How Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Leverages First-Party Data, Personalization, and Privacy

Jackie DiStasi shares Wyndham Hotels & Resorts' take on first-party data.

January 12, 2023

Collecting and activating first-party data gives hotel marketers the information they need to build one-to-one relationships with their guests. In our latest report, How Hotel Brands Are Using First-Party Data to Drive Revenue & Build Stronger Relationships, we surveyed hotel marketers around the world to learn about how they prioritize first-party data collection. We interviewed Jackie DiStasi, senior director, Digital Analytics and Optimization at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, to hear her thoughts on our findings, learn how Wyndham uses first-party data for personalization, and how they handle data privacy. 

What did you think about the survey? What aligned with Wyndham's approach and strategy, and maybe what is not aligned?

I think that the findings are really interesting. Even just a few years ago, people weren’t thinking about first-party data the way that they do today, and I think that's due to a number of factors. We have the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) becoming part of the ether and things that we need to think about. Data security and privacy are really important.

But certainly, the deprecation of third-party cookies has exacerbated that need. We were thinking about what to do when this goes away. How are we going to maintain our existing infrastructure, and ensure our marketing can live past any changes from Google or major vendors? So it's really important that people are thinking about first-party data. It's exciting to see that more and more people are understanding the value and the benefits it brings to the table.

Aside from cookies going away, was there anything at Wyndham that made you think about where the industry is heading to take steps to integrate a Customer Data Platform (CDP) for example?

Wyndham invested very early in CDPs. Pre-pandemic, back in 2020, we kicked off with Amperity, and we've been leveraging it for a long time now. At the time, we understood the general need, not just around cookie deprecation, because that was certainly part of the conversation back then. We understood the need around data privacy—the changes and pieces of legislation coming out and we needed to make sure we were in a position to be extremely agile.

We wanted to make sure we weren't heavily relying on third-party data as the basis for our marketing strategy. So we invested in the infrastructure and tools to do that and we're glad we made that shift because we were ahead of the curve. I think it helped us secure our marketing strategy moving forward.

When you think about the specific data, was there anything that you wanted to leverage first and foremost?

We really started with a foundation. I would recommend that anyone do that. Think about the core tenets of what your consumers are engaging with, where are those key pieces of data living, and make sure you're trying to stitch those things together to create that unified view of the guest.

For us, that comes down to basic reservation and stay data. Did they make a booking? Did they depart? When did they do those things? We use raw click stream data from our website, and data around our emails from Salesforce Marketing Cloud—a lot of different places.

Then, when people think about CDPs, I think they solely think about first-party data, but it's more than that. The unification of the data should be predicated on first-party because that's where you're getting that value of using your own data and making sure it’s secure. But bringing in and stitching additional data to help enrich that is also a big part of it as well.

So we certainly can use third-party data to enrich our first-party view to understand who that person may be for datasets that we don't necessarily collect internally. So not just did they depart with us, but maybe what types of things are they interested in, where do they like to travel? The basic information that you can purchase from any third-party provider is really interesting and definitely part of the conversation as well.

The survey results showed that while this marketing approach is used in the upper funnel, oftentimes it's lower funnel metrics that are looked at. How does Wyndham approach the valuation of your investment?

It needs to be both, in my opinion. It's not enough to just fill the funnel. You also have to optimize the bottom, and it's not just enough to optimize the bottom. You have to fill the top. So it's working hand-in-hand in partnership, not just with my group and analytics, but also with our media teams to make sure we're all aligned and in lockstep on how we deploy those funds and where we optimize.

Now, why people tend to focus on the lower funnel isn't super surprising. It is the easiest to quantify. In an area that is super new, CDPs are very, very new in terms of technology, and things are constantly changing and evolving. So it's not surprising to me that people lean into what is easiest to do. I think it's also really important to be aware of the new trends, what's out there, and what are the ways that we potentially could quantify things in the future, and align our business strategies to those new technologies.

What was the conversation like inside Wyndham when it came to balancing privacy and security concerns with the more optimal customer and user experience?

