ADARA bills itself as ‘the world’s travel data co-op’, putting it in a unique position to assess the impact of the pandemic. We spoke to CMO Carolyn Corda to find out about her work, and how the industry is responding to Covid-19.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
As CMO at ADARA, my job is to define and communicate our value to the marketplace. Further, I work closely with clients to surface new product opportunities and help them take full advantage of ADARA’s offerings. Particularly as ADARA expands into new verticals, my interactions with key executives has expanded beyond travel suppliers to include financial institutions and retailers that are also pioneering new approaches for digital, loyalty and customer experience. By acting as their sounding board, I can keep sharp and ensure ADARA is aligning with their high priority opportunities and addressing the most pressing pain points.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
From what was already a fast and urgent pace, I’ve switched into an even higher gear to respond to the crisis. Like us all, I’m afraid to say that I am spending a lot of time in front of my laptop screen at the moment. I spend most mornings catching up with colleagues and clients on the East Coast and in Europe, so I find I have more time in the evening to delve into our data and understand the latest trends that will be important to clients. Typically, before Covid-19 I would spend a lot of time meeting clients face to face, rather than catching up via Zoom, so the change has been an interesting one to get used to.
Although, in fact, this period has brought me closer with many clients as we help them to navigate the current climate. In particular, our travel clients are relying on us more than ever to help them understand when the moment is right to fully re-engage with customers and push for bookings.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
Generally, we are seeing increased reliance on ecommerce from retail clients and a desire to get to grips with identity based marketing and verification across the board in finance, retail and travel. As marketers try to navigate the complex waters of a post-lockdown environment, we’re seeing vastly accelerated digital transformation across all three of our key sectors, leading to much more in depth questions around how businesses can leverage data.
In travel, with airlines such as United Airlines and BA set to resume and increase flights next month, we have also started to see the initial green shoots of an eventual turnaround. While it will take time to reach pre-Covid-19 levels, it is clear from our own internal search data that people are keen to go on vacation and leave their homes after months of social distancing. For example, we found that US leisure travellers are starting, in small numbers, to book travel trips more than 91 days out as well as some more immediate trips taking place within two weeks.
Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?
I’ve been impressed by the quick responses shown by many brands to ensure their customers’ needs are always at the heart of the operation. For example, Delta Air Lines has taken steps to ensure its loyalty programs remain essential to its long-term, high value customers by offering four times as many miles for customers using its American Express cards at supermarkets in the US. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific has renewed all of its Marco Polo Club memberships and unused mid-tier benefits for another year, if they are set to expire between May 2020 and April 2021. A similar approach has been common across hoteliers – Choice Hotels extended loyalty memberships and went further, upgrading all existing members to the next tier of the reward scheme. The industry has acted fast to ensure its most loyal customers still see the benefit of their relationships with their preferred hotel choice, even when travel is impossible.
Many travel brands have also pivoted their marketing content or shared the secrets of their hospitality to give customers a boost. Marriott has offered Zoom cooking classes with its own hotel chefs. Hilton shared the closely guarded secret recipe for its famous Doubletree chocolate chip cookie, to help its customers have a moment of joy in their own homes. Disney did the same and released the recipe for Dole Whip – its beloved Disneyland snack. Actions like these mean the brands continue to work hard for their customers and keep the relationship top of mind for when customers are ready to travel again.
What changes are you making to help your brand/brand’s clients connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
In response to Covid-19, we have launched a real-time tracker of the travel sector to help our travel clients better understand the impact of the virus and resulting various global restrictions on the industry. The tracker identifies changes in searches and bookings within the US, EMEA and APAC and offers key insights for travel brands looking to understand consumer behaviour. What’s been interesting about this is that we’re not just getting requests from travel brands to dive into this data, but other verticals like finance and retail businesses have been asking to use the data for their own macro-economic forecasting. Travel data helps to inform a huge cross-section of businesses on their outlooks, and we’re pleased to have been able to provide this key data for businesses trying to understand what the future might look like for them.
Our aforementioned weekly webinars, established first and foremost to help our clients, have featured guest speakers from LiveRamp, McKinsey, JetBlue Ventures, and Ticketmaster and have proven to be a valuable resource for the businesses we work with.
Furthermore, we have worked to help clients more effectively use our industry-leading data platform (Adara Cortex) to help fuel marketing efforts for our clients, driving personalised communication built on true understanding of individual customer profiles. At the same time, we’re working with clients to prevent fraudulent purchases and interactions and thereby reduce the associated costs incurred by these, through advanced identity verification. Together, these two tracks enable brands to create both a more personalised customer journey and a more seamless one, building on relationships with customers and growing revenue per customer.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
In a situation that is hard to understand, we have to rely on data to help guide us. As a marketer, our first priority should be to understand what is happening for the consumer: what are they buying, what do they want to buy soon? What are their priorities and what will they respond well, or badly, to?
Given that none of us has gone through this before, ‘gut’ instinct is even less reliable than it was before. Only a truly data-led approach can succeed to help us understand how to communicate with customers, and when. So my advice would be to invest in and upskill around data. Ask how your company uses data, whether there are further data points needed to create a better picture, and how different data can be connected to create an understanding of the individuals your brand wants to build relationships with. For example, one of our cruise clients has taken the downturn as an opportunity to test new data sets, ensuring it has a fuller and improved picture of consumer behaviours to help regain lost ground in the coming recovery period.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and communications tools such as Slack have been a lifesaver and have provided a way for co-workers to feel less isolated right now. They have also helped us maintain strong relationships with clients by breaking down barriers and allowing us to easily talk to one another.
We’re using Zoom to host different series of weekly webinars, in which we invite experts from the travel, identity and customer data fields to discuss key industry issues. For travel we also delve into our own data to help provide travel brands with early signals into market inflection points. This has been a great help to keep us in touch, and we know our clients – and potential clients – have benefited from these insights greatly.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your company?
Long term planning has been challenging for all of us. The effects of Covid-19 came all at once; few had time to prepare. However, we were fortunate in that we had already put serious work into diversifying the business and pivoting towards a data-led model that served multiple sectors – finance, luxury retail and travel among them.
In the coming months, we look to further cement our position in the finance and retail markets through improving identity verification and personalisation for our clients, thereby increasing customers and customer profitability. We’re also working closely with travel clients to help them be in the best position to claim market share when travel inevitably bounces back – even as we expand into other sectors, we expect travel to continue to be an important market for us.