taking films to Sundance. And it occurred to me that a moment would come where technology would open the floodgates. Every marketer could have an authentic conversation with the consumer in a meaningful way, and that's what enabled social media. So I had spent a lot of years in the content business, learning how to make it, monetize it and distribute it. I wanted to be in the position of having a lot of stories to tell.
How about the one with that Canadian guy Jordan Axani who'd bought around-the-world plane tickets for him and his girlfriend Elizabeth Gallagher—but she dumped him before the trip. Axani started a Reddit contest to find a new companion with the same name, and Marriott joined the viral conversation by tossing in free hotel rooms.
We got on board with that right away. We said, Marriott hotels would love to be with you on your journey. Stories are happening right inside of our hotels—like the search for Elizabeth Gallagher. We made our hotels part of the journey, so it was content in a way that connected authentically.
Speaking of hotel journeys, I hear you always travel with plenty of water. Is that because local water can be scary, or do you just like water?
It's so funny—water is my favorite drink. When I'm in my office, I use a canteen, I'm very eco-friendly. But I'm a big believer in using my canteen.