Brand Business – Lindsay Nelson of TripAdvisor

Lindsay Nelson, president of core experience

Lindsay Nelson
joined TripAdvisor in October 2018 in the new position of president of core
experience – overseeing brand, consumer user experience and revenue-generating products and features – after four years at
Vox Media. 

For our November theme, PhocusWire talks to marketing chiefs on the challenges of their roles and the impact of technology and data on travel marketing.

Your role at TripAdvisor combines the duties of the chief
marketing officer, chief product officer and chief commercial officer – what
are the pros and cons of combining those responsibilities in one position?

While it can be exhausting to wear three hats, the payoff and
benefit is that I am able to connect our user experience and our brand strategy
with new approaches to monetizing TripAdvisor’s influence. The more these three
pillars are aligned, the faster and higher we fly as a business.

As technology,
personalization and experience design become central to any company’s strategy
I suspect hybrid executive positions will become more common.

How has your prior experience in the media industry at Vox Media
and Slate been of value to you at TripAdvisor? What does the media industry
know or do that can be of use to a brand in travel?

By definition media companies are built on a point of view, a
voice. The New York Times, Recode, Vox, etc. are in the business of creating
content that can transcend format and distribution channel while remaining
distinctly ownable and defined (when done well). This creates a powerful pact
between brand and audience, which in turn begets loyalty and hopefully a
willingness on behalf of your customer to experiment along with you.

While TripAdvisor is a platform that enables people, travelers, to
guide others to what’s good out there – it’s essential that we have a sense of
self. That we understand why we exist and who we serve in order to create
clarity for the people and businesses that interact with us every day.

What’s been the biggest challenge in your first year at

I stepped into the company and the travel sector during a very
challenging time. The landscape is changing, technology is changing, the
players are changing, and consumers are changing simultaneously. You have to
accept there are currents outside of your control, while not getting paralyzed
by the uncertainty. The silver lining is that the opportunity for
transformation is high, because standing still is not an option. 

When I heard you speak at WIT Singapore, you said, “We can’t act
and behave like an OTA and expect to remain the world’s largest travel guidance
platform.” Tell us more about what you mean by that.

TripAdvisor, unlike any other
company in the world, has the permission to help people find what’s good out
there and connect them to people like them who have been there before.
From our inception, we were the only company putting people at the center of
the planning process by creating a platform for authentic reviews, photos and
traveler forums to get the kind of helpful advice that machines and algorithms
can’t provide.

I remind you this was before Facebook, Instagram. We invented a
category for one. But over the last few years, we didn’t nurture this core
value proposition as much as we focused on enabling other capabilities, like
finding a great price and booking hotels, flights and experiences. It’s on us to dare to be bold enough to exercise that
permission to return to a category of one and take our seat at the table.

What part of the TripAdvisor platform has the most potential for
growth – hotels? Restaurants? Experiences? Vacation rentals?

One of the things I’m really optimistic about is the potential to
work with other marketing partners in unique ways. As we stated publicly, we
believe our media solutions business can double in three to five years.

We’ve also had double-digit growth in Restaurants and Experiences
businesses for the past several years. We have tremendously unique assets in
both our first-party data and our large, high-intent global audience. We
influence a tremendous amount of purchasing decisions across the leisure
landscape, and hospitality businesses can benefit from our insights, tools and
ability to drive demand that grows the bottom line. We will continue to develop
opportunities that only TripAdvisor can bring to market.

What type of audience data is most useful for you and can you tell
us a bit about how data influences your strategy?

We have almost half a billion unique travelers each month coming
to TripAdvisor and more than 200,000 people a day signing up to be a member so
they can take advantage of our planning tools, write reviews and engage in the
forums. With more people logging in, we have better visibility into the trips
they’re planning, budget and preferences that guide their travel decisions, and
other useful information like hometown and family size.

The more we know about
the traveler, the better we can personalize their site experience and
communications coming from TripAdvisor. This drives significant improvements in
repeat rate and satisfaction.

And who is TripAdvisor’s greatest competitor?

As evidenced by how fragmented the travel planning process is,
there are different companies trying to play at different phases of the

What are your thoughts about Google’s role in your marketing
strategy – it’s a critical channel but at the same time is pushing its own
products for hotels, vacation rentals, flights and tours and activities?

As a company, we have been quite vocal about our views on Google.
One significant challenge is Google pushing its own hotel and ad products in
search results, siphoning off quality traffic that would otherwise find

It’s not a high priority for us to continue parking dollars into
an anti-competitive business. It’s also the reason why more marketing partners
want to break away from the duopoly of companies like Google and Facebook, and
are looking to shift their dollars to global media platforms like TripAdvisor
with a more high-intent audience.

What companies or brands do you look to for marketing inspiration?

We aspire to be much more than a website; we want to be an
experience that transcends products and mediums. While not an active rider, I’m
impressed with SoulCycle. They are a lifestyle brand, they have retreats, they
have a radio station on Sirius. They unapologetically know their voice, their
assets and what they stand for.

I hope we can say the same thing in a few
years. That we won’t just be a website dedicated to travel planning, but a
travel brand with an ecosystem of assets that make us a more diverse business
with a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our members.

What advice would you give an experienced marketing expert from
another sector who is considering a
move into the travel industry?

Travel can be an insider industry where people stay and work for a
long time. As a result we’re operating in a sea of sameness, across both ideas
and representation.

I highlighted that The Phocuswright Conference only had two female
travel execs on stage relative to 37 men. And while there are certainly more
than two doing interesting C-suite jobs in this space, it’s clearly much harder
to find them. This isn’t a programming issue; it’s a lack of diversity at the
top spots in most of the industry’s leading companies.

As we welcome more leaders from outside this industry, including
more talented women, we open the pipeline and all the diverse thinking that
comes with it. This is good for business. This is good for travelers.

Five years from now, what will be the hot topic in marketing?

Lately the pendulum has shifted perhaps too far towards data,
precision targeting and same session revenue, muting the importance of brand
building, having an emotional connection with consumers and pushing the limits
of creativity. In five years I hope we’ve shifted to a more balanced

You also shared a personal story at WIT – that you left home at
16. Did that risk-taking at a young age make you a more courageous adult?

Life is about relative perspective. When you grow up without a lot
of money or safety net, your risk tolerance increases because you have less to
lose. Even as I’ve built my career, that survival instinct is still there.
While you can’t change the hand, you can decide how to play the

I also feel a lot of responsibility in my role in part because I
grew up in a family that couldn’t afford to travel. It was a big deal to drive
to the Oregon coast to visit the cheese factory and aquarium. Most families
take maybe one trip a year, and often it’s a journey by car to a national park
or the beach. Helping people make the right choices on how to spend their
limited discretionary income and vacation time means a lot to me.

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