The travelling salesman: Andrew Warner, senior marketing director at Expedia EMEA

By Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, marketingmagazine.co.uk, Thursday, 28 July 2011 12:00AM

Andrew Warner, senior marketing director, customer marketing organisation, at Expedia EMEA. Interview by Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith.

Andrew Warner, senior marketing director, customer marketing organisation, at Expedia EMEA

Andrew Warner, senior marketing director, customer marketing organisation, at Expedia EMEA

Andrew Warner is eagerly describing the layout of the familiar-looking Expedia office before Marketing even gets a chance to sit down.

The online travel agent's Covent Garden HQ was replicated nearly desk-for-desk as the set for its latest ad campaign, the idea for which was sparked by the travel-themed magnets that adorn the kitchen fridge. Taking time to explain every detail of Expedia's recent brand overhaul - in what Warner calls a 'short tour' of the past year of his life - he enthuses about the minutiae of the process, from the research to consulting staff and consumers and brand-building. Moving rapidly from one thread to the next, punctuated by swift hand movements, he barely lets himself drink his tea, although he often lifts the mug to his lips - before remembering another point of note.

'People-shaped' strategy

It is clear that Warner, who joined Expedia last year as senior marketing director, has injected some of his own personality into the tongue-in-cheek ads, which include the 'Where's Mikey's Waikiki?' ad.

The aim of the 'People-shaped travel' campaign, created by Ogilvy & Mather and launched last month, has been to shift consumer perception toward seeing Expedia as a 'trusted travel partner' rather than just a booking engine. To do this, the focus is on the people behind the brand and their passion for travel.

'"People-shaped travel" is not just a superficial end-line,' says Warner. 'We are making a major commitment to delivering a more customer-centric approach in all aspects of the Expedia business. A key part of this is allowing customers to shape and co-create the kind of travel services they want from us.'

The internet has played a core role in Warner's career. He joined Royal Mail's graduate marketing scheme in 1994, amid economic difficulties that mirror today's.

'There weren't any graduate jobs as it was at the height of the last recession and a lot of companies had pulled their schemes,' he explains. At the time, the development of the 'world wide web' was causing a stir. 'If you picked up any magazine there were articles debating whether this internet thing would catch on, or remain a niche technology that few people would use.'

Warner claims he was the first Royal Mail employee to put a URL on a piece of advertising, but admits that the company's first digital campaign was 'probably seen by about three people'. He got a kick out of making it, all the same, and it doubtless set the tone for his career.

Warner's CV is tech-heavy, encompassing online publishing, software, mobile phones and electrical goods.

At BBC Online, he helped implement what he dubs the 'slightly cheesy mantra' of the 'On television, on radio, online' multiplatform brand message, as well as developing the interactive TV offering. This was tested in 1998 but first used during Wimbledon in 2001, when Sky Digital viewers could press the red button on their remote control to choose which match to watch.

After the public-service broadcaster, Warner stuck with media but in a commercial setting, helping to launch Emap's key titles at the time, including Q, Kerrang! and Smash Hits, into the digital space.

Warner describes his media jobs as being about 'pure branding', as, particularly within magazines, 'you live and die by the empathy you build with your readership'.

After Emap suffered losses in the US and fallout from the bursting of the dotcom bubble, it scaled back its digital operations and returned its focus to its core brands.

At this point, Warner was approached by Microsoft, latterly working on its Windows smartphone.

Having developed a taste for mobile, he went on to Sony Ericsson, leading the team that brought together the brand partnership, and launching its Walkman phone. He says the phone wowed consumers because 'early iPods were quite big and used a hard drive that broke if you dropped it'. Instead of 'a hard drive welded to a phone', consumers were presented with a slim handset.

Next, Warner was hired as Korean electronics company LG's first consolidated marketing director, and asked to relaunch the brand in the UK. His remit was to take it from a 'value-for-money brand to a credible top-tier technology brand'; the now-global positioning was tested in the UK.

At Expedia, Warner has spent the past year researching and developing the European arm. He believes he is lucky to work for a brand that holds a unique position in a sector that truly touches people's lives. 'Travel is a very human, emotional category, which shapes your experiences.'

The brand marries the travel and technology spaces, he explains, sitting between the likes of 'Apple and Google, which people love', and TUI and Thomas Cook. 'They are major travel companies but don't have that unique tech innovation,' he adds.

However, Thomas Cook looks set to change that, announcing earlier this month its plan to review its strategy with one eye firmly focused on online.

Despite the threat of major players waking up to the online world, Warner believes Expedia still offers something different. Its 'people-shaped travel' brand message encapsulates Expedia's USP, with it acting as facilitator to the experience of researching and booking one's own holiday.

'We are seeing huge leaps in innovation across all media, but travel advertising has stayed relatively still, focusing on palm trees and price points. Customers are looking for change,' he adds. 'We are not simply a ticket machine at the station in the way that other online travel agents can be.'

With very little brand interaction for the consumer, he says that this 'click, get price, get ticket' business model holds the danger that if the 'ticket machine' goes wrong, consumers will simply head to the next one - in other words, a rival.

As part of Warner's overhaul of the marketing department, he held co-creation sessions with consumers and employees, which he says were vital to see the brand from a range of angles. 'Brands and advertising shouldn't just be run out of the marketing department; it's too important.'

Warner is confident that this approach has helped Expedia create a campaign that is true both to the business ethos and its consumers. 'One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to hire an expensive ad agency that builds up a proposition, which the company then can't live up to in the eyes of consumers,' he says.

Backed by a £40m pan-European ad budget, all eyes are now on Warner and his team to see whether they strike the right chord in a hugely competitive, and increasingly diverse, market.

INSIDE WORK

1994-1997: Graduate trainee, rising to consumer marketing manager, Royal Mail

1997-1999: Marketing manager, BBC Online & Interactive

1999-2000: Head of marketing, Emap Online

2000-2004: Marketing director, MSN international, head of MSN Entertainment, EMEA, group manager, online communications, Microsoft UK

2004-2008: Global brand director, Sony Ericsson

2008-2010: Marketing director, UK & Ireland, LG

2010-present: Senior marketing director, consumer marketing organisation, Expedia EMEA

OUTSIDE WORK

Lives: Godalming, Surrey

Last holiday: South Korea

Supports: Norwich City FC.

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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