Ask The CMO: The Marketing Savvy Powering TripAdvisor’s Global Growth

Marketing Savvy


I’ve been talking to a lot of CMOs about how they drive growth in this marketing first world. We at Marketo are obsessed with the idea we are helping marketers drive growth in their organizations, which is why I particularly loved our latest piece with Mashable and Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer at TripAdvisor.

Barbara shares great insights about the top trends in travel marketing as well as marketing organization trends overall. Surprisingly, her team is full of engineers and data scientists, which I think speaks to the shift we’ve been talking about – the shift in marketing as a science instead of marketing as an artform.

One of the interesting things that hit me while I was reading was an almost inherent paradox between driving growth and doing less. I’ve been preaching to myself and my team about how we need to focus on fewer things in order to do those things as well as possible. Barbara had some terrific insights into the importance of prioritization and figuring out what matters. Here at the end of the year as we’re all embarking on a new year and thinking plans going forward, it’s a great time to reflect on the things that matter.

On that note, I’ll close with something that really resonated with me, which is that when we feel connected to what we do, we are more successful and fulfilled. As the CMO of a marketing company, I couldn’t agree more. Hope you enjoy the piece!

The following interview originally appeared on Mashable.


TripAdvisor knows a thing or two about growth. In 2014, the world’s largest travel site saw 1.246 billion in revenue, an increase of 32% over 2013. The company’s product offering has expanded too. TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking Platform has growing steadily since its rollout in 2014; Priceline’s was recently added to its roster of participants.

TripAdvisor’s CMO Barbara Messing has been a driving force behind this growth. Over her nearly five years of spearheading marketing at TripAdvisor, she’s implemented smart strategies with the user in mind to build brand loyalty and attract new users.

Mashable talked marketing with Messing, digging into the tactics TripAdvisor has employed to drive growth. From the importance of customized communication to Messing’s own advice for navigating holiday travel (hint: TSA Precheck is worth it), read on for the interview.

Q&A with TripAdvisor CMO Barbara Messing

1. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self that pertains to your career in marketing, what would it be?

I would tell myself to always understand the customer you’re targeting. What do they need? What are their motivations? What are their fears and pain points that you can overcome? As an online company with such a high volume of traffic, we have so many sources of data to tap into, but if we don’t also stay focused on the customer as a real individual, we’re not capitalizing on our most important data source.

2. What’s the most unexpectedly important skill from your past that you’ve found plays into your success?

I have always been very focused on understanding prioritization and figuring out the nugget of “what matters.” Probably a lot of it stems from being very busy in my younger years between juggling part-time jobs, academics and a social life. In my role, there are many interesting things we could do at any time, and the key is staying focused on the things that are meaningful and have the potential to move the needle for the business. You can’t go deep on everything but some things require it and some other things just need to be put to bed quickly.

The other thing is that I’ve learned that I do my best work when I feel connected to what I’m working on and there are real problems to solve. So in that way, my role as CMO is very easy because I’m an avid user of TripAdvisor. When people tell me they use TripAdvisor to plan all their trips, or book their honeymoon, I’m nodding right along with them. I was an avid user of TripAdvisor from its earliest days, and really think about the perspective of the traveler when we design all of our programs and our communications. So the fact that I understand the insights and drivers our consumers is very helpful, and it makes the research and innovation piece of my role both personally and professionally fascinating.

3. What are the three biggest trends you’re seeing in travel marketing today?

The first is the ubiquity and acceptance of reviews. Travel brands now understand how important reviews are. People expect authenticity in what they’re seeing.

The second is mobile. Travel is an inherently on-the-go experience, and mobile can create incredible contextual experiences for travelers. Plus, no one goes anywhere without their smartphone. With our app, for example, we have “near me now” functionality so that when you walk out of a museum in Paris you can immediately see the restaurants nearby that are highly rated by travelers. We also just launched a travel timeline for the app that allows travelers to see every stop on their journey in real-time, as they experience it. Over the coming years we’re going to see a whole set of interesting features launch that make mobile an even greater part of the travel planning, booking, on-the-trip and sharing experience.

