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Having a CMO in the management makes a huge difference: Hyatt's chief marketing officer

Understanding a region's nuances is important while shaping a campaign, says Hyatt's chief marketing officer Maryam Banikarim. One cannot be everything to everyone, she adds

Samar Srivastava
Published: Jun 29, 2015 06:24:12 AM IST
Updated: Jun 29, 2015 03:52:11 PM IST
Having a CMO in the management makes a huge difference: Hyatt's chief marketing officer

Maryam Banikarim
Chief Marketing Officer, Hyatt
Career: Chief marketing officer, Gannett; senior vice president, marketing, NBCUniversal; chief marketing officer, Univision Communications
Education: BA from Barnard College; MBA from Columbia Business School

Q. You’ve said in the past that the main job of a chief marketing officer (CMO) is to generate growth. Isn’t that the preserve of sales? Is that how you see your role at Hyatt?  
I think of all marketing jobs that way... so, yes. What was appealing about the (Hyatt) job was that it was a CMO job with a seat at the table, as a part of the management team. And that makes a huge difference. I am a business person first and a marketer second. There are very few companies that recognise the need to have a CMO sitting at the management table and not a level below.

Q. The one thing that Hyatt hasn’t done globally is getting into the so-called budget market. People might want to stay at a cheaper place during a vacation. Is that a market you would like to get into?
We are not trying to be the biggest hospitality company—you have to have a clear lane that you want to play in. You can’t be everything to everyone.

I actually think that [getting into the budget market] would make it much more confusing and complicated… I was talking to my colleague, who was in the business, and he spoke about how Avis and Budget combined into a single entity and how that proved to be a mess from a marketing perspective. The fact that the Hyatt has far lesser number of rooms compared to some of the bigger hotels gives you a very different experience. The hotels in Shanghai have nine restaurants. The Regency has nine restaurants… people coming into the hotel are not just people looking to stay there. That, in itself, is a very different experience.

Q. A company like Accor has so many brands, it does not have one brand with several layers like Hyatt does. Does having one master brand confuse the guest?
If you have one brand, it is a much easier marketing channel but, in a lot of ways, what is interesting is that consumers want different things at different points in their lives or in the year they are travelling. One of the nice things about having multiple brands is that Hyatt House and Hyatt Place may fulfil a different sort of a need. So it is a challenge and an opportunity as a marketer.

Q. Would you tailor your marketing strategies to different countries and regions of the world?
I have spent a lot of time in different countries.

I have lived in Paris, London, Argentina, Iran… so if you understand the nuances of how to speak with somebody in a respectful way, you can play and win the game because there are differences, there are nuances.

For example, the messaging app WeChat is big in Asia and you must be able to leverage it here. You cannot say, ‘We are not going to do WeChat because it is not in the US or in every single country’. You need to understand these nuances and build the campaign. Of course, there will be campaigns that are going to be global.

(This story appears in the 10 July, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)