Influencer Q&A with Heather Balsley: Twitter builds deeper affinity for Holiday Inn Express

Monday, 5 August 2013

With over 4,600 hotels and resorts around the globe, InterContinental Hotels Group markets many of the world’s most popular hotel brands including Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental. Recently, Holiday Inn Express has been finding success with Twitter TV ad targeting and driving “exceptionally high user engagement” on our platform. That’s why we asked Heather Balsley, SVP of the Americas Holiday Inn Brand Family, to share insights on real-time marketing, Twitter integration and how to build brand affinity one Tweet at a time.

@TwitterAds (TA): What’s your biggest challenge as a marketer today?

Heather Balsley (HB): Engaging directly with our guests is both more important and more challenging than it’s ever been. When we launched the Holiday Inn Express brand in 1991, the market was much less crowded. We first launched the “Stay Smart” ad campaign in 1998 – the same year that Google launched.

Back then, there was really no option but to have a one-way conversation with our guests through TV advertising. Today, the challenge is breaking through the clutter to have a real dialogue with our guests. We still accomplish that through TV, but more and more that two-way conversation on Twitter is how we build a deeper connection with our guests.

TA: What role does Twitter play in your marketing strategy now?

HB: Twitter has become absolutely central. Our target guests are working professionals who are on the go, always on mobile, surfing while they watch TV – they’re connected digitally 24/7. So Twitter aligns perfectly with who they are. It has fundamentally changed the way we engage with our guests and the way they want to engage with us.

On Twitter, people can communicate with us in a very simple way about what they are thinking and feeling in real time. We can get immediate customer feedback – both positive and negative. We use Twitter to listen, gain insights and learn from our guests.

Twitter also aligns with the core of the Holiday Inn Express brand. The 140 character constraint means that a Tweet is really succinct and to the point. That idea of efficiency is at the heart of what defines the Holiday Inn Express brand. We love Twitter – and now Vine – for that very reason.

TA: How has social influenced the recent relaunch of the Stay Smart ad campaign?

HB: It’s no longer about creating another digital ad. It’s about creating an opportunity to deeply connect and engage in dialogue. Twitter’s the ideal platform for that. With the “Smart Thinking” campaign, we wanted our guests to share what they think is smart in work, travel and life – thereby allowing them to create the Stay Smart campaign they’ve always wanted. Guests can share their smarts through Tweets, Vine videos and other short forms of social – all tagged with the hashtag #StaySmart.

The hashtag aggregates all of their content onto, where the brand and other guests are able to share and learn from one another. We made a deliberate choice to include the hashtag instead of the 800 telephone number, for example, on the end frame of our TV ad.

The hashtag is also on our billboards, our digital ads, online video and mobile. We think the hashtag is an important way to integrate what people see physically on billboards and on TV with the other mediums they engage with digitally.

TA: How do you create Tweets that are engaging, authentic and relevant?

HB: We always try to show the human side of the brand. We respond to people personally. It’s very important for our guests to feel heard and to be able to talk to a live person.

We also love to share user-generated, rich content like photos and videos. We do that to break through language and cultural barriers to engage people in a more visual way.

Tone of voice and transparency are also key on Twitter, and really any social platform. We focus on being honest, respectful and energetic in our conversations. The Holiday Inn Express brand also has an informal, “come as you are” feel that lends itself nicely to social. It’s great when you can align your brand, tone of voice and the medium so seamlessly.


TA: How do you measure success on Twitter?

HB: In general, we look at social connections, engagement, Retweets, impressions, the direct and indirect impact of those actions on Web traffic and revenue. We also look at metrics related to customer care, conversation trends, mentions of keywords and how the brand is coming to life on the platform.

For example, we’ve found that our tagline from the Stay Smart commercials: “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express hotel last night!” really resonates with our guests and has become a part of their daily lexicon. From January through June of this year alone, that one line has been mentioned on Twitter over 2,700 times. It’s a huge testament to the strength of the message and the power of the platform.

The bottom line is that Twitter builds brand equity and top of mind awareness. And we know these translate into higher engagement and deeper affinity with our guests.