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Ovi Vitas, Chief Brand & Digital Officer of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, is our special guest on Social Pros this week. There’s a lot of great insights, practical tips, and strategies shared in this one to help you create lifelong customers
Are you a social champion?
When your company is under the umbrella of a ‘mother company,’ how can you communicate that on social media whilst retaining and showcasing the differentiated experience your brand provides customers?
This is often top of mind for Ovi Vitas, EVP, Chief Brand & Digital Officer of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, who takes a decentralized approach to the content that’s created and shared on social. To showcase a property-by-property experience, Ovi and his team have identified people from each location to be crowned ‘Social Champion.’
It’s this unique approach to decentralizing social media execution that has empowered people at each location to create incredible social media content. By following an enterprise set of guidelines, these ‘Social Champions’ play a key role in helping Marriott Vacations Worldwide add real authenticity to their social content.
In This Episode:
- 05:26 – What brands can learn from Marriott Vacations’ unrelenting focus on customer experience
- 08:22 – How to use social media to market a ‘high-end’ product
- 11:25 – How “Social Champions” help Marriott Vacations Worldwide showcase the authentic uniqueness of 60+ properties
- 18:28 – How modern technology has aided our ability to decentralize social media execution
- 23:53 – Why it’s important to focus on brand reputation management while remaining transparent
- 29:48 – How the timeshare aspect of Marriott Vacations Worldwide works and what they’re doing to improve the customer experience
- 33:53 – Why brands need to listen to what customers are saying on third-party online communities
Quotes From This Episode:
“Everything we do is focused around the customer experience.” – @ovivitas
“We are extremely focused on ensuring that the customer has as seamless an experience as possible.” – @ovivitas
- Get the new State of Marketing report for free from Salesforce
- Find out more about the community at SocialMedia.org with a special form for Social Pros listeners
- Learn how to use emma to help you design and create emails that your subscribers can’t resist
- Download Salesforce’s free e-book, 50 Social Media Best Practices
- Find out more about Marriott Vacations Worldwide
- Read Jay’s book, Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers
What’s your one tip for becoming a social pro?
Remain curious. The technology is changing so frequently that you need to be able to keep on top of it. You need social fluency within the new channels that are emerging, and really understand what the existing ones are doing to augment or change within the space.
If you could do a Skype call with any living person, who would it be?
Ovi would love to talk to Steven Spielberg about, who is arguably one of the best storytellers on the planet.
We’re seeing a lot of great best practices happen around. For example, sunrise and sunset, right? It’s just a classic story within the vacation space and how folks are looking at either seasonal components, but again, I go back to something like sunrise, sunset. Pools, believe it or not. I mean, really stunning, sharp, beautiful images of pools. You want to talk about a unique personality that each one of our properties has.
It’s such an interesting challenge, Adam, to have an organization that has, in this case, 60 locations, but then empowering people at each of those locations to actually create great social media content as long as they’re following sort of an enterprise set of guidelines.
I think that is one of the biggest challenges that we have because I think at its base, everybody thinks that they’re a social pro, right? I mean, if you’ve got Facebook and you’ve got a cell phone, as you say in the episode, you’ve got all the world’s greatest cameras in your back pocket. It’s a matter of setting up that structure and empowering your team to be able to fill that structure with great content. I think Ovi and what he’s doing at Marriott Vacations Worldwide really demonstrates it at a high level.
Yeah. This is a really interesting show. You don’t necessarily think of timeshare as being particularly good at social media, but Ovi and his team at Marriott Vacations Worldwide are really good and getting better. He’s very, very candid in this episode about the journey they’re on and how they’ve changed their fundamental approach to social. This is a deep dive. This is a very meaty conversation this week on social pros and I think you guys are going to like it a lot. I’ll tell you what I like a lot is our sponsors. They make this show possible including Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Love those guys. They have an ebook that I want you to download. It’s called 50 Social Media Best Practices; 50…
…Media Best Practices. Won’t cost you anything. You can get it right now. They’re not going to ask you for a ton of data. Go to Bitly slash tips 50 social. I’m going to give that to you again. B, I, T, dot L, Y slash T, I, P, S five zero social. Grab that right now. Also, the show brought to you by our friends at Emma email service provider located down there in Nashville, Tennessee. Music city, baby.
They send great email. You may be in charge of email in your company. You may not be. You probably know the email person one way or the other and there’s a lot of things that you can use to send email, but one of the things I like the best about Emma is that sometimes you need help sending better email. You might need to change the design or tweak the template or do A, B split or whatever and they’re like, how do I do that? You’re like going through the help docs, it’s like some hassle. These guys, you can actually call a real person, a human being in Nashville, and get them on the phone and be like, hey, help me do this, and they will help you do that. Love that. Learn more about our friends at Emma, Go to my emma.com/jayisawesome. That’s M, Y, E, M, M, A dot com slash J, A, Y, I, S, awesome. Thanks so much for their sponsorship as well.
