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The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia’s Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268)

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The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia’s Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268) — Headlines and Show Notes

Literally days after our episode calling out the dangers of Google forcing your company to become a "hidden intermediary" — and using Expedia’s recent troubles as one example of where things are going terribly wrong — Expedia fired CEO Mark Okerstrom and CFO Alan Pickerell. The reason? Well, apart from a "disagreement over strategy," the real issue is that the company simply doesn't have a plan for dealing with Google's rising dominance. And, as stated, that's something you want to keep from happening to your brand.

How can you do that? How can you avoid Google taking over your share of the market? How can you compete with the search giant to win customers and profits? Tim Peter & Associates' president Tim Peter has a few ideas for you on the latest episode of Thinks Out Loud.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you:

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Transcript — The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia's Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268)

Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 268 of the big show, and thank you so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. We have a crazy show today. I did an episode last week that talked about the biggest risk to your business is becoming a hidden intermediary, and I really used what's going on with Expedia lately to illustrate the problem of becoming hidden intermediary — how Google, how Amazon, how Facebook, how Apple, you know how the big tech giants are really threatening companies that don't provide a direct value-add to their customers. And you know, one of the things that drove this was that Expedia reported really, really crappy earnings in Q3.

And I talked a little about the fact that, you know, they needed to sort this out and they probably would, well, no sooner did I publish the episode. Then the very next day Expedia fired Mark Okerstrom, the CEO, and Alan Pickerell, who was the CFO. Like out. Gone. Hit the bricks.

Phocuswire who covered the story brilliantly. I'm going to link to a lot of focus wire stuff here because they're really great at this. They do a wonderful job, but I will say, I thought the framing of their headline was kind of funny because it's “Expedia group CEO Mark Okerstrom out amid board disagreement over strategy.” I think the biggest disagreement that the board had was that, you know, Okerstrom and Pickerell thought they were the right people to lead that strategy. And the board, you know, disagreed.

So I'm, not that I was in the room, but I'm pretty sure the biggest disagreement was, you know, "are these, in fact, the people who can fix this?" Now I want to point out, I tweeted on December 3rd, another story about this that was also from Phocuswire because at the Phocuswright Conference, Mark Okerstrom talked about the challenges that we're having with search, and I tweeted — and this is important to those of you who are listening, who are not in the travel industry — I said, “don't let Expedia fool you. This isn't just about travel. Google is coming for a lot of folks.”

I also tweeted on December 3rd, you know, a link to an article from the Motley Fool that said, “why Expedia blamed Google for its earnings debacle.” And I said, because "Google is a huge problem for Expedia. That's why, and they may be coming for your business next."

This is a thing I've talked about a ton when it comes to travel. Google is the dominant player in organic paid search, organic search, paid search, and a thing called metasearch, which if you're outside of travel, don't worry about it. Well actually, let me rephrase that. If you're outside of travel, you don't need to know precisely what metasearch is, but you should worry about it because it is a canary in a coal mine. And I'm going to come back to that canary in a coal mine in just a second. This is a thing that I've been talking about since at least 2014 when I referred to the big myth about hotel metasearch. Which you know, the nice thing about predicting things years in advance is you only need to be right once. 😉

But there was another Phocuswire article from November 14th where they talked about Skyscanner becoming a search company, pivoting from their original model of being a metasearch engine and instead becoming a marketplace with bookings. Functionally, they're getting out of the business of aggregating search results, right? They're no longer going to be a search engine primarily, and instead they're going to sell travel directly, which by the way, is exactly the problem that, you know, Expedia and Booking.com and the like and TripAdvisor, who I all talked about last week, seemed to be having.

Now remember the canary in the coal mine that I talked about a moment ago? Well, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya was speaking at the Phocuswright Conference a couple of weeks ago, by the way, that is run by the same people who run Phocuswire, and I'm going to quote pretty extensively here from a a CNBC review of this. So I'm quoting from the CNBC article. It says, quote

Speaking at The Phocuswright Conference this week, Palihapitiya said that while he “loves” Google and its stock as an investor, he warned that time is running out for companies who have become reliant on it. “The longer it takes for Google to find a second act, the more you’re f—-d,” he said about those companies, adding that investor patience will wane. “If you are in the business of being a parasite on top of Google, your medium-term and long-term prospects are terrible; you’re an impaired company, you don’t know it,” he added. The only way to win, he argued, is to offer unique value; many companies have done the opposite, becoming more like their competitors and relying on Google to drive volume. That’s a recipe for disaster. “This is accurate,” tweeted fellow venture capitalist Bill Gurley, of Benchmark, Thursday evening.

Palihapitiya pointed to the travel industry, calling Google’s travel efforts a “canary in a coal mine” and citing both Expedia and TripAdvisor. “At the core of it is the decision that they will capture the overwhelming majority of profit in the travel sector,” he said about Google.

