HotelTonight CMO aims to tell the brand’s story without losing its spontaneous soul
Get to Know: HotelTonight CMO Ray Elias
In June, Ray Elias was named CMO for HotelTonight, tasked with leading the company’s brand efforts, communications strategy, customer acquisition and retention.
With more than 20 years’ e-commerce experience, Elias served as StubHub’s CMO from 2008 to 2015 before joining HotelTonight.
“At StubHub, we truly disrupted and changed the way ticketing works. We played a major role in shifting consumer behavior to purchasing the week of an event — where the greatest value is,” says Elias. “Consumers were forced by Ticketmaster to crash an on-sale months in advance, believing they’d score a great ticket at ‘face value.’ Similarly, consumers have been trained to bundle their airline purchase with a hotel, and believe they unlock value by bundling upfront.”
Elias says this setup fails to offer the best deal for consumers, and it doesn’t provide a strong value proposition for hotels.
“At HotelTonight, we are demonstrating that’s absolutely not the case. If you wait, the best value is actually toward the end of that curve. Our marketing is going to have to tell that story without losing our spontaneous soul, as part of driving greater customer acquisition and building a brand among very big marketing war chests.”
Elias says HotelTonight is in a space where consumer behavior is shifting rapidly to mobile.
“I am looking forward to helping connect more people with amazing, spontaneous hotel experiences wrapped in extraordinary HotelTonight services, not just cheap rooms,” says Elias, “We are the innovative channel with a unique audience, not like a traditional online travel agency, and we will bring the highest value guests to our hotel partners.”
In addition to his professional role, Elias serves on the Board of Genesys Work Bay Area, a non-profit organization focused on helping disadvantaged high school students learn tech skills, receive paid internships and attend college. He was named to the Sports Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list in 2013 and recently was awarded a patent for a social live event discovery concept he developed while at StubHub.
Elias earned his Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Texas at Austin.
What mobile device can you not live without?
iPhone — although I feel a sense of relief when I don’t have it (as long as it’s not lost and I know where it is).
Which apps do you use most often for work?
Slack has started to surpass email.
What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?
I want to rid myself of mindless Facebook browsing. Snapchat is providing a new creative outlet. I’m a sucker for the face filters.
What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?
Take me through your typical workday.
- Up early, like 4:30 a.m. early, to get some individual contribution done, work out, and see my son off to school.
- I ride my bike to BART and commute into San Francisco from the East Bay.
- I love taking public transportation because I can get through a lot of communication (emails, texts, calls).
- I like to get to work by around 8:00 a.m. to drink tons of cold-brew coffee, look at data and catch up on any remaining emails before the office really lights up.
- I spend most of my day meeting with people. We have a very healthy meeting culture here at HotelTonight, where the standard unit is 30 minutes.
- About a third of my day is with external people via PR, partners and potential partners. The rest is with our people internally. To me, that’s what leadership and management is all about, and I love investing in people as others have and continue to invest in me.
- Most of my heads-down work happens before 9:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. and on weekends. That’s not to sound like I am unhealthy about it. I never really turn off completely because it’s so easy to stay tuned in, but I do it on my terms, and encourage others to live a balanced life.
- I cherish my couple of hours with my family at night, and then pass out by around 9:00 p.m.
What has been the most exciting work development during the past year?
I took five months off and met a ton of interesting and not so interesting people in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
I have never done that before, and it helped me figure out what I wanted to do next, while experiencing precious time with my family.
Then, with complete clarity and excitement, I joined HotelTonight. I am very fortunate to be able to work in the free-time economy. I love experiencing cool hotels like I love going to live events, so it’s not hard to come to work every day!
What does your office look like?
I’ve gone completely minimalist. Everything I need, including my family pics, are on my laptop and phone. It makes me feel more modern and on-the-go.
We have really awesome work spaces here that I use consistently, and I am away from my desk a lot in general. I used to pay homage to the things I’m a huge fan of, like the Texas Longhorns, at StubHub. Hard to replicate that with the same context and I don’t try.
How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?
I live in staycation wonderland, so countless miles back and forth to Lake Tahoe, Napa, etc.
I recently took an awesome vacation/HotelTonight last-minute booking case study to Miami and the Keys with my family. Wow, that was fun and we barely missed the hurricane.
I am going to visit three HotelTonight offices in three different cities — London, Paris and Berlin — soon. Can’t wait to meet our EU teams in person!
What work challenge keeps you up at night?
I am entering an arms race where there are huge household brand names and very deep pockets for marketing. I am positive we will compete very effectively and efficiently, but I am still laying awake at night on how. I am swimming with ideas.
Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?
I think we were overly conservative at StubHub in promoting our mobile app because we were so worried about cannibalization of our web business, and concerned about what we perceived as lower conversion rate. The app worked so much better and I can’t help but laugh about that now.
Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career.
My dad taught me so much at an early age about drive, work ethic and critical thinking that I did not appreciate until I had proper context. Since then, my wife has been the focus of my drive, and her creative mind and adventurous spirit is what gives me the courage to take bigger risks.
I have had many peers and mentors who have inspired me, but none more than Mike Janes (first CMO of StubHub, now at Vacatia) who stretched me more than anyone, and taught me how to be a marketer and how to build a career.
What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?
Invest in being a strong leader and manager as a first priority, not a second priority. Being a CMO is being a complete marketer, not “performance marketer,” “brand marketer” or any other box. You have to put yourself out there and have thick skin or pick another profession.
The precious marketer who is above everyone else’s input is annoying. Be strategic. I think of myself more as a strategist who knows how to do marketing.
Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?
I can whistle 25 different ways. No reason in particular.
Why did you go into marketing?
I was actually more focused on joining the “dot-com” revolution after undergrad. I started to develop an appreciation for what the marketing team did, but had no credibility until I taught myself search marketing in the very early days at Esurance. They eventually needed me!
What other career would you like to try, and why?
I will always wish I was good enough to have become a professional footballer (soccer player).
What’s the last business book you read, and what did you think of it?
“Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd,” by Youngme Moon — very compelling, inspiring and true. Hard to achieve because most pick the safe route.
Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?
It’s a little cliche now, but I remain a huge fan of what Dollar Shave Club has done, from their product experience to their content and tone to their marketing tactics.