The third is allowing the customer to be an active part of the conversation on the brand. Most brands have learned you can’t control the conversation, but are now spending their efforts on figuring out ways for those authentic conversations to flourish. In our experience at TripAdvisor, we were built on a community. But even today, whenever we tap into the community we get back so much more than we expected. They want to participate in a bigger way. Our community is made up of the brand stewards and the evangelists. One example on the consumer side is over the past year we’ve tapped into some of our top contributors around the globe to feature them in our offline communications on why they use TripAdvisor and contribute their opinions on our platform. On the business side, winners of our Travelers’ Choice program promote TripAdvisor and their wins, and we develop toolkits and best practices to help them maximize their own PR exposure of their exciting accolades from our community.

4. You’ve been with TripAdvisor since 2011. Can you tell us how your use of technology in marketing has evolved in that time? More specifically, how does measuring ROI today differ from how it did when you joined the company?

TripAdvisor has always been an extremely ROI-driven company, so that aspect of how we run our marketing has not changed. Many folks on my team come from very quantitative backgrounds, and our acquisition team has very few “traditional” marketers and many more data scientists and engineers as we build nearly everything in house. With many of our marketing channels we spend at breakeven, so we need to be very good at knowing what we can bid and where, and very good at measuring the results of our efforts. We bid on over a billion keywords so it is no small task.

And, across all my teams, we also are very rigorous about focusing on campaigns and programs that we can scale and that drive the business. We are not a huge team and we need to make sure that things that we test have the potential to scale if the test is successful. And at the size of our revenue and with 350 million visitors coming to our site every month, the bar is very high to work on programs that matter when we are trying to move the needle.

5. Millions of people turn to TripAdvisor to help them plan all types of travel. How do you customize your strategy so that your offering is relevant for bookers researching everything from vacations to business travel?

Everyone wants to have an experience that is personalized and customized to who they are as individuals, and adapted as needed for their specific type of trip.

At TripAdvisor, we personalize and customize our communications to reflect all of the information we know about you, the traveler. We also layer on the universal principals that impact all travelers: For example, everyone wants to get the best price possible, and everyone wants to know how to make the most of their trip. We know that at different stages you need different things. Right before you go on your trip, for example, we know that you will need our app so that you can use our great features like “near me now” to figure out where to eat when you leave the museum, or so you can book an attraction or tour while you’re in market. And we know that no one wants to incur data fees when traveling so we make sure you know that our app will work in offline mode without incurring fees.

We also have data on when and how people are booking, and we know that when they are in different stages they have different needs. So when is the right time to send them a travel guide, or a helpful tip, or ask them to share their insights on a recent trip? These are all things that we test and optimize constantly.

6. This is a time of massive growth for TripAdvisor. On the marketing side, what are the three most important tactics you think have contributed to said growth?

  • Tapping into the power of our community
  • Tapping into the power of data
  • Mobile! Mobile! Mobile!

7. We’re fast approaching the hectic holiday travel season. How do you specifically draw in users for holiday travel purposes? And, as a travel pro, any words of advice for those that will be traveling?

The travel business has higher and lower seasons, and our marketing channels flex up as needed during peak periods. We actually don’t do much mass holiday-specific marketing in our site and email marketing, namely because with our 90 million members in 45 countries, there is a wide range of celebrations within that universe. At a local country level, our PR teams do a great job in delivering travel tips and hacks around the holidays so that people have low-stress holiday travel.

I have two pieces of advice. Related to TripAdvisor, I think everyone should download our app as it is a fantastic travel guide for nearly every place on the globe.

There are so many useful features and it even works in offline mode so you don’t accrue data charges when you’re traveling abroad. Outside of TripAdvisor, I think everyone in the U.S. should sign up for Global Entry and TSA Precheck, as it is the best way to save time and stress at the airport. I love this service, and it will make your travel in 2016 and beyond much easier!

8. Once the holiday rush is over, what’s top-of-mind for 2016, both in terms of TripAdvisor’s marketing strategy and beyond?

As we extend the brand’s value proposition to include the ability to compare prices and book hotels, attraction and even restaurant reservations right on our platform, we are excited to drive awareness and of course, new customers, to TripAdvisor. We’ll also continue to test in new channels and creating unique content that our consumers will enjoy.

The last thing that is always top of mind is to keep in mind the end goal — we do all of this so that our travelers can feel confident that they’ve made the right decision. We want them to get out there and make the most of their trip and come back with amazing experiences and memories.

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