Hotel marketers looking to implement the holy grail, a 360-degree personalized marketing strategy tailored to each guest, are faced with a substantial set of challenges. At a hotel attached to an indoor water park – with restaurants, arcades and outlets to boot – the number of potential roadblocks increases exponentially.
A little over five years ago, Great Wolf Resorts, North America’s largest family of indoor water park resorts took on the challenge. The company currently operates 19 indoor water park resorts with more on the way, and leadership developed a vision for a more personalized marketing strategy that would attract more demand, convert more bookings, and increase the rate of return guests.
Realtime one-to-one customer marketing requires knowing a lot about your guests. It requires taking the data you collect at various touchpoints, centralizing it, and building and storing guest profiles. And sharing data among the multitude of systems required to operate a waterpark resort can be challenging. More outlets means more guest touchpoints, and it also means more systems to integrate with greater odds of duplicated data.
The Building Blocks for Tech Transformation
In 2017, Great Wolf turned to Salesforce to provide a more comprehensive and personalized email marketing plan. It proved to be the beginning of a technology overhaul, or what Ilya Nikulin, Manager of CRM and Personalization, calls a “tech transformation journey.”
“We knew there were tons of opportunities for marketing personalization and, with our growth trajectory, we needed something serious,” Nikulin says. “Obviously Salesforce came to mind as it's one of the biggest players in the game, if not the biggest. So we started our journey with Salesforce Marketing Cloud.”
It wasn't too long after that leadership at Great Wolf began exploring how to take their personalization marketing strategy further. The next logical step was adding call center personalization, so Great Wolf turned to Salesforce Service Cloud.
But implementation wasn’t perfect. Middleware was required to extract data from many of the systems, including the Property Management System and the Sales and Catering system, and a patchworked data flow would often break or a server would go down.
“The goal from the start was to get one consistent data pipeline from our PMS into Salesforce, and have that same data also feed Marketing Cloud in one linear stream,” Nikulin says. “We were never quite able to get the data flow right, to get the systems to truly talk to each other.”
That is, until a short time later, when Great Wolf leadership was introduced to Hapi, a hospitality data platform built by a team of hotel tech veterans with experience connecting hotel data to Salesforce.
A Knowledgeable and Flexible Partner
Even with Marketing Cloud and Service Cloud installed, Great Wolf still lacked a reliable flow of data from the critical systems needed to build centralized, actionable guest profiles.
“The system we had was unreliable and would go down occasionally, and we were lacking support from those providers,” Nikulin says. “It put us in a risky spot, having that fragmented data flow.” Nikulin and team began conversations with Hapi to improve their data flow and Salesforce instances. While their data models in Service Cloud were in use and fairly reliable, they lacked the Marketing Cloud connector.
“When we were designing the architecture with Hapi, we were able to accommodate our current data structure in a way that we got to use all our same objects,” Nikulin says. “ We got to keep everything running and it was really just a flip of a switch. Data stops coming from one system and it's now coming from Hapi and everything else remains the same. That was really fantastic for us.”
Nikulin says that, until partnering with Hapi, Great Wolf wasn’t able to trust their data feed to the extent they needed it for marketing. “If something’s not right, even for a day or two, that's where you start potentially losing opportunities,” he says. “This was the missing piece we've been waiting for all along.”
Quality Data Delivered in Real Time
In evaluating the Hapi-Salesforce delivery system, Great Wolf had a few key measures of success.
First and foremost, they needed to be assured they were receiving quality data. “We've been really happy with the way the system has functioned since we launched. The quality has been rock solid and everything has been coming through as expected,” Nikulin says.
Another was low latency in data delivery. Great Wolf’s previous system shared batches of data every 45 minutes. Now, with Hapi, records are coming in every two minutes or so, on average. “It’s really quick and really responsive, and that lets us provide a more personalized marketing experience,” Nikulin says.
For example, Great Wolf is rearchitecting their welcome campaign so a guest will receive a personalized email minutes after they engage with the brand, leveraging the data creation happening on the backend in real time. On the flipside, when a guest checks out, Great Wolf can now send a personalized email – informed by data from the source database or items on the reservation – as the person is walking out the door, rather than an hour later once they’re far away from property.
“That saves us a lot of work,” Nikulin says. “If Hapi wasn't as quick as it was, we'd have to jump through these different API hoops and add a lot more work to our pipeline to make sure we get it right. So latency is really important, as a user accessing that data.”
Execution Drives Results
Great Wolf was interested in a marketing personalization platform that could be customized to their specific needs and allow them to execute the winning strategies they already had formulated.
“Salesforce allowed us to build in technologies to support and add significant efficiency to our process in a way that other platforms really wouldn't let you do,” Nikulin says. “Most CRM systems, you can customize them within the bounds that they give you. But with Salesforce, if you can dream it, you can probably find a way to build it.”
Nikulin and the Great Wolf team continue to drive innovation, striving for a state where true, one-to-one traveler marketing can be executed with the push of a button. “You want to be able to run a campaign – you grab your data, you grab your audiences, you grab the relevant items, and you execute,” he says. “In an ideal state, that data is sourced from our core Opera systems, it's sourced from our site, our app, a kiosk – we have a ton of integrated data systems. We want to have all of that accessible on a user profile, in a format that’s clear and user friendly.
“The more time you spend wrestling with the data flow, the less time you have to execute and come up with new ideas,” Nikulin adds. “Hapi has helped us down the road of being free of those constraints.”