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IHG & iotec - Driving acquisition and loyalty with proprietary Intent Marketing Platform

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Insight 

IHG partnered with the programmatic intent marketing specialist, iotec, who’s transparent media buying platform harnesses sophisticated machine learning technology to identify and understand consumer intent. Using real-time, machine driven targeting, IHG could maximise direct bookings and ensure IHGs customers were offered a competitive alternative.  

Advertising used to be about roughly matching a brand’s audience with a relevant category or demographic but this assumptive targeting has obscured media buying. Rather than identifying audiences based on profile, iotec identifies and targets signals of intent. Research conducted by Millward Brown indicates that as many as 70% of potential mobile shoppers could be missed if brands fail to identify intention.  

With audience booking behaviours varying from market to market broad assumptive audience targeting does not always hold true. In fact, IHG ran an analysis looking at how people book hotels and found that 20% of direct sales are lost due to people completing the booking elsewhere. iotec offered IHG a real-time solution with dynamic data rather than static demographic data providing scalability and accuracy across multiple markets.  

With the machine learning intent signatures in place, IHG and iotec set out to reverse the misconception that booking through comparison sites and third party sellers is cheaper. Together they employed IHG’s Channel Shift strategy in five European markets and set out to gain mass and international traction. 

Strategy 

To reverse the conception that booking through travel sites was cheaper than booking direct iotec identified two core opportunities to increase IHG’s direct bookings using their machine learning buying platform: 1) interrupt new customers at the moment of intent and 2) drive existing, loyal members to activate through the Accelerate programme 

Driving direct bookings through new customer acquisition: This campaign was about harnessing advanced machine learning to find a broader range of people who IHG had never engaged with before. This approach aimed to maximise opportunities to reach a new, quality audience.  

To identify unique intent signals, iotec integrated with IHG’s data management platform (DMP) and used anonymised behavioural customer data prior to booking in combination with real-time campaign performance data, to learn what signals indicated that a consumer had intent to book. After establishing these signals, machine learning constantly adapted and corrected its targeting to efficiently target brand new, high-quality customers with an advert for an IHG brand. 

In addition, iotec excluded IHG’s existing customers to ensure that only brand new, incremental customers were served these ads, minimising media spend waste. 

Driving sign-ups to Accelerate: IHG’s Accelerate loyalty programme allows members to earn extra reward points. Points are redeemed against hotel stays to increase the likelihood of repeat, direct bookings. Using IHG’s first party data, iotec identified IHG Rewards Club members and targeted those individuals with ads for the Accelerate programme. 

Execution 

This campaign was designed to drive bookings to the European portfolio so machine learning signatures were modelled on bookings from IHG’s European hotels. To account for variations in consumer behaviour, each market was set up distinctly with different machine learning signature’s, and each element was managed in such a way as to avoid overlap and cannibalisation. 

New customer acquisition: iotec ingested IHG’s first party data into the Intent Marketing Platform to analyse the intent signals of their existing customers. By understanding the variants that made IHG’s customers unique, iotec could go on to efficiently seek out potential new customers.  

Learning distinctions developed between audiences who book for weekends and those who book for weekdays. By implementing a prospecting strategy that leveraged these distinctions, iotec sought out high value customers which grew IHG’s share of direct bookings across their entire portfolio. 

To measure the true impact of the campaign, iotec devised a control group of IHG customers who were not exposed to ads and used the booking behaviour of these for comparison with the campaign’s exposed audiences. This unique capability allowed iotec to measure the incremental value generated by the campaign.  

Driving sign-ups to Accelerate: Combining IHG’s first-party data with machine learning, iotec could identify and target members of IHG’s Rewards Club with Accelerate messaging. To measure sign-ups to Accelerate, iotec used the URL string from a ‘universal’ pixel sitting across the site. This provided IHG with valuable measurement for this strand of activity and allowed ongoing reporting and analysis. 

Results 

New customer acquisition: iotec exceeded the new customer acquisition CPA target by 11%. Furthermore, the campaign scored highly on IHG’s internal measures for quality: bookings were 38% more likely than average to come from non-Rewards Club members (meaning they are more likely to be incremental and more likely to convert to IHG Rewards Club members) and bookings were 169% more likely to be for high-end InterContinental brands than average. 

Sign-ups to Accelerate: iotec exceeded the CPA target by 47% and reached over 250,000 IHG Rewards Club members with the Accelerate message, 6.2% of who went on to register for the programme. 

Beyond the conventional metrics for measuring digital campaigns, iotec conducted an uplift study to identify the incremental impact of the campaign. This showed that the consumers reached through intent targeting (excluding Rewards Club members) were 44% more likely to book at one of IHG’s Park Stay & Go hotels than the control group. Not only did the campaign drive trackable bookings, but it demonstrated an uplift in bookings for the specific Park Stay & Go product, which was not being promoted through any other paid channels. 

Note - all results were derived from iotec’s Intent Marketing Platform.

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