Best Western Expands Use Of AI-Powered Interactive Advertising With Watson Ads
With "Ask Watson," Best Western will engage travelers in AI-powered conversations about tips and tricks for leisure travelers on their upcoming destinations.
Just in time for one of the prime travel periods of the year — the July 4th holiday — the Best Western hotel chain is expanding its partnership with Watson Ads on a series of artificial intelligence-powered interactive ad units designed to engage travelers in conversation about how to make the most of their trips.
The campaign reflects the growing influence of AI and Connected Intelligence toward marketing that is more personalized and “one-to-one” that allows brands to craft distinct responses to consumers’ specific interests and needs, as opposed to general ad targeting.
That is especially true in the travel space, as Amazon has just partnered with Marriott International on the goal of putting its voice activated assistant in every hotel room with Alexa For Hospitality.
Meanwhile, this Watson Ad campaign is coming in advance of Best Western’s own release of a chatbot in a few weeks to continue to have an ongoing dialogue with travelers as it seeks to promote its rewards programs.
For IBM’s Watson Advertising, which serves as The Weather Company’s advertising business and includes a portfolio of media, data (WEATHERfx, JOURNEYfx, etc…), and AI Tech solutions (IBM Marketing Planner with Lucy, Watson Ads, Bidding Optimization, Audience Targeting) for marketers and agencies.
As a result, the ads will run on The Weather Company digital media properties. So, when consumers check The Weather Channel App or weather.com, they will see Best Western’s ad and be able to click the “Ask Watson” button to start a conversation with a Watson-powered ad, sharing details about their destination.
Based on the details the traveler offers, the ad unit will then offer customized tips on their upcoming destinations as well as information on accommodations and amenities that are best suited for their trip.
“What Best Western is trying to do is help people with their summer travel,” says IBM Watson Advertising CRO Carrie Seifer. “And that’s the nature of Watson Ads — to be helpful and provide information people want. You can’t show up with an ad anymore that just tries to get someone to click and buy something. With this ad unit in particular, it has Watson information infused into the ad units so Best Western can have a two-way dialogue that shows the value of their service by going beyond just making a reservation at a hotel.”
The ad units try to anticipate every single question and is aimed at all kinds of travelers, both business and leisure, though Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling notes that the initial ads will skew towards vacationers.
In terms of whether this form of marketing is in the “experimental” or “actionable and scalable” vein, Dowling squarely says Best Western expects to realize education about the way people respond to interactive ads as well as the ability generate bookings and consumer engagement and brand affinity as a result.
In other words, the Phoenix-based brand, which has a global network of 4,200 hotels across 100 countries and territories worldwide, believes it can best move forward on several fronts with a variety of goals.
“For Best Western, we really want to try to understand if these types of ad units are going to drive better business outcomes for us,” Dowling says. “We always have a pretty clear sense of attribution in terms of where we’re investing media, and obviously doing the econometric overlay. And we are always committed to deriving insights about the elements that are in the earlier part of the customer journey that may not get full credit in terms of that attribution model as opposed to focusing on ‘the last click.’
“Overall, we do want to see how this dynamic competency of being able to have this conversational element will play out in terms of engagement as well as conversion,” Dowling adds.
While Best Western has had a long relationship with all parts of The Weather Company, its media agency, IPG’s Initiative Media brought the concept of interactive Watson Ads to the brand as part of its wider summer marketing program.
“Best Western always strives to partner with what we consider to be leaders in this space, so I think we felt fortunate that when Initiative brought this opportunity to us, IBM qualified us as a partner that they would like to test and learn with,” Dowling says. “We’re always looking, as a 70-plus year-old brand, to continue to learn, grow, and be relevant to today’s travelers. We hope this is going to bring us a few more awards in innovation, and it’s going to drive superior returns for us in terms of the investment that we’re making together, and that we and the IBM Watson team will find great value in continuing evolving our learnings together.”
Watson Advertising has already begun to see that consumers are spending more time with these AI-powered ads than with other digital ads, Seifer says
“Based on prior Watson Ads campaigns, we’ve seen sessions range between 2- 3 minutes in active engagement, which exceeds digital industry time spent benchmarks,” she says. “In some use cases, users spend up to 6x as much time in a Watson Ad unit vs. Google Rich Media Benchmarks. For context, the human attention span is 8 seconds.”
They’re also going deeper into the branded experience in the ad unit than they would otherwise, Seifer says, noting that people are engaging in the conversation feature, watching videos, asking for coupons, and exploring products in a product carousel, all at their own pace and in their own way.
Seifer also emphasized that the work with Best Western represents a true collaboration.
“We’ve been in the market with Watson Ads for two years,” Seifer notes, highlighting past work with Campbell Soup Company, Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare on interactive marketing programs. “As an AI ad unit, it learns as it goes along. We’ve ingested Best Western data and train the ad with first- and second-party data.
“And it goes toward supporting other work Best Western is doing,” Seifer adds. “They’ve created beautiful 360 degree native units to give travelers a tour of hotel rooms. The ability to ask questions within an ad and get responses as to whether the questions have to do with fun things to do with kids, what places a business traveler should know, or tips for outdoors enthusiasts, Best Western can give people everything they want to know and see to make travel planning much easier.”