August 12, 2015
Case Study

Email Marketing: Marriott's Year in Review send helps increase revenue 86% year-over-year

SUMMARY: "It felt like we had the opportunity to really do something that was much more really member-centric and really use all the data that we've got on our members and present it to them in an interesting, fun way that they might not expect from us," Clark Cummings, Senior Manager of Member Marketing, Marriott International, said when describing Marriott's Year in Review campaign.

Learn how, through member data and providing a customer-centric, non-transaction based email touchpoint, a single send from Marriott International contributed to a year-over-year 86% increase in revenue for the month of December.
by Kayla Cobb, Reporter


Marriott International is one of the most recognizable hotel chains in the world, currently advertising over 4,200 hotels in 80 countries and territories. To better cater to frequent travelers, the chain created the Marriott Rewards program, which allows Marriott guests to earn points and gain benefits if they book with one of the chain's 19 brands.

"Our core customer is a frequent business traveler," Cummings said when describing the targeted Marriott Rewards customer. In a year, this guest typically spends 25 nights or more staying in hotels, but there are Rewards members on the higher and lower ends of the spectrum.

"We've got people who are much, much higher than that, 100, 200 [nights a year], which seems crazy," Cummings said.

As Cummings and his team have watched the hotel landscape change, they have started to alter their customer focus.

"We are focusing on how we recruit and maintain the next gen traveler, not fully Millennials, but just people who maybe don't have as much of a penchant for a rewards program, but do have the level of nights and stays to make them a core customer of ours and how we engage and maintain loyalty with them," he said.


Marriott International has been reasserting itself in the hotel market as a more generous travel company, Cummings said.

"As our CEO likes to say, he wants us to become the world's favorite travel company," he said. "That just entails different activities and different work for us, particularly here in marketing. That's kind of the space we're in now."

This reassertion effort has been in place over the past 14 months and has helped shape the hotel chain's global marketing. The desire to be the world's favorite hotel option has influenced every aspect of marketing, from which technology the company invests in to the way content is approached. It has also affected the tone of Marriott Rewards' email marketing.

According to Cummings, the creative team at Marriott International works to create themed content, which is then released throughout each month. During one of these creative meetings, Cummings and the team decided to come up with a year-end send to go out to their Marriott Rewards newsletter list. Cummings saw this end of the year send as an opportunity to create something customer-centric.

"A lot of campaigns you would get from us are kind of transactional in nature. They're kind of trying to get you to book a hotel room or present an offer to you," Cummings said. "As we were thinking through all the things we wanted to do, it felt like we had the opportunity to really do something that was much more really member-centric and really use all the data that we've got on our members and present it to them in an interesting, fun way that they might not expect from us."

Though the team had seen similar campaigns launched by other companies, they had never attempted a send like this.

"I had seen it executed, but we had never done it ourselves. So, we just took the challenge and ran with it," he said.


Cummings and his team decided to create a "This Year in Review" campaign for their Marriott Rewards newsletter list. The team started working on the send in mid-September with a planned send date at the end of December.

Because there were several factors involved in this send, the team at Marriott International had to reach outside of Marriott International's marketing department.

"It touched multiple departments within our organization, all of our agency vendors. There were a lot of hands involved," Cummings said. "We wanted to do something that was much more light-hearted and had a more personal touch to it … It was really new and exciting territory for us to cover."

The Year in Review send helped triple the December average of revenue per message delivered. Learn how this customer-centric send contributed to making Marriott's Q4 of 2014 the most successful fourth quarter in three years.

Step #1. Develop email campaign idea

Marriott has several core campaigns in place for its Rewards newsletter, but Cummings and his team wanted the Year in Review campaign to be different than these sends. Instead of being offer-based or transactional in nature, the team wanted this send to be more informational.

(Note: These campaigns appear in the order they were described to the journalist. There is no significance to their order.)