Let’s get right into it because we got a lot to cover this week with Ovi, who is the head of brand and digital at Marriott Vacations Worldwide here on the Social Pros Podcast. Thanks for listening. Ovi, thank you so much for taking the time being here on the big program. You are the chief brand and digital officer for Marriott Vacations Worldwide and I think we should start off this very special episode of Social Pros explaining to our listeners how Marriott Vacations Worldwide differs from Marriott Hotels, which is a brand that people probably are more familiar with.
Absolutely. Thank you so much both for having me on. I appreciate it. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. I’d say first question is the difference between Marriott International and Vacations Worldwide. We are obviously very closely related to Marriott International. First and foremost we are based in Orlando, Florida, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, and we are a timeshare company at its core. We refer to that as vacation ownership and what we do is we sell points, a point system, a currency, which allows people to use those points in a variety of matters and manners. Primarily using points to go on vacation or exchange those points for other types of experiences that we offer either within our direct portfolio or within ancillary portfolios or businesses that we conduct with.
Marriott International, as [inaudible 00:04:20] other people around the world know, that is what I would refer to as more of the Germain hotel business that many people around the world know today. We are, in fact, separate companies. We are traded as separate companies. We have a licensing partnership with Marriott international and so you can imagine there’s lots of good partnership and relationship that exists between those two entities, but we are, in fact, two separate organizations.
How many properties do you have down the timeshare side in Marriott vacations? I know it’s a burgeoning list and truly global all over the planet. How many are in the stable now?
We have over 60 VO, vacation ownership, properties within Marriott Vacations Worldwide today. About a year and a half ago, we merged or acquired another company called ILG, which also owned an entity called Vistana. Vistana was a collection of vacation ownership businesses, namely chaired in Vacation Club and Western Vacation Club, and as part of that acquisition, we now have access to or represent over 60 branded vacation ownership properties around the world.
One of the things that I love about your approach to this assignment is the unrelenting focus on customer experience. You told Adam and I off air that that everything you think about you and your team and everything you do really is based on the core principle that customer experience is essentially what your product is. It really is what you sell. Can you talk about that a little bit and how that manifests online and in digital?
Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. You said it eloquently. Everything we do is really focused around the customer experience. I think in its most tangible or palpable way we think about customer experiences is probably like anybody who’s taken a vacation at any one of our properties thinks about customer experience. What are the types of experience you expect with a Marriott Vacations Worldwide brand while you’re on property, the way you expect to be treated, the facilities, the amenities, and we do a phenomenal job at making sure that we’re meeting that expectation from the consumer perspective.
When we think about it from a digital perspective, it really is focused around some core elements. First would be how do we provide and think about seamless experiences primarily for our owners. Again, remember owners are people that are owners within our product, our stable of products, right? We just talked about the fact that we sell weeks. The question becomes, excuse me, we just talked about the fact that we sell points. The question becomes, how and where can I use buy points? How do we articulate the value proposition associated with a currency that is points and where it can get me regardless of necessarily where I want to go, but really more about the experience that I want to partake in.
A lot of that looks like the ability to go online, understand what those point values can be applied or leveraged against. Then allowing people to actually make decisions to book those vacations online. Again, we think about that in terms of a really excel service or seamless experience. The other things we think about is how do we make sure that we’re connecting owners with other owners. Owners who may be sharing like minded ways of thinking about vacation experiences that they’ve either had in the past or planning in the future.
We have a robust online community within our social networks where we help facilitate those conversations between our owner groups and others where we simply sit on the sidelines and allow owners to have open and honest conversations around the products that we offer today. It’s been really eye opening in terms of understanding what our weaknesses are, but also really rewarding and understanding where we are doing a great job, where we need to double down and continue to do really great job in servicing our customers from beginning to end.
Truly, we like to think about our customers as customers for a lifetime, so that means that we need to have a product that’s as flexible as sort of their changing advance in needs, and that doesn’t just start and stop with where they vacation. It’s really about the mindset of, again, how they think about taking vacations. Are they with a family? Are they without a family? Just like all of us in our lives, we go through different life cycles and different life stages, so we have to think about how and where the flexibility of our product can meet our customer where they are in terms of their actual life stage as well.
Ovi, I love how you’ve articulated your product and how it’s differentiated and how you use, a social, I think, in so many aspects. When I think about social media, I often times think about what’s the greatest places where I share content. It’s typically on vacations. That is the canvas upon which so much of the great social content gets shared and that is the business that you are in. You just talked a little bit about how your product has the ability with points to be very flexible, so someone who’s in an earlier life stage, maybe still young and single versus someone who has a family versus somebody who has retired can kind of use and leverage those points differently. I’m curious how you market your product using social media to those different audiences. Is it different channels that you’re using? Is it different marketing messages? I’m really curious how all that comes to pass.
