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‘Marketing directors are the custodians of the customers and the brand’

Deepa Misra Harris, Sr. Vice President, Sales and Marketing, The Taj Group of Hotels speaks with T3 about the evolution of a Marketing Director’s role in the Indian hospitality industry

 

How would you explain the evolving role of Marketing Directors in the hospitality industry?

Marketing directors are the custodians of the customers and the brand. The hospitality industry has been evolving in the past decade with the emergence of lifestyle oriented brand. This is a change that will accelerate going ahead. As the industry moves towards stronger psychographic brand positioning, the Marketing Directors need to be much more involved in every facet of defining and delivery of the brand promise and experiences.

Another change has been the evolution of multiple distribution and communication channels. Many of these, aided by the digital space, work in real time. Marketing Directors need to engage with guests, keep content live, push effective communication etc. over this increasing range and breadth of channels.

 

Hotels in India are now focusing on domestic market and packages. What is the main focus of your marketing strategy?

The Taj Group of Hotels has always been a pioneer brand in the Indian hospitality sector enjoying a strong market share. At the same time we have been cognisant of the growing disposable incomes and emergence of new luxury customers. We are proactively engaging with this larger audience and ensuring we remain the first choice for both the Indian and international traveller.

We are a global chain with a mix of source markets across our hotels. We have a brand and a hotel-wise marketing strategy aimed at capturing the maximum market share from all key source markets, including their respective domestic markets. We also leverage the synergies of our global operation, to push business across geographies where our hotels are present.

Our key objective for this year is to further establish our new brands while maintaining the strength of the Taj brand.

 

Do not you think that it is a challenging task to position different brands from one chain in the same city? How do you cope up with this?

The hospitality market is growing, especially in India, and there is certainly sufficient space for hotels across brands to coexist. Today’s discerning customer knows what to expect from well established brands and seeks them out as per his requirements. Having multiple brands helps us cater to the needs of the various traveller groups while delivering the experience the customer expects of it.

 

Generally, marketing professionals are not heavily involved in product development while they have to build the brand. Does not this make your job more challenging?

At the Taj Group of Hotels it has always been a combined effort driven down from the senior management. Marketing plays an integral role in defining all key aspects of the guest experience and in continually evaluating them and keeping them relevant. The sales & marketing team also gets involved in new hotel development, to help ensure the product is best aligned with the market requirements.

 

What challenges do you, as a marketing professional, face when marketing your products and what kind of plans can be formed in order to keep the marketing actions up to date?

I think over the past two to three years, one of the major challenges all marketers have been facing is the slowdown in economic growth. With the hospitality industry’s strong linkage to economic activity, it has been tougher times for the industry per se. Multiple things have kept us going here – the leadership status our brands enjoy, innovative approaches to packages and marketing, agility in responding to market demands and being able to identify and target the opportunities present in the market.

 

Marketing has a big responsibility to increase the demand during low seasons and even out the demand throughout the year. How do you achieve this?

This can broadly be looked at in two ways – one is the substitution of demand from another source and the second is creation of demand. We have used a lot of analytical methodology to understand new markets and segments that are producing business and proactively targeted this. In addition, we are trying to create reasons for people to travel, especially for our leisure portfolio.

 

Online marketing and social media have emerged as a great marketing tool. How do you approach that at a strategic level, maintaining differentiation from competitors?

The online space is now as much a part of the marketing mix as any other channel. Each channel offers its own unique opportunities and challenges. We work down from an overall strategic plan and then break it down across how each channel can help us achieve the stated objectives.

As with any of our communication, we do always strive to keep our digital presence relevant for guests and ensure that it is aligned with the brand proposition. The digital space provides us with multiple opportunities – we can engage with guests rather than having a one way conversation; this media is real time, which is an opportunity & a challenge; we can serve a range of visually rich content.

 

What impact is customer intelligence having on things such as strategy and planning, campaign execution, customer experience and cross-channel effectiveness?

Customer intelligence has always been a part of our strategic approach. What has certainly helped is the growth of IT systems within the industry and the online space for engaging with guests from across the world. We are now able to cull out much more information on usage, specific comments etc. and also run a range of analysis in a short span of time. This has surely helped us in getting deeper insights and also helped shorten our response times and become more agile.

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