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'Marketing a full brain exercise,' says Traveloka CMO who started career in finance

'Marketing a full brain exercise,' says Traveloka CMO who started career in finance

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Shirley Lesmana is currently known to many as Traveloka's CMO but interestingly, her first job was not in marketing. Barring a trade marketing internship with Lancôme, Lesmana (pictured) spent at least three years in the finance field before switching tracks to marketing. She first took on a role in marketing in 2016 when she was a brand manager at Philip Morris International.

"Marketing is a very fascinating field. It's still the field that I really love because there are a wide range of areas to take note of, from creative to data and analytics. So it's a full brain exercise. That's what keeps me excited about marketing," Lesmana told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in an interview. She explained that her previous company commanded both premium pricing and market leadership. Hence, she found it fascinating how the marketing team had to justify the premium pricing to consumers and at the same time being loved by them.

"There are three very important areas when it comes to consumer products. The first is understanding P&L and secondly, understanding the distribution channels. Thirdly, it's about brand building," she added.

Traveloka's marketing team has various functions, from product marketing which focuses on data analytics and strategy to the brand team which, of course, focuses on brand building. According to Lesmana, Traveloka also hs an in-house creative agency and a team that oversees full-fledged channel marketing. "Marketing is a very wide space and there is never a dull moment," she said.

Lesmana joined Traveloka in 2019 as head of marketing - accommodation Indonesia and rose up the ranks, eventually getting promoted to CMO in March this year. It is common to hear about CMOs struggling to convince their CEOs or even CFOs on improving their budgets and understanding the importance of marketing.

Having been on both sides, Lesmana said it is important for marketers to speak the language of CEOs and CFOs, similar to what brands are often doing when targeting consumers. "When talking about P&L, we need to ensure that we understand their language and where they come from. As marketers, we have the advantage of putting ourselves in others' shoes and this is similar when speaking to other C-suite executives," she explained.

Aside from marketing, CMOs also have to convince C-suite about the importance of digital transformation. Lesmana, however, does not face any major challenges in this area because tech is at the core of Traveloka and according to her, digital transformation is easy since everyone is on the same page. "We would like to use technology as a way for us to serve our consumers and empower our own teams. So it's probably slightly easier for me, to be honest, since Traveloka is a tech company," she added.

On the topic of digital transformation, Lesmana also said that the general shift towards digital over the past two years for brands have also resulted in consumers seeking convenience. According to her, consumers appreciate an app that is able to serve all their needs, which is the main reason why Traveloka expanded to become a lifestyle super app last year. Its lifestyle super app has three main propositions that are complementary - travel, lifestyle, and financial services. It also currently offers ride-hailing in Indonesia.

When asked if Traveloka plans to expand its ride-hailing services to other parts of Southeast Asia, Lesmana said ride-hailing is part of travel and lifestyle and Traveloka would like to support consumers in their daily needs. "Our core focus at the moment is to support the ecosystem of travel and lifestyle and capture the travel momentum," she explained.

shirley with her traveloka marketing team

Cutting through the social media clutter

Digital consumption rose during the pandemic and Traveloka experimented with livestreaming, which Lesmana said was one of the growth catalysts for the brand. Collectively, Traveloka has millions of followers on social media and leveraged that by promoting its staycation products, for example, on livestream and social media. Upon seeing good traction from consumers, Traveloka eventually embedded the livestream function into its app to scale up more initiatives in that space.

"It's a very seamless shopping experience and we try to give consumers a value-added proposition. Take room tours, for example. Consumers can tour the room via livestream while shopping on our app for room upgrades or coupons at the same time," Lesmana explained.

While she did not specify how much of Traveloka's marketing budget was parked under digital, she told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that Traveloka sees its own platform as the strongest proposition, such as its paid and owned channels. "When it comes to marketing spend, it's not just about the dollars spent but the efforts that we are carrying out. We treat our marketing approach as an ecosystem, using our own app as the core and then paid and earned media to complement what we have on our platform," she explained.  

Aside from Indonesia, Traveloka is in six other countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia. To garner more brand awareness and sales, it launched campaigns including the International Travel Fiesta and the Epic Sale earlier this year, both of which garnered good reception from its partners, Lesmana said.

With Southeast Asia being such a fragmented market, it is natural for consumer behaviours in each market to vary and for the marketing to be localised. According to Lesmana, consumers in Malaysia and Thailand, for example, react better to promotions while those in the Philippines seek word of mouth recommendations from social media.

Aside from word of mouth recommendations and promotions, user-generated content (UGC) is becoming increasingly important for companies in showcasing their offerings in an authentic ways. In fact, brands these days also repost UGC. Lesmana classified Traveloka's consumers into two groups: content creators and those who are slighty more passive.

According to Lesmana, consumers who are slightly passive love to share content but are apprehensive about creating their own content. "We typically face the challenge of creating the 'it factor' for the latter group so that they will be triggered into creating content and being part of the movement," she explained.

Hence, the team has to come up with ideas to nudge this group of consumers, such as filters or even gamification. "When it comes to UGC, we will typically segment it based on the level of activeness in content creation so owe can better understand the experience we'd like to create for users," Lesmana said.

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