Spotlight On: Marriott’s Director of Global Search, Alexander Edlund

alexander-edlundSearch isn’t a silo, according to Alexander Edlund, director of global search for Marriott International.

Because the explosion of mobile use over the last few years has resulted in people frequently jumping from device to device, all different touchpoints and marketing channels are now more connected than they’ve ever been. Though Edlund says most marketers struggle with “the cross-device enigma,” he believes search marketers have an advantage, since they have the benefit of knowing what people are looking for and how they’re looking for it.

“We have context about where people are and which device they’re using. The more information we have about the user, the more we can tailor specifically to what the user wants. Mobile has allowed us to be more granular and more focused on answering questions on the go,” Edlund says. “We’re no longer building landing pages for desktop – we’re building them mobile-first, making sure there’s a good mobile experience on anything we do.”

Mobile is increasingly at the forefront of Marriott’s marketing, partially because more of the hotel brand’s 52 million rewards program members rely on the app. Many people have come to use it for every aspect of their hotel stay, from booking right through check-out.

“It’s becoming its own mini search engine where we can glean a lot of insights from users about what services they’re looking for before and during their stay,” Edlund says. “We want to have a direct relationship with our customers and prospective consumers. The app is a perfect way for us to have that one-on-one conversation, which then becomes much better for both parties, in terms of determining what [users] want, instead of going through third parties.”

Since Edlund joined the company, other important focus areas include improving targeting, attribution, and automation, the latter of which involves a sophisticated algorithm to manage bids for Marriott’s millions of keywords. It’s been more than a year, so Edlund is now more or less adjusted to both life at Marriott and in Maryland.

Last summer, Edlund and his family relocated to the D.C. area from Las Vegas, a move that came with almost as much culture shock as his move from Sweden to Vegas. Edlund always knew he wanted to go into marketing, though he wasn’t sure in which capacity. After finishing school in Sweden, he moved to the U.S. with a golf bag full of clothes to be with the American girl he’d been dating long-distance for four-and-a-half years. They met while she was studying abroad and are currently married with two kids. The job market in 2008 wasn’t the strongest, especially in Vegas, and Edlund realized that beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“The crash happened right as I landed,” he remembers. “I had this MBA degree, but nobody wanted to hire a Swede who had no real working experience. I was scrambling to get a job for the first few months, but I got a lucky break with LiveDeal – that’s when I got into the area of search marketing.”

As it turned out, Edlund had a knack for search. He spent the next year with LiveDeal, a search engine for restaurant promos, before moving on to and Caesars Entertainment Group, where he was the head of search marketing. It’s worth noting that Rio the casino in Las Vegas outranks Rio the city in Brazil on Google. He considers Caesars – which operates many of the big-name Strip properties including Caesars Palace, The Flamingo, and Paris – something of a crash-course in the hospitality industry, as the company seems to transcend industries.

“You have the entertainment industry, travel, hospitality, and gaming  – with all of this is in one property, there’s a lot of emphasis on the ancillary services,” Edlund says. “It’s not just about selling the room, but selling the experience. From a marketer standpoint, it was a great education to really understand how I can attract this customer to stay at my property, versus the hundreds of other really compelling options in one of the most competitive markets in the world.”

Though Edlund, a soccer player who is fluent in four languages, hated Vegas at first, it eventually grew on him. He still misses the constant sunshine, Mexican food, and laid-back West Coast vibe. However, he points out that having kids on the verge of being school-aged, there’s no better place to be than Potomac, Maryland.

On education, much of Edlund’s own is currently centered on properly assigning value to mobile marketing efforts. Like mobile, attribution is a concept that was much less-advanced when Edlund’s search career began in Vegas.

“The behavior is very different. We tend to see a shorter query. We tend to see the engagement on websites be much shorter. We need to have a much more succinct message,” he says, adding that many people search and shop across devices. “We’re doing further analysis to understand this so we can target these users, not just from a mobile standpoint, but across the whole journey. That’s where it’s going. That’s why it’s hard to talk about search in a silo.”

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