For us, a partnership with legal is extremely important with both just traditional legal, information security, and privacy—all of that is part of the conversation. We do not do anything without making sure we're in lockstep with that group. I did see in the survey that some people felt maybe it wasn't that big of a deal. It is a big deal. Make sure that you're focusing on privacy. It's super, super important. 

We also need to make sure that we're doing everything in a best-practice sort of way. We don't want to make things creepy. Even if we can do something, should we? People certainly want curated experiences and they're starting to expect that. It's becoming table stakes, not just in the hospitality industry but across all industries.

You want to make sure people understand why it is they're being targeted for something or how their data came into the conversation. You don't want to send somebody an email for a product that they never gave their email address for. Then they start to think, well how did you even get my contact information? We don't want to go down that path. We make sure we are speaking to people who want to be spoken to. We're meeting people where they are, but we're also being conscious of data security and privacy.

Your strategy starts with the goals of your business and then figuring out how to use data to achieve those goals. Have there been any instances where it worked backward? Where the data said, “we really should be thinking about X, Y, or Z”?

There are definitely times when data helps to inform strategy. It really should be both ways, in my opinion. You have people proactively looking at data and understanding what those trends are and where maybe we could look or what's available. A lot of times the analytics groups and the marketing groups don't partner enough, and I think it's really important that you do. The people looking at the data have an idea that the marketing team may not even realize is an option because they don't know it's there.

It's really important to stay locked in with your marketing groups and make sure everyone's clear on what data exists and what's possible past what exists. This is what we have. Can we build on that to build something new? That strategic conversation can be cross-functional so you can get the benefits of both sides and insight from both teams.

What would you say is the number one challenge you have encountered as you've been taking this journey?

It's challenging in general, right? It is a new space and I think people forget that there's no one perfect answer and it's going to keep changing. It's really important when you approach this to know that it's going to evolve and to make sure whatever strategy you're putting in place has the ability to be agile and change with the industry.

Every piece of the flow is going to encounter some sort of struggle, but I think that's part of the process. That's what helps you grow and learn. It's really important to recognize that you're always going to hit roadblocks, so make sure you have the right partners in place to help remove those. We work very closely with marketing, we work closely with legal, and we work closely with leadership to make sure everyone understands what it is that they're going to get and how we're going to approach it.

So if there's one piece of advice you could give to the industry, what would that be?

Make friends with legal. Make sure that you're tightly in lockstep and understand that they are people too. When you have questions, they're here to help problem solve. "Okay, you can't do this thing, but have you thought about this?" They may be able to produce information that will help jar something in your brain to say, “Oh, I could think about this differently. Maybe this is a way that we could get to the same goal while making sure we're following all the rules that we need to follow.”

Partnering with the teams that you work with I think is so important. It's something that Wyndham does really well, and part of that is because we run really lean teams. So everybody, by necessity, is in a lot of these conversations. Whereas in other organizations, they don't necessarily get the opportunity to hear these strategic conversations. That really close-knit partnership helps us a lot.

Are there any trends that you're watching out for playing specifically into this function of leveraging and integrating first-party data?

I think it's really understanding what consumers want, how they want to be spoken to, and just being aware of emerging trends. For the last 10 years, we've been thinking about, “Okay, millennials. That's who's traveling,” but that's not the case. Yes, millennials are traveling, but we have a whole new generation coming up behind us that want to and need to be spoken to differently.

Understanding what people want helps inform not just what we're going to do, but how we're going to approach it. Staying on top of just generational trends in the future as the industry grows is important. And then, of course, the privacy piece. Things are coming out all the time, not just for big initiatives like GDPR, but legislation at the state and federal level, continuing to be pitched. So it's really important to stay on top of what those things could look like in the future to make sure you're complying.

Collecting and Activating First-Party Data Into the Future

In our report, we discovered that market research is the #1 resource hotel marketers trust when planning first-party data programs. If you’re looking for more information on first-party data collection and activation, here are a few resources to continue your research:

When you’re ready to take the next step with first-party data, chat with one of our hotel marketing experts today.

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