Altogether there are five campaigns that make up 70-80% of Marriott's monthly sends to its Rewards members, Cummings said. The first campaign is called "e-news" and serves as a monthly statement for members. This send contains information on new promotions and new company functions, such as mobile check-in.

Another campaign is a hotel specials campaign, which is offer-based. This send uses a propensity model that takes offers from different hotels and determines the 12 best matches for the specific Rewards member.

Then there is a credit card acquisition campaign with Marriott's bank partner.

Another popular campaign is called "E-Breaks," which provides travel value-added content. This send tells members some of the highlights of the area and provides them with a 20% off discount for the upcoming weekend. This send deploys every Monday.

"That's kind of the closest thing we have to kind of a flash sale, if you will. It's kind of this five-day window ahead of you," he said.

Marriott's final primary campaign is geared toward its specific properties. Two different times throughout the month, individual properties can submit email campaigns through an internal tool. This allows these in-the-field properties to have direct access to a larger email database.

Initially, the Year in Review campaign was considered to be part of these regular sends. However, the team decided the campaign would work best as its own send.

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

According to Cummings, "We started to think through 'How would [the Year in Review send] influence the content for each of the campaigns?' We decided we wanted to do more than what we thought could just be influenced on individual campaigns we were already managing."

This decision put the send into the estimated remaining 20% of email marketing, which can be classified as a special incentive or a solo campaign to support an individual incentive, Cummings said.

Because December is typically a slower month for the industry, Cummings was excited to introduce an additional send that was customer-focused and not travel-focused.

"What was an interesting idea for us was kind of knowing that we didn't run much risk in terms of adding another touchpoint, particularly one that wasn't about making a transaction or booking a room," he said. "We wanted to do something that was much more light-hearted and had a more personal touch to it."

Step #2. Align vendors and departments

After deciding the intended purpose of the Year in Review campaign, Cummings and his team had to decide exactly what they wanted to include in the send and how to execute it. For a large part of October and November, Cummings and his team met with Marriott International's vendors to finalize the send itself and the real-time, member-specific elements of this send.

"We were meeting, it felt like, every other day on this thing and seeing storyboards and then seeing the storyboards turned into graphics and then the graphics being turned into the video and then activities that we never had participated in before, like choosing background music and getting the rights to have the music," Cummings said. "That was a process none of us had done before."

Once the elements of the send itself were storyboarded, the team needed to find the data they wanted to use in the content of the send. They went department by department requesting this data.

"Everything that was in the campaign was not a single location," he explained.

For example, for one of the information points, the team wanted to share how many Marriott Rewards points were earned by all members throughout the entire year. Prior to this send, this question had not been asked before. Finding the number required Cummings' team to meet with IT and determine how to calculate this total. The team worked on this send throughout the better part of Marriott's fourth quarter.

"We were working on it up until the moment we hit send," Cummings said.

The team decided to incorporate several different informational aspects into the Year in Review send, including a video, a customer-focused infographic, a Marriott-focused infographic and a closing GIF.

Step #3. Develop the video

The Year in Review campaign led with a video that summarized several of the Marriott-specific highlights of 2014. This video was customized to each Rewards member.

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

The inspiration for this video came from other year-end campaigns Cummings and his team had seen from competitors' campaigns or campaigns from other brands. Cummings noted that most of these campaigns utilized a video targeted to a general customer to good effect, so for Marriott International's campaign, the team decided to take it a step further and personalize this opening video.

"Now that we have more of a license to use people's data, they know we've got it," Cummings said. "Some people even expect us to use it to improve the campaigns. We were thinking how can we take this data and make it feel more fun and more personalized. So, that's where really the video came from."

Prior to this point, the rewards team had not produced a video like this. Creating this content piece was new territory for the team.

"When we finalized it, I think all of us were pleased with the way it ended up because we thought it was truly something new and different," he said.

Step #4. Connect members with the company through data points

The next aspect of the email send involved an infographic that focused on the specific Marriott member as well as Marriott International's growth as a whole.

