Marriott's Mandy Gill on how marketing strategies shifted during the pandemic

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Marriott International has long been known for its marketing prowess, successfully consolidating its stable of 30 flags under the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program umbrella brand. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently spoke to Mandy Gill, Marriott International's vice president of global marketing for the U.S. and Canada, to get an update on how the hospitality giant has continued to communicate effectively with customers throughout the pandemic and what's next when it comes to marketing partnerships.

Mandy Gill
Mandy Gill

Q: Has Marriott International's marketing strategy fundamentally changed because of the pandemic?

A: From 2020 to today, it's as though dynamic and creative messaging has become the marketing ecosphere's new normal. In 2020, travel sentiment was all over the board. We had to take a very close look at our marketing channels and partners, because there were some, like social media, for example, where you could get caught up in travel shaming. And we weren't just monitoring the country's sentiment, like we normally do, or even monitoring by U.S. state or territory. We had to go down to the city and county level, because every governor had different rules during that time. 

We also had a lot of political unrest happening in key destinations across the U.S., as well. So, we always had to make sure we weren't coming across as tone deaf, maybe marketing a destination that wasn't really ready for out-of-town guests at that time. And because of all that, I would honestly say that 2020 and 2021 ended up seeing the most long-term, largest-scope and geographically dynamic marketing, creative and messaging we've ever executed on Marriott.

Q: How has the company's messaging evolved since the early days of the pandemic?

A: In 2020, it was about the idea that we will travel again. We were really focused on launching efforts like Rooms for Responders, which provided free rooms to the doctors and nurses who didn't want to go home after a shift in the Covid unit, as well as our Commitment to Clean and things like mobile check-in, which offered contactless service. That was the bulk of our focus in 2020. 

Then, in 2021, that's when we started to see that people were aspiring to travel again, even as the majority weren't quite ready to dip their toe in yet. So, we actually launched a pretty robust campaign in 2021 that was around inspiration, excitement about planning a trip and getting ready for that "revenge travel." 

And now, in 2022, our partnerships that we had paused due to budget are back. Among the trends and messaging that we're currently focused on is bleisure, since a lot of people are now working from home and when they go away for the weekend, they're adding two more days to their trip because they can work from anywhere. So, we're talking a lot in our messaging right now about extending spring break. And we're also seeing weddings coming back. Wedding "redos" are a big thing right now too.

Q: You mentioned partnerships. Can you elaborate on the types of marketing partnerships Marriott will be deploying this year?

A: A lot of the big partnerships, like our partnerships with the NFL or NCAA, are multiyear contracts. So, while we had something of a gap year during Covid, we're now picking back up on those contracts. However, local partnerships are something we've really been focused on. And that's a focus that we started last year but that we're ramping up even more this year. Local partnerships used to be [organized] more by an individual property; but now, from above-property, we're really taking a role there to help tap into these local partners. We've been doing a lot of smaller partnerships that are specific to a destination or a market, to help drive business regionally. 

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