Hospitality marketing is not known for its willingness to take risks. But as a newcomer to the industry, Mark Liversidge says that challenging convention is precisely what drives him. The regional chief marketer for Hilton Worldwide, who comes from a telecoms background, believes people in his profession, regardless of sector, have a duty to question things and overturn the ordinary. “Identify the opportunities that allow you to disrupt convention to refresh business strategies, tell new stories and focus on the future,” he advises.
That’s easy to say, but more difficult to put into practice, particularly for a conservative brand like Hilton. He points to a need to bring colour to the brand — but not overnight. Marketers, he says, should stimulate communication by encouraging consumers to think and engaging them in discussion, before implementing a disruptive strategy.
To do that effectively, he requires agency partners to have a deeper than usual understanding of the industry, the business and its quirks, before building a communication strategy to serve the brand. “To push the brand and its story forward, agencies need to understand our business and industry properties in different markets. They need to look at these areas, identify their potential and address the real needs of the business,” he says. He also wants agencies to challenge him as a marketer.
Liversidge is open to change. After more than a decade in telecoms, he decided to veer into a totally new industry in September. The hotel category, he admits, is very conventional in marketing practices, which represents a huge opportunity to innovate. He believes his deep experience of the mobile channel in Asia will be an asset.
His goal is to make Hilton the generic term for hotels in Asia as travel increases — the Rolex or Johnnie Walker of hospitality. “This would mean that as we grow our footprint across Asia-Pacific, we do not become a price-led commoditised product, but an experience-led service driven by passionate customer advocacy.”
Working alongside Hilton’s vice-president of sales for Asia-Pacific, Dominic Sherry, Liversidge is responsible for marketing efforts across 18 countries in the region, including the giants of China, Japan and India. One of his tasks is to bring together all marketing functions in the region into one integrated team, focused on growing brand awareness and driving market leadership in share of revenue.
There are six Hilton brands in Asia, including Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts; Conrad Hotels & Resorts; Hilton Hotels & Resorts; DoubleTree by Hilton; Hilton Garden Inn; and Hampton. The group has 10 brands globally.
Liversidge is also the driving force for the region of the group’s guest loyalty programme, Hilton HHonors, whereby members can earn and redeem points for room rewards, merchandise and vacation packages, and make charitable contributions. Members can also make reservations, manage their accounts and redeem special offers with the Hilton HHonors mobile app for iPhone.
The current role is pure marketing, whereas his previous positions had mixed responsibilities, such as sales and CRM, he says, adding that he does not believe in delivering a single strategy to serve customers of different cultures. “We need to pay attention to the different needs of customers from different cultures and geographies. My responsibility here is to build the brand story in Asia-Pacific by using local stories revolving around culture, which also aligns with the global marketing strategy.”
The focus of the brand’s innovation is in two areas: catering to different cultural requirements and embracing mobile technology to enhance customer experience. “To take advantage of the cultural needs, we’ve started rolling out Huanying, a service experience that meets the unique needs of Chinese travellers in the markets most frequented by [them], including serving congee made the right way, a selection of Chinese regional teas and slippers.”
Mobile is critical to the future of hospitality in Asia and the Conrad brand has launched a concierge application that allows guests to customise their experience before arrival by selecting features such as amenities, bedding and in-room dining.
Of course, the role also means a good deal of international travel — something Liversidge regards as a pleasure. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in business, politics and history, his first job was on a graduate management programme for ICI Paints. From there, his 15-year career has taken him across Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Asia. “In the first three months in ICI, I was in the finance department and I knew that it wouldn’t be my career path,” he recalls. After an equally unfulfilling stint in HR, he joined the marketing team, where he worked on a product launch. The team needed to decide on the brand identity as well as the business strategy. “We worked on the product for 12 weeks and I really enjoyed the whole process. Marketing is an amazing place to be. You need to understand the world and make changes to the world. Marketing changes constantly and it’s exciting.”
Paint did not hold his interest, though. He went on to join BT & O2 in a marketing management capacity, and Orange as head of direct channels. He then moved to Australia to join Macquarie Telecom as GM of marketing and consumer management, his first senior role, working with the co-founders of the company. Most recently, he served as chief marketing officer at Hong Kong CSL, where he was charged with defining a multi-brand strategy across Asia. The main challenge, he says, was to increase market share with a small marketing budget for a large geography. “We had to make sure CSL had distinct branding, by doing market research, refreshing brand identity and moving away from conventional identity. We made it a lifestyle-oriented brand and partnered with other lifestyle brands such as sports and premium brands in our marketing efforts.”
Liversidge’s varied life experience is proving invaluable in his role at Hilton, where he aims to attract travellers from diverse backgrounds. But he acknowledges there is more to marketing than ‘soft’ skills like cultural awareness. “Since the graduate management programme, every boss has given me something that enriched my experience. Marketers must understand their business and ensure it’s based on communication, and deliver back on every dollar spent. It’s all about revenue and profitability; they need to spend on the right activities.”
Besides defining the brand story for Hilton in Asia, Liversidge is looking to engage first-time travellers in fast-growing markets such as India, Indonesia and China. The Chinese traveller group, in particular, accounts for 110 million international tourists and 220 million domestic tourists per year.
“It is critical to look at the culture and commercial needs and concept of hospitality of these traveller groups before building the engagement strategy,” he says. For example, people in China have tended to not regard hospitality as a life experience. This provides an opportunity to engage with potential customers by educating them about hospitality and the experience. “We want to use this opportunity to build Hilton Worldwide as a de facto brand to first-time travellers in China, India and Indonesia.”
The challenge he now faces is how to enrich the reward programme, connecting the frequent travellers and first-time travellers to allow them to share their experiences and tell fellow members about other options available at the properties under the hospitality group, such as dining, weddings and events.
He says that despite the surge in mobile and social media use in the past five years, there are still many who primarily consume traditional media. But for the hospitality sector more than most, it all comes down to feeling. From communications to guest stays, “we work from the perspective of marketing to decide how to connect with people and give them a rich travel experience.”
- 2013 Chief marketer, Asia-Pacific, Hilton Worldwide
- 2010 CMO, Hong Kong CSL
- 2009 Director, consumer marketing, Hong Kong CSL
- 2005 GM, marketing and customer management, Macquarie Telecom
- 2003 Head of direct channel, Orange
- 1998 Marketing management, BT & O2
- 1996 Graduate management programme, ICI Paints
- Education University of Durham
- Family Engaged
- Interests Rugby, football, basketball, philanthropy