"The way we wanted to think about it was we wanted to start with the member, so start with you, and then talk about us and then finish with the 'we,'" Cummings explained.

The "You" portion of the infographic contained six individual data points that were specific to each member. These points were:
  • Total number of nights stayed

  • Total number of cities the member stayed in

  • How many nights the member redeemed (if the member redeemed any nights)

  • How many properties the member visited

  • How many total points the member earned

  • How many Marriott brands the member stayed in

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

Next, the infographic focused on Marriott International's data points, including how many hotels the chain has worldwide and how many Marriott Rewards members it has. After outlining data points that were distinctly customer-focused and company-focused, the infographic then introduced data points that combined these different viewpoints.

These "We"-centered data points included:
  • How many Rewards points were earned by all members

  • The total number of miles earned

  • The number of points redeemed for nights

  • How many points were donated to charitable causes

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

This part of the infographic also contained data points that were more general interest-focused, such as the top ordered cocktails at Marriott properties and how many people had downloaded the Marriott mobile app.

2014 was also the 30th year of the Marriott Rewards program, so the infographic contained a section about where the company was growing room-wise throughout the world. Finally, the graphic concluded with the top five cities of 2014 based on the recommendations of Rewards members.

Step #5. Conclude by looking ahead

All of the elements prior to this point focused on Marriott Rewards members and the brand itself in the context of 2014 coming to an end. For the send's closing, the team decided to focus on the company's relationship with its Rewards members in 2015.

"Because it had been announced that we were going to be offering up free Wi-Fi for members in 2015, we finished it knowing that was going to be some forward-looking item for people to look forward [to]," Cummings said.

Following the Wi-Fi announcement, the Year in Review campaign concluded with a GIF, which said "See you in 2015!" The send ended this way partially to serve as a bookend to the email's opening video but also partially because of the success Cummings had seen in the past when it came to GIFs in email.

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

"We'd seen some indication that when we use a GIF or some sort of creative element that has kind of some motion to it or kind of an unexpected rendering, it generates your eyeballs to it," he said. "We felt like it was a good way to close the campaign and show that it was kind of travel inspirational for the year about to come."


The results from the Year in Review campaign surpassed Cummings and his team's expectations.

"Even though there was no call-to-action to go and do any booking, I think we generated $2 million worth of revenue off the campaign," Cummings said.

The Rewards team credited this send to contributing to several metrics Marriott International achieved in December 2014, including:
  • December 2014 generated 86% more revenue than December of 2012 and 2013

  • The click to open rate increased 20% year-over-year

  • The conversion rate increased 9.7% year-over-year

  • The final Year in Review program tripled the December average of revenue per message delivered

Another benefit from this send came in the form of member engagement. According to Cummings, members were sharing how many nights and brands their Year in Review video featured. He likened the engagement to social competing.

"Without even really asking people to do anything, it just kind of created some organic conversation about it," he said. "I think that's what we were most pleased about."

This send also had a longer engagement rate than Cumming and his team expected.

"We wanted to make sure that the cost of our time and our dollars actually resulted in engagement and we were very pleased with what we saw," he explained. "People were opening it and watching the video well into January and it had been almost a month old and we kept seeing views. It had a much longer tail on it than we thought."

When asked what advice he had to marketers attempting a new email campaign, Cummings focused on being customer-centric and being willing to innovate.

"Don't be scared about doing something you haven't done or that sounds kind of different or challenging," he said. "Really, take it as an opportunity to do something new and different."

"Nobody had asked us to do this, so we weren't really solving a problem for anybody. But we were trying to think about how to surprise and delight our members and, in doing so, we got that response from them," Cummings concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. "This Year in Review" send

  2. Personalized video for a general customer

  3. "You" infographic data points

  4. "We" infographic data points

  5. 2015 closing GIF


Marriott International

Yes Lifecycle Marketing

Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 — At the Bellagio in Las Vegas, February 22-24

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Email Messaging Online Course (From MarketingSherpa's parent company, MECLABS Institute)

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