Yeah, so it’s a great question, Adam. I think the first thing we think about is certainly we’re always looking at ensuring that the customer we’re targeting is through the right channel and the channel is targeting the right customer. Right? That goes without saying. The one caveat I’ll say about our product is it’s a high end product and it really depends on sort of where folks are a lot of times in a life stage and also where they are in terms of their financial capability to purchase a product that starts at tens of thousands of dollars. One of the ways we think about social playing a role in that is a lot of times what you’ll see is parents, I say parents because obviously they have kids. Parents are the owners of our product and their sharing the experience of taking these vacations along with their kids year over year, vacation over vacation.
A lot of the ways we think about that is how are we communicating with the folks that are not necessarily owners of the product, but they’re experienced in product by virtue of the fact that they are sharing the ride along with their parents. We’re always looking at ways to solicit content, get content from the kids of the owners, obviously of age, right? Kids of the owners that are creating the content, listening to content, really engaging with us on our social platform and like you said, sharing the vacations and sharing those experiences throughout their different whatever the organic channels are. That said, we have a propensity to lean probably more heavily into Facebook than we do those other channels. Largely because of the demographic associated within that network.
We don’t necessarily have a robust presence on Snap, TikTok, any sort of what you’d call it. Sort of the younger skewing demographic channels, but really Facebook has been a place where we’ve done a lot of not only necessarily marketing, but also sort of organic conversations because it lends itself so well to our ability to converse back and forth and really have a two way dialogue with our customers. Whether that’s conflict resolution or that’s really just about identifying customers and making sure that we highlight them and their experiences and those that they’re having at our properties.
Ovi, as somebody who has owned a timeshare in my life and done actually quite a bit of work in the industry, both as a speaker and as a consultant, I find it fascinating the way you have this collection of properties, now 60 in Marriott Vacations and they can be in a lot of different places, right? US international skiing vacations versus beach vacations and all things in between. You have core assets that are a little different in each property. How do you use social media to communicate that you are all together under the Marriott umbrella, which carries with it some measure of credibility and brand preference, but then you have a differentiated experience at each of these properties. Right? It’s like the hotel guys. It’s like, yeah. You’re all a Sheraton, but today staying at this Sheraton may not be the same as staying at the next Sheraton.
Yeah, that’s an excellent question. It’s something we think about quite a bit and I would say that the answer to that question has more to do with how we’re structured internally than it does anything else. What I mean by that is when we think about three years ago, we were really essentially led organization, where a lot of the content was coming back through Orlando, our central headquarters here, to be reviewed, posted to be amended, augmented, and really it held us back a little bit. Not necessarily. Well, that held us back a little bit in a couple of different ways. One, just in terms of actual output and flow. It’s hard to conduct everything through one central repository. The other is to your point, Jay, we started to lose some of the flavor and some of the nuances that make each product unique in and of itself.
When we think about Marriott Vacations Worldwide, more specifically, when you think about Marriott Vacation Club the brand, or Sheraton Vacation Club the brand, or Westin Vacation Club the brand, we’re telling really high level inspirational stories about what it means to participate in the vacation conversation. I’ll just pick on a brand. For example, Marriott Vacation Club. A lot of what we post has to do around this notion of vacation greatness, and vacation greatness can mean lots of things to lots of different people, which is honestly why we made it a cornerstone of our brand platform and allows our owners and allows our members to take that in really lots of different directions, lots of flexibility, but what it does, it establishes what our brand stands for from the outside.
We want to create great experiences from the moment you raise your hand, say I’m interested in taking vacation or I want to rent and stay at one of your properties, all the way to the end. When you start to see things like it’s part of our hashtag strategy, when you start to [inaudible 00:13:53] things like hashtag vacation greatness, those are usually connected to our call it, our mother brand, Marriott Vacation Club, where we look at the uniqueness of each one of the properties.
Now we come back to the approach that we’ve taken as organizations. We decentralize that approach, so the content that’s created is truly created on a site by site. When I say site by site, I mean property by property experience. We’ve identified a host of what we call social champions internally. We’ve identified people on those properties to be social champions and a lot of times they may not necessarily be traditional social media experts. I think that’s a really important lesson that we learned, is not necessarily traditional social media experts. We need to identify the right content. We need to provide them the right tools to make sure that what they’re posting is relevant, is working, has a KPI affiliated with it and really the best practices, so we become the center of excellence here in Orlando, but really the authority and the autonomy and the authorship of those messages is site by site.
