How Marriott is Rethinking Content Delivery Across 70 Countries and 3,800 Hotels

marriott hotel

How does one of the world’s largest hospitality groups approach rethinking its global digital experience and content strategy?

That’s precisely the question Marriott International’s Meghan Walsh asked in her keynote presentation at Gilbane 2013. In her role as Senior Director of eCommerce Platform System Management for Marriott, Walsh is tasked with thinking about how to create a next generation content and digital platform for the global brand.

Walsh gave a fantastic talk on the wide range of questions and considerations that go into how a large, globally distributed organization navigates the rapidly shifting content management landscape.

What I liked most about her presentation is that she didn’t focus on the answers in a pre-packaged case study, but rather the strategic approach Marriott is taking to approaching the monumental challenge.

According to Walsh, the key opportunity is figuring out how to scale the digital experiences and think beyond the constraints of web pages and browsers. “Scale isn’t just supporting the volume of hotels,” she said, “it’s about enabling very distinct brand identities and customer needs.”

The business impact of Marriott’s digital channel is staggering, representing $8 billion in revenue and 40% of the booked room nights. Walsh acknowledged the tremendous upside the comes with getting content delivery right, but also the fact there “is not a lot of room for error.”

“The problem is that our platform was built with the web in mind as the channel and now it’s just a channel” she said, adding they are now thinking about the Omnichannel experiences including mobile, kiosks, signage, in-vehicle experiences and the overall on-property guest experience.”

Marriott has identified content as the must-win battle, but their approach goes beyond a garden variety “content is king” mantra. Rather, Walsh talked specifically about content distribution as the driving force behind the strategy with a focus on preparing, packaging and distributing content differently to meet the rapidly changing needs of Marriott’s audiences.

She outlined three key areas of focus, which includes Authorship, Structure and Distribution.

1. Authorship

It was refreshing to hear Walsh lead with author experience, which is often the last consideration in content-driven initiatives, if a priority at all.

“We have to redefine and reframe our content author community,” she said. “This goes beyond the typical centralized vs. decentralized discussions and explores how we we distribute responsibility appropriately and put the focus on the content and not the webpage.”

By focusing on the content author community first Marriott hopes to empower both the casual authors as well as the expert users and enable people to focus on the content itself rather than specific presentation elements.

“Let’s be honest, most CMS’s aren’t user friendly,” she added acknowledging it takes a lot of work to have an author-friendly strategy.

2. Structure

Content structure for Marriott has historically involved building a page and that’s exactly the behavior Walsh wants to break in separating presentation from content.

This is about content modeling and stepping out of the technology systems to look at how content needs to be structured for re-use and distribution, she said.

“If we structure content appropriately and agnostically, we will be ready for whatever comes next,” she said.

3. Distribution

Marriott is reframing what it means to think about content distribution, going beyond the act of publishing content and thinking about how to develop an API that can provide more flexible and future-friendly access to a variety of channels and presentation layers.

Walsh is inspired by organizations like Netflix that have built a robust and structured engine capable of delivering content through an API to hundreds of devices.

“This is a major work effort,” she said. “We’re evaluating every technology from the ground up and we still have a lot of questions.

CMS Mythbusting: Beyond the Technology

I love how technology wasn’t mentioned until the very end of the presentation and even at that she said she resisted organizational pressure to do a CMS platform RFP to start the process.

It was amazing, really, that in the span of a half hour, Walsh touched on the majority of the CMS Myths we talk about here on the blog including the Ease of Use Myth, CMS Selection Myth, Death by RFP and The Real Reasons People Hate their CMS.

She left the audience with an optimistic message saying she believes “this is the most exciting time in CMS since I’ve started working in this space 10 years ago.”

The technology convergence and pace of change in the industry is indeed exhilarating. It’s going to be organizations like Marriott doing the hard organizational and content work in the trenches that are able to fully take advantage of these opportunities.

As I was listening to the talk, there was no doubt Karen McGrane and the Adaptive Content movement has been influential in Walsh’s thinking.  Sure enough, at the end of the talk, she gave Karen a big shout out for her inspiration and thinking.

The talk was a fantastic way to start the conference and I hope Walsh and Marriott continue to share their insight and advice as they embark on this journey. The CMS world needs more of these honest and open stories.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

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