Branding

5 branding lessons from Booking.com’s CMO – Think with Google

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Arjan Dijk is the senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Booking.com. He shares five core branding and performance lessons with us – and reveals how YouTube has been an instrumental part of his marketing strategy across different stages of consumer intent.
At Booking.com we pride ourselves on making it easier for everyone to experience the world. It’s our mission statement and at the heart of our company ethos. Our goal is to become the most popular travel brand, and a household name, not just in Europe but in all the countries where we do business.
We’re a company driven by marketing, and we currently engage with consumers in 44 languages and dialects in almost every country around the world, which is a complex undertaking. By applying solid branding and performance strategies we’ve been able to see results, accelerate momentum, and grow the company along the way. Here are five hard-won branding lessons that helped us get there.
For most people, travel is top of mind only a couple of times a year at most. So, we view our marketing in three stages: low, medium, and high-intent marketing.
The latter is where we really shine. High-intent means that people are thinking about travelling; they look for us, and we’re there for them. Our main challenge – and opportunity – lies in the low and medium intent spaces, where people are in the market to travel, but aren’t fully committed.
No matter how ready people are, we need to strategically use our marketing channels and media so that we can be there once they start planning their trips. If we show up at the right moment, and in the right place, it’s much more likely that we’ll be their first choice.
In 2022, for the first time ever, we saw people spending more time on streaming content than cable TV in some of our target markets. The shift has been predicted for some time, but now it’s a reality. Globally, the amount of time people spend on social media also increased slightly from this time last year, now totalling 147 minutes per day.
This impacts how people access information, communicate, and express themselves online, which is why we think carefully about how and where we reach potential customers. It’s for this reason that YouTube has become a focus area for us.
YouTube is often seen as a traditional brand tool, where you buy reach and frequency and hope lots of people see your ad and buy your product. But the platform’s targeting options offer much more value than that.
Targeting users, creatives, and messaging allows us to drive incremental growth and reach people at the right moment and with the right message. It also enables us to be more specific about our local campaigns. We run YouTube ads showing customers we offer more than accommodation – they can use us for flights, taxis, car rental, and even attractions. It’s part of positioning ourselves as an overall travel brand. For example, in the UK people tend to fly to their holiday destinations whereas in Germany they often drive, and that indicates which services are being featured in their targeted YouTube ads.
The role of marketing is to accelerate momentum. But a product needs to deserve it – that’s why as a CMO, it’s a good idea to spend time with your product colleagues to say "Hey, can we fix this?" Or, "Can we change that?”. Break down those siloes to get results because at the end of the day, marketing is more than just the campaign – it’s about the product as a whole.
In our recent ‘Booking.yeah’ campaign, we acknowledge that the booking part of travel isn’t the most exciting bit – but we want to help people book their holiday and move to the fun bit: the experiences, and enjoying their cocktail by the pool. That’s the ‘yeah!’ bit of travel that we play a part in.
This proposition enabled us to engage people emotionally, and lean into humour, emotion, and humanity. Video was the perfect driver: the campaign ran at a time when people were coming out of the height of the pandemic, so we kept it light-hearted and didn’t take ourselves too seriously. Having Idris Elba as our ambassador was key as he encapsulates Booking.com’s values.
Booking.yeah turned out to be a high watermark for us of what’s possible with YouTube. It put us on the map as a key leader in the travel industry but also one that’s accessible and likeable.
At Booking, we’re emphatic about making sure the creative we make is suited to the format and targeting. In the weekends leading up to the Super Bowl we had the sixth most-watched television commercial on YouTube out of 67.
Part of this success came from planning with YouTube in mind: we created 20 different formats of the ad, rather than just uploading a television ad to the channel. This is a common mistake many marketers make. It’s better to be mindful of how ideas translate to different media – that way you can be sure your creative suits the format and targeting.
To get there, make sure you ask the right questions: How are people watching online video? When they watch on their mobile phones, what does that mean? And how can you show up?
The Booking.yeah campaign showed us that when you get it right — whether that’s the right message, the right moment, or the right channel — you can achieve significant results, even in a complex and fragmented market.
With everything we do, we ask ourselves "What are we really doing?" because we want our actions to have substance. This is what drives sustained value creation. Looking at our customers’ needs and how the travel landscape is evolving is key both as a brand and as a product. For example, we’re exploring the role we can play in making travel easier for people with disabilities, starting with the customer journey in our own app.
This focus is important. The travel industry can change fairly regularly, especially in regards to people’s outlook on travel. We do a lot of research, and we know that people love to travel. Even the pandemic didn’t change this, as we saw domestic travel become increasingly popular. Travel will always be there — we just want to ensure everyone can enjoy it.
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