Nobody knows, and again, I say site by site. It’s sort of an internal term we use, but property by property, nobody knows the uniqueness of those properties better than often times the resort managers. Often times the folks on the ground that are creating the activities. Often times the folks that are working in front of house and it makes for a much more authentic storytelling experience. It also, to your point, when we start directly connecting with owners on each one of those 60 plus properties, with each one with their own handle and presence, what we’re finding is that the folks that are about to come to those properties look to those social channels, specifically Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for Q and A. For not only inspiration, but also for servicing on some level and you won’t necessarily find that explicit Q and A on a property by property level from from a brand more, I’ll call it inspirational, perspective.
I find that fascinating and very much on trend. This idea that, hey, if we’re going to try and make this authentic and real, well really, the only way you can make it authentic and real is to not do the big corporate photo shoot and go around to five different locations and here’s a good picture of like a beach and here’s a good picture of skiing, but really have content created in the moment on the fly by people who are approximate to that location. When you decentralize, did you add all the property specific accounts or did the properties already have their own Facebook page, et cetera? They just weren’t populating that content with people who are onsite.
It’s almost like you’ve done this before. The answer is yes and yes. What I love about social is it’s highly approachable and if you’re curious and you are somebody who is engaged, really anybody can participate in being an advocate in social. What we found is we went site by site, there was just organically people on those sites that were more socially curious or more socially apt than others. What that looked like is on some level we were looking at the sort of organic sprouting up of these new handles and these properties and people who really wanted to show the best foot forward of each one of these properties and others where we may not have had as strong a bench. That sort of, I don’t want to call it expertise, but that level of curiosity. What we found is that if you ask the question, while some people may proactively raise your hands, if you ask a question, always, inevitably somebody will step up to the plate, raise their hand and say, I want to be a part of this process.
One of the great things we did was we looked at some of those best practices that were happening before we decentralized and said, hey, out in the field, we’re seeing a lot of great best practices happen around, for example, sunrise and sunset, right? It’s just a classic story within the vacation space and how folks are looking at either seasonal components, but again, I go back to something like sunrise, sunset. Pools, believe it or not, I mean really stunning, sharp, beautiful images of pools. You want to talk about a unique personality that each one of our properties has. Think about running a series of content on pools, and we’re talking about mid January, right? That looks much different in park city, Utah than it does in Marco Island, Florida, but each one has its own sense of personality. That’s a roundabout way of answering your question, which is it was both organic and from a central area where we started to make those connection points.
I mean, one of the things that has happened in social that’s made this de-centralization possible is now everybody’s holding a really good camera all the time. I mean literally the increase in resolution of smartphone cameras has, at some level, made this possible. You don’t have to have an SLR and a tripod and all those kinds of things. It’s really fascinating. The hardware has impacted staffing patterns at the enterprise, which I find really, really fascinating. I think, if I picked up on this correctly, the social ambassadors that you have identified, the social media champions, I think you call them, that’s not their gig, right? They have a job and this is sort of like the frosting on their cupcake, which reminds me a lot of the Hilton Suggests Program that Hilton hotels launched many, many years ago, to do social care in a non-structured, on the spot way, which we talked about here on the program, gosh, seven years ago or something. We sort of take people who have enthusiasm and kind of empower them in the location.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. Yes, you’re correct. These are not the day to day jobs of these individuals. I guess, technically, could call it extra and above, but really these are folks that have skin in the game in that they’re helping to because of the way that the company’s structured and organized is they are participating in sort of a bilateral or bi-directional communication. The central group here in Orlando is helping to set the expectations on what’s appropriate in terms of filter usage, right? How long should our videos be? What role in length should our characters play when there is no character limitation? Things like that. At the same time, hearing the voices on the ground participate kind of keeps the corporate team grounded in terms of what is real when you’re out in the field and what is not. It becomes, again, this really great back and forth dialogue between the teams, and I think we’re starting to see the benefits of that across the organization.
Ovi, I would say that virtually every single one of our listeners wishes they were in a situation where they had ambassadors, where they had people in market or in the field that could share the great abundance of content, like you’re talking about your folks. The challenge that’s in many of their backs of their minds and may be in the back of your mind is governance. How do you reconcile? How do you wrestle this? How do you, as you said, you set kind of suggestions and recommendations for how long posts should be, how should photographs look, but how does that governance look inside of a Marriott Vacations Worldwide? From someone taking a post to it going live on one of your Instagram or Twitter or Facebook pages?
