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The Blog: Stalked by Meliá

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In 1956, Gabriel Escarrer Juliá leased a hotel in Palma called Altair. The 21-year-old Escarrer thus took the first step towards creating a global enterprise. Meliá Hotels International is Majorca’s biggest hotel chain; it is also Spain’s biggest.

In that same year, probably unbeknownst to this young entrepreneur from Porreres, a fellow called Wendell R. Smith had an article published in the American Marketing Association’s house publication, the Journal of Marketing.

Smith worked for a company called Alderson and Sessions, which by 1956 had forged a reputation as an innovative marketing consultancy. That article was considered to be groundbreaking, even if Smith explained that he was drawing together practices which had been observable for some time.

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Nevertheless, ‘Product Differentiation and Market Segmentation as Alternative Marketing Strategies’ made both the academic and the practising marketing world sit up and take note. And Smith’s legacy lives on, as it might be argued that Wendell was to blame for everything with which we are now bombarded.

We, as individuals, have been segmented many times over and been lined up for all manner of messages and images designed to differentiate a product from all others. Or there again – have we?

Wendell wouldn’t of course have had much assistance from technology back in the day. Oh what he would have given for Big Data and cookies. In Palma, meanwhile, the budding businessman at the Hotel Altair would have been using a pen or typewriter in capturing basic data – a name, an address, a passport number. Duly captured, there would haven’t been much he could do with this, assuming he had even wanted to. Firing off some postcards to past clients – possibly so, but laborious it would have been.

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As to segmentation, a client’s country would have been about all there was, apart from age and gender. All of this was a long time ago, but the spirit of Wendell Smith continues to hover in the corridors of great hotelier companies. Meliá is one such. Gabriel Escarrer the Son, Gabriel Escarrer Jaume, is considered to be one of the world’s leading hoteliers not simply because his company is big.

He is a strategist of the highest order and has driven Meliá’s all-embracing process of digitalisation, even if this has demanded that he himself has had to learn new skills and unlearn old ways of thinking. But what he won’t have unlearned are principles published in 1956. Thoroughly adapted for the digital brave new world, there is evidence everywhere you look.

Everywhere I look. On my computer. I can’t escape Meliá. I’m stalked by a model, who I think is the same one but who – over the past several weeks (months) – has been in various poolside, beachside, urban settings willing me to click on her and avail myself of – and this is just the latest one – a 25% offer to go to Cadiz and Huelva.

I can’t say that I remember having clicked on a Meliá ad, but there has to be some explanation as to why she is with me – morning, noon and night. As I’m preparing to click on an item about the Joshua-Usyk fight on the BBC’s website, there she is, smiling happily at the 25% off. Even if I go, for instance, to Word Reference to check out a tricky Spanish idiom, she’s there as well.

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Above, I asked whether we have been lined up for all these advertising messages that appear. We have, but how effective are they? The differentiation can be lost, and the Meliá model herself provides an example. In an urban setting, she was looking delighted while holding a camera in one hand.

The point was that a few days prior to this particular Meliá manifestation, a different model for a different hotel group – NH – had made herself known to me. Her smiling was on account of the fact that she was in some other urban setting, holding a camera. The next thing I knew was what they were both there. On the same web page. One on one side of the page, the other on the other side. Both with cameras.

How on Earth does that happen? Well I know how it happens. It’s all to do with analytics, cookies and Wendell Smith. But as far as segmentation goes, I have to question the effectiveness. It’s not as if I have a great deal in common with Ms Meliá or Ms NH. Or their cameras.

Because the technology says so, are they (or their successors) to be with me forever? Persistent it is, though mercifully some of this stuff comes with an expiry date. I once made the mistake of clicking on an ad for office chairs.

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For some days afterwards, chairs were appearing everywhere, I vowing not to buy a chair from any of the websites.

Alternative marketing strategies. This was what Wendell Smith wrote about all those years ago. Alternative they have ceased to be, as they can just as easily be counterproductive.

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