He's not the only one saying it either. Ben Thompson on Stratechery a couple of weeks back now, on November 12th, actually right after Expedia's earnings call, referred to "the Google Squeeze" and the challenges that Expedia and people like TripAdvisor and Booking.com will have in competing as you go forward.

This is a huge deal, and it's not about travel. This is what Google's doing in a number of markets. Look at what's happening with online retail. Look at what's happening with Google Shopping. Look at what's happening with Google News. They aggregate demand to use Ben Thompson's phrase, and because they have the demand, they control the marketplace for whatever that product or service is.

And this is a huge issue for all kinds of companies. Mark Oak Ostrom got fired because of this, by the way, to point out how rare this is. He was named CEO of the company two years ago. Less than two years ago. Find me another example of a CEO of a public company that by the way, is doing basically okay, right there.

Their revenues were up 9% year on year. Their costs were up dramatically more, but find me a CEO who gets booted after two years. And the reason he got booted was because the board didn't believe that he had a good plan for dealing with the fact that Google's going to come along and you know, eat their lunch or drink their milkshake, or you was whatever your favorite, you know, analogy is basically the board said, mr , mr Pickerell, we understand what you say you're going to do and we think it's not going to work.

Now. Last week on the show, I laid out a three point framework for how you can succeed and make sure what just happened to Okerstrom and Pickerell doesn't happen to you. I said, you must differentiate. You must become a destination and you must diversify. You must get your traffic and your revenue from more than just one source.

A lot. Don't get all your business from Google. In fact, I had a podcast, a podcast a weeks ago where I said, stop outsourcing your sales and marketing to gatekeepers like Google at a minimum. Don't outsource a hundred percent of it to those folks, but there's one more point that I want to add to that framework, and I hinted at it last week, but I want to get a little more in detail about it this week, which is, I said, you have to differentiate, you have to become a destination.

You have to diversify. And you have to deliver. There was a fascinating article that on marketing charts that said, uh, uh, here's what B2B content marketers are prioritizing in 2020 and near the very top, they had increased conversions and near the very bottom they had no the customer better, and I thought that was insanity.

Because I think the first of those follows from the last of those. You don't increase your conversion without knowing your customer better. One leads to the other, and we see this all the time when I've talked about customer experiences queen, this is what I'm talking about. Steffan Berelowitz had another great example, a guy from a company called Travel Tripper that said, consumers want Amazon to be a travel booking site.

Why?

Because they really like the experience that they have on Amazon. I talked about this actually two weeks ago with Amazon Go, instant gratification, and the boring future of business customers expect. That the experience will become invisible. It will become so seamless that they don't even notice it.

And that's kind of what Amazon has done with Amazon. Go and now travel. Customers say, why can't they do that for my travel too? That's a huge threat to an Expedia or booking.com and frankly to a Google. And the reason it works is because they're using data to understand the customer and using that understanding to create a deeper, deeper, richer experience.

Uh, there was another fantastic article that was out, uh, Oh, about a week ago from CMS wire about how brands still haven't tapped AI's full promise. Why do I talk about AI? I'm going to talk about customer experience. Because that's how you know your customer better. That's how you use the data to inform your decisions.

It's not that AI is going to tell you, here's exactly how you make the customer experience better. It's going to tell you, here are the pain points and here's what we understand about sentiment analysis. When people talk about our brand and our business, and here's where we see patterns emerge.

That co that you know. Uh, reflect challenges people have when they interact with a product or a service. And so you need to do that to understand what's going on and understand your customer better so that you can deliver a greater customer experience. And so that you can differentiate your product or service from those of your competition, especially the competitors who are the big guys like Google and Amazon and Facebook.

And that's how you can become a destination. And it's how you can diversify the marketing and sales channels from which you get your business. Because at a minimum, your destination, your own web presence becomes one of the places people want to go.

So you must differentiate. You must become a destination. You must diversify. And you must deliver. Because if you don't — like Mark Okerstrom and Allen Pickerell — your board or your company CEO or your customers are going to show you a fifth "D" — and that is the door.

Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all our past episodes by going to TimPeter.com/Podcast again, that's TimPeter.com/Podcast just look for episode 268.

While you're there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes to have things out loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts or Stitcher Radio or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those. And while you're there, I'd very much appreciate it if you could provide a positive rating or review. It gives other listeners a great insight into what the show is about and helps them understand whether it's something they'd like to listen to too. It makes us easier for new listeners to find us and when it would mean so much to me

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to facebook.com/TimPeterAssociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me, just send an email to podcast@timpeter.com. Again, that's podcast@timpeter.com.

As ever, I'd like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud, is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment focuses on AI-driven content discovery and site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, increase your customer satisfaction, and make your search smarter by going to solosegment.com

With that, I want to say thanks so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. It means so much to me. I hope you have a great rest of the week, a wonderful weekend ahead, and I look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well be safe and as ever take care everybody.

Tim Peter

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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