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways. I mean, we have some tools that we use internally here that we use to set up the structure, the content, that’s going to be posted. Set up. the themes of the structure of the content that’s going to be posted, set up our calendars of the content that’s going to be posted. Then what we use is an inbox, as it were, to make sure that we’re monitoring all the content that comes through. We have a team that’s set aside here that there are two modes. Right? One is if we’re going to be doing seasonal content or anything that is, we’ll call it enterprise wide led. If there is a moment in time, call it a Game of Thrones moment, a Game of Thrones finale moment, or if it is a seasonal moment, whether that be a holiday or a moment that captures sort of the larger, I’ll just speak in terms of the US standards at the larger nation as a whole.
Those are outward push communications that are very, very prescriptive in terms of hashtags the teams must use, content that must be approved and or used being centrally fed out and usually what we’ll do in those instances is we’ll give a recommendation on what that content should be in terms of the actual post and the copy of that post, and if it needs to be augmented it comes back through that box. The other mode is we set up [inaudible 00:22:48] campaigns. Again, I go back to pool, sunrise, the sunset, things on that nature, and those are set up and they are approved about two days before the actual post. Where the most autonomy happens within the organization is when we’re having two way dialogue with customers. Those are really once a team is quote unquote certified. We can talk a little bit about the certification process, but once the team is certified, they have the ability then to converse back and forth directly with those customers. If it bubbles up to a conflict resolution state, that gets taken over and and dealt with by our customer care team
I do want to get back to social customer care and definitely want to get back to the Game of Thrones program that you did because it was phenomenal in your category. I want to first ask a question kind of around something that I think also a lot of our listeners have to wrestle with and that is the idea and the adage that sometimes we have to build a category before we can build a branch. In your case, you’re in a situation where there is a known category of vacation ownership, timeshare, but there may be some misinformation there. You may have competitors who have taken advantage of that recognition and situation. One of the things, Ovi, that I think you’ve demonstrated is your commitment to transparency and kind of looking at that entire structure in a different way there at Marriott Vacations Worldwide. I’m curious kind of how you’ve kind of established that and said, listen, we are going to talk about this in a slightly different way and then how you measure whether that’s resonating with your audience.
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, yeah. We have focus on what I call brand reputation, right? Reputation management, and certainly we have a great deal of responsibility when dealing with the brands that we’re dealing with, the names that we’re representing, that we are grateful to represent. Then we also have an opportunity to sort of shape the narrative around the word timeshare and what does timeshare mean to people? There have been a host of good players and maybe some not so good players in the past, which had started to, in some capacities, create both positive and negative stigmas. One of the things we want to focus on is amping up or doubling down on the positive stigma and starting to deal head on with some of the perceived or misperceived negative stigmas associated with the word timeshare or the industry that is timeshare.
To your point, some of the ways we’re doing that is we’re really striving A, of course, to always be customer centric, but really also to be much more transparent across the board. We are working to understand what the implications are for our sales organization, our marketing organization, our customer, our customer perception on how and where transparency plays a role with ensuring that customers have a full expectation of what it is they understand in terms of start to finish of our product. A lot of the ways we’re doing that is we are starting to engage a lot more in our social panels; showing people the power of where their points can take them around the world and around the United States. Showing how and where people can use their timeshare ownership really in a much more comprehensive way than we’ve ever shown before.
We always talk about in terms of articulating our value proposition through tools and technology, so we’re continually looking at our websites and we’re looking at understanding how we can show point values and how those point values can, again, take you to different areas around the world. We’re looking at interactive tools that help, again, better articulate that value proposition. I will tell you that some of the things that we’re doing in the digital space, were a little bit early days, but we feel really good about the strategy that we have in place, which we’ll probably be talking a lot more about in the next 12 months here and the direction we’re headed in terms of a better articulating our value proposition through digital tools and technology.
Ovi, you started with, in our discussion today on social pros, talking about customer experience and the importance of it. You reiterated it there as it relates to all the interactions that you’re having with your current owners. I’m curious kind of what that workflow looks like in your organization. A tweet or a post comes in. Maybe it’s from a prospective owner. Maybe it’s from a current owner, and there’s a variety of things that probably rely and require different answers from there’s a water leak in unit 407 at this property to tell me a little bit about how these points work if I make an ownership purchase? How do those kind of come into your system and how do you delegate those out to the right people in your organization?
Yeah. Again, that has more to do with the setup on the infrastructure of how the team is composed today. We’ve got brand social media owners… we’ve got social media owners of each one of our brands, so Westin Vacation Club, Sheraton Vacation Club, and Marriott Vacation Club. That’s where we started. Right? If any questions come in about those respective, the first sort of line of defense or conversation is going to be around one of those brand managers.
At the same time, we have another outlet, which is our social care team, that is always continually listening for questions that come in related to concerns or servicing issues. When we’re talking specifically about, let’s take an example of how and where can I use my points this is holiday season? That would come in either through one of our social channels, through a tweet or through a post on Facebook or even a response to a post on Instagram. Often times what we’ll do is we’ll sell packages, we call them preview packages, so come and see Orlando at a highly discounted rate. A tour is required, and so when we post those ads on Facebook, we often times get a lot of questions about the specifics of those details.
