Being agile is particularly important if you’re marketing for a collection of over 400 independently owned and operated luxury hotels, as is the case with The Leading Hotels of the World. Phil Koserowski, who became CMO of the company this year and has been with LHW since 2011, is a proponent of the agile approach --which has been around for a few decades, but has only recently been extended beyond IT and software development .
LHW, said Koserowski, had been moving to shift the culture of the company before the crisis, using a more customer-centric and data-driven approach. With the speed of change accelerating when it comes to customer expectations, he said, it was important to innovate more quickly.
When innovations take place, said Koserowski, sometimes things don’t work. “Not all marketing creates the results you anticipated,” he said, "so we started embracing the idea of ‘fail small, fail fast, learn and adjust.’” At one point, he even introduced “failure of the month” into monthly marketing meetings.
Koserowski began to work with Michael Wong, author of “Corporate Agility,” in 2019 to implement the agile method within LH.
Together, Koserowski and Wong have written a white paper called "Marketing During the Covid-19 Pandemic," outlining the strategies they implemented.
Through its decision to adopt the agile system, LHW launched more campaigns in the third quarter of 2020 than it had in years past and increased its cross-functional collaboration, allowing more opportunities for new and innovative ideas. In the process, said Koserowski, the marketing team grew closer to each other despite being scattered across the world, resulting in increased productivity and employee satisfaction.
Using the agile approach, said Koserowski, LHW was able to short-circuit a number of processes. As a result, a marketing campaign that might have taken four to six weeks to implement was condensed to one to two weeks, critical when the pandemic hit.
Complicating the culture shift was the fact that LHW has two customer categories: the hoteliers who are members of the organization and pay membership fees to belong, and guests. The hotel element was complicated because every member property found itself in a different circumstance. Throughout the pandemic while some remained closed, others were in the process of reopening. Some are in long-haul international markets, others domestic -- and there are many more differing circumstances.
However, LHW is fortunate in having marketers in offices around the world familiar with local conditions. The company would take their input and “marry it,” said Koserowski, with data from consumers to create campaigns that were global where that made sense -- or hyper-targeted and local when that was appropriate.
Constant monitoring of consumer sentiment has also been crucial. Looking at cancellation patterns, what consumers were clicking on when they browsed the website, and understanding what they were thinking about was instrumental in delivering the appropriate messages. As the pandemic developed, LHW campaigns flexed between inspirational when travel was not possible, to informative as markets began to open, to driving bookings and accelerating revenue recovery as travel demand returned. A "book now" message was not always appropriate, said Koserowski.
When the environment changes, marketers have to quickly boil down the situation to the needs of the customers. So for LHW, while consumers were looking for safety and flexibility when it came to cancellations and refunds, hoteliers were concerned with revenue recovery, best practices and expertise.
One important change was the elimination in June of the annual fee for the loyalty program, Leaders Club. Since the fee was eliminated, there has been significant growth -- not only in membership, but in bookings and actual travel.
His main job, said Koserowski, is to help drive the recovery -- and the key to that is getting loyal customers to travel within the network.
In the end, said Koserowski, “Agile only works when you have a high performing and committed team.” That has probably always been true for any successful marketer, "but at a time like this, no strategy will work without the right people in place -- ideally with the ability to be agile."