I’ve just provided a couple of different examples of how we’re getting these questions, but the last one here, so if you’ve got a question on the package that’s being advertised marketed to you on Facebook, those questions are handled either directly by our contact center, our sales and marketing contact center here in Orlando, and they have the authority and autonomy to engage with those folks on Facebook and when there are questions that just can’t be answered either because they require a longer conversation or somebody wants to have a more in depth conversation with a person, that usually ends in an offline phone call.
The same thing with our conflict resolution team. If there’s a servicing issue, that comes to the brand manager and that gets routed to our conflict resolution manager. Anything outside of those areas, if it is really about engagement or recognition of an owner or somebody staying at one of our properties, that sits within our brand management team; what we call our core organic brand management team. Those are really the three kind of definitive ways that those types of messages get routed within the organization.
Ovi, you touched on this at the outset of our conversation today about customer experience. One of the challenges that the timeshare industry has is that the points, and you mentioned it yourself, it’s sort of your own currency and then this currency is worth this and then you can exchange is a little bit easier inside your own network as opposed to going outside the network using an exchange broker like RCI or Interval International, but it historically has required some measure of thoughtfulness and frankly effort on a part of the owner to kind of understand the ropes, if you will, of timeshare ownership. That is, of course, very counter cyclical to today’s world where people want to press a button and everything just shows up at their door. As the head of digital there, how much impact do you have or are you given to say, you know what, we just got to make this whole thing easier. Yeah, we can communicate better and we can be better at social, but this is, especially for younger potential customers, potential owners, which obviously you’re looking towards, it’s just got to be simpler. What’s the solution there, if any?
Yeah. Yes, you’re 100% right. The world that we live in today, regardless of whatever industry or vertical you’re in, is one of self-service and, and really, simplification. Regardless of the product that we sell, access to that product and utilization of that product needs to be a lot more simple, and you nailed it. I mean, part of the challenge we have in front of us, which we’re excited to tackle and I think we’re making great strides on, which we’ll talk about here in a second, is the flexibility of our product allows for lots of different options and those options need to be easily understood and they also need to be easily acted upon. Today if you would like to rent with our property, you can go online and you can do that and you can easily take your points and book a property. If you want to bank your points, so I’m going to make up some numbers. Let’s say you 5,000 points and you want to go on vacation in 2020, you can borrow points from 2021 and have 10,000 points and you can bank your points from 2019 and now you have 15,000 points.
That action will then allow you to, obviously, have a much more robust vacation by virtue of the currency, but the action of actually being able to bank and borrow those points wasn’t necessarily something that we could do 18, 24 months ago, or I should say an owner could easily do 18, 24 months ago. We’re starting with providing tools for our owner base that have led to double digit increases in terms of year over year transactions, point transactions, that are taking place online. We’re seeing a lot of growth and utilization of points as a product of the fact that we’re making a lot of these enhancements, namely around what we call trade and transact.
The next logical question becomes, well, what happens if I want to enroll my Marriott Vacation Club points into Marriott Reward Points? That’s the next piece which we’ve made much more simple for our owner base, which has also contributed to that double digit growth over the last three years. We’re looking at a variety of different feature enhancements on, namely, our owner website and then potentially some other digital products in the future, which I can’t talk about now, but you can imagine that these digital products are going to be more aligned with self-servicing in a way that I’ve just described, but also in a way that allows for more ease of use within the flexibility of that product.
You talked about things like exchange within interval international. We’re certainly looking at identifying what are the biggest pain points for our customers today and how can we effectively minimize those pain points with digital at the epicenter of all that, but it is, to say that we’re not hyper focused on it would be a misnomer. We are extremely focused on ensuring that the customer has as seamless as experiences possible with digital powering that at its core. Absolutely.
One of the other things I find fascinating about this particular industry, and I say this again, as not only a timeshare owner, but a consultant from time to time in the industry, is you talked about this, that ideally people buy a product from you and then they own it for a long time, like years and years and years. Decades in some cases, willed to their children in some cases. Right. It really is a long standing relationship with the product and because of that and because of the, well, if you’re going to go skiing, you could go here, here, here or here, and what do you think about this one versus that one? There is a huge online community around timeshare, not dissimilar from the cruise community and you’ve got sites like TUG, the Timeshare Users Group, and redweek.com and this whole ecosystem that isn’t owned or controlled by you in any way, that is driving the narrative around the kind of changes that you’ve heard particularly communicated.
Do you overtly or secretly participate in some of those third party online communities and kind of what is your take on that? Right? They really have a huge role to play in how timeshares interpreted and embraced from now into the future.
Yeah. First, we don’t secretly participate in anything, but I will say, of course, yeah. I mean [crosstalk 00:35:15].
Podcast. He secretly participates in Social Pros Podcast.
Thanks, Jay. Yeah. I think the way we look at TUG, specifically, because it is the largest online community for timeshare users, Timeshare User Group, is we really look at it as a feedback mechanism. We’re not necessarily participating in those conversations. We don’t feel that it’s appropriate for us to participate in really a space that’s meant for timeshare owners to communicate with each other. We certainly work to build our own infrastructure in our own community so that we can, you used the word control the narrative. I would agree with that statement of controlling the narrative is really important because I think there’s a lot of great information out there on a what I’ll call non-timeshare regulated forums and groups and there’s a lot of misinformation on the same channels. We use TUG and others to identify where some of that misinformation may live and that helps to inform and shape a lot of our content that we put together for our blogs, the kinds of articles that we’re writing, the social posts, FAQs, top tens, things to know.
I mean, really that information is so critical for us and we are very grateful that TUG exists today just for that very reason. The flip side of that, of course, is we want to know from our customers where we’re doing well and where we’re not and certainly as things get called out specifically by brand name, we want to share back those wins and it’s a great morale booster to see some of those qualitative pieces of feedback come into the organization as a whole to hear where we’re helping and serving customers. Again, like I said earlier, really a feedback mechanism and we’ve got others from a digital capacity that we look to measure and track not only the performance of our digital products. You people understand ease of use, are they getting the functionality, but really overall customer sentiment as well, which is something we’ve really focused on much more so in the last 18 months since anytime I’ve ever been here.
We are building out our BI, our business intelligence group, in a much more robust fashion. We are looking at how and what role things like customer sentiment, text analytics play, again, and not only our ability to serve and potentially shape our product in the future, but more tactically the types of content that we’re creating and how we’re looking at SEO just generally based off of these different feedback loops and channels.
Social Pros listeners, I want you to hear exactly what Ovi said right there. They’re going to the big industry discussion boards and forums. They’re not necessarily participating overtly, but they are listening aggressively and then taking the questions and comments that people pose in those discussion boards and forums and turning the answers into content assets. That is such a best practice and it’s something that so many brands feel to do. I talked about my book, Hug Your Haters, like guys. The people who love you the most, where do they spend time? The discussion boards and forums. 0% of people spend time in a discussion board inform if they are mediocre about the category; 0%, right? It’s the hardcore, the people who either love you or hate you, that’s where they spend time, and so many brands are still asleep at the switch when it comes to aggressive listening in forums.
Yeah, I agree. It’s funny and it’s not like this is a new thing. I mean, since the beginning of time, it’s always been. Before the internet existed, I heard many stories and I’m a timeshare owner myself, of owners that will get together and we call it sort of the hot tub mentality, which is owners sitting down together in a hot tub, relaxing, talking about why and how they bought timeshare and what they feel are the benefits and where they feel things could be a little bit better. It is as old as the beginning of time; this whole notion of community.
I’ve worked in lots… I’ve been fortunate enough to work in lots of different industries, from apparel to shoes to entertainment, and I could tell you, in the late ’90s, early 2000s, I was working for NBC at the scifi channel and there are loud and vocal communities when you turn one program off and when you start to re-imagine what Battlestar Galactica should look like for a new audience, but just like we do today, when the program was being created, not necessarily when it’s being marketed, but when the program is actually being created, we started to think and source out what does it sound and what does it look like when the main character for about Battlestar Galactica has historically been male is now female. What are the impacts to that in terms of how people view the product, the fidelity of the product, and obviously it was nothing but success and we did those things for lots of great reasons, so I was really proud of that.
Great insight, Ovi. Jay and I will come in here, as the listeners know, and reiterate that importance of social listening, as Ovi said, listening to your detractors, listening to your champions. Great example I often give of a Salesforce to customers 21st century Fox of India that actually uses social lending, social listening to inform story arcs on soap operas and, and Indie on their 23 television networks. So many ways of using that information and it’s always refreshing to hear brands like Marriott Vacations Worldwide using it. Ovi, I want to ask you one last question before I hand it back over to Jay. You mentioned the Game of Thrones finale, a program that you leveraged for some great coverage. Love for you to tell our audience a little bit about what that was and how you came up with the idea and how it impacted you.
Sure. We always look for in like any great organization or frankly anybody who’s really curious or involved with social media for those moments that kind of transcend your core traditional space. Game of Thrones, just like a Friends finale or a Breaking Bad finale or any show like that, that actually transcends the space that’s outside of television and entertainment, is an opportunity we want to participate in that conversation. It’s an opportunity where we want to leverage what the Westin world is talking about, but also can’t abandon our core values of what we are, which is a vacation business, the business of vacation.
We challenge the teams to think about what does our participation and this global conversation look like? One of the things that the team came back with was this notion that there’s all this key art that’s out there when we talk about the Game of Thrones last season and the season finale and the key art is obviously posing in front of the throne, posing with the dragons. Our team came up with some solutions on, again, the tagline, “Winter is Coming” was trending or, sorry, summer is… Winter is coming is trending and summer is coming is trending around this finale. We said, what does it look like when it comes from a vacation standpoint?
We basically replicated a lot of the key art that you see within the season finale final, but it was, for example, it would be instead of, and the character’s name is slipping my mind, but the lead character sitting in front of the iron throne with a sword. It is one of a potential guest or somebody staying at one of our properties sitting on a beach chair in front of the pool and instead of a goblet of wine, he’s got a pina colada in his hand.
A cocktail of some sort.
A cocktail of some sort, just sort of leaning in with the summer is coming, reminding people that there’s a summer out there. There’s a world of vacations that are about to happen and we’re participating in this conversation.
It was one of our highest performing posts in terms of engagement and each one of our properties, whether it was Westin Vacation Club, Sheraton Vacation Club, Marriott Vacation Club, had its own unique wink and nod to this, but sort of the overarching theme and idea was obviously leading back into something that was recognizable and relevant within sort of the larger community. It was great.
And so good. Other than appropriating cultural touchstones for your own amusement, Ovi, if you could give our listeners one tip, people who are looking to become a social pro, what would you tell them?
My one tip would be, it’s somewhat generic, but I’ll make it more specific. Just remain curious. You’ve got to remain curious. The technology’s changing so frequently. It doesn’t matter what level the organization you’re in, it doesn’t matter what your age is. It really just matters if you have social fluency within the new channels that are emerging and really understanding what the existing ones are doing to augment or change within this space. The reason that’s important is because I think it makes you a more technically sound contributor. At the same time, it really keeps you on the forefront of new ideas. I mean, the more exposure you have to these things… I always say the hardest thing to hire for, within the social space, and it’s really hard to do, is you kind of got to know how to talk in the social space.
You have to know the vernacular and you have to have, and Jay, you probably have a very sophisticated word or a designation for this, but it’s sort of the… I don’t want to call… I guess it’s the it factor, but you have to know… there are people who do great marketing, there are people that create advertising, there are people that write great copy. Bringing all those things together and putting into a social post or a social content strategy is not always the same thing. It’s a nuance thing that I think you really can truly only understand with more and more exposure to the content, and more and more exposure to the tools. Just remain steadfast and curious and engaged.
That’s great advice. Yeah, being good at social is deceptively difficult. That’s why this show exists. It’s funny how a lot of brands and enterprise managers like, oh, it’s just some social media kid. It’s like, yeah. Try and do it yourself.
If you think it’s that easy.
It’s not nearly as easy as you think it is. Last question, Ovi. If you could do a video call from a hot tub with any living person, who would it be and why?
Living person? It would probably be with, honestly, probably with Steven Spielberg. It would be with Steven Spielberg because I can’t think of any better storytellers, obviously, than the great writers and directors of America and the world at large. I think that if you’re ever going to create a brand from scratch, the first place I would go is Hollywood because Hollywood understands the power of storytelling and understands the power of, I mean, Arrested Development… not Arrested Development. Excuse me. Yeah. Arrested development. Totally different genre than we’re talking about with Steven Spielberg, but I think if you think about the campaigns that they put together to keep folks engaged over a long lag between those seasons; so great. It started with great storytelling and insight within that great storytelling and then flawless execution, but Steven Spielberg would be my guy for lots of different ideas.
That’s a great answer.
I don’t know that we’ve ever had a Steven Spielberg answer, so well done, Ovi.
That’s an excellent recognition.
Thanks so much for being on the show. Fantastic conversation, really enjoyed it. Appreciate your candor and your thoughtfulness as well. I know the Social Pros listeners did as well.
Great. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
Friends, don’t forget that every single episode we’ve ever recorded, 398 as I just said, if I think I’m right on that, you can get at socialpros.com every transcript, show notes, obviously the audio, links mentioned in the show, all of that available at socialpros.com. If you haven’t had a chance to leave a rating or review for the show, Adam and I would certainly appreciate that. Don’t forget you can get the show everywhere you get podcasts, including on Amazon Alexa, Google Home. Just ask your device to play Social Pros and you will hear it immediately. On behalf of Adam Brown from Salesforce Marketing Cloud, I am Jay Baer, founder of Convince and Convert. This has been, hopefully, your favorite podcast in the whole world. This has been Social Pros.