Princess Cruises’ vice-president of marketing Gordon Ho tells Lesley Bellew how he draws on his Disney Corporation background to spread the magic of cruise.
Gordon Ho knows how to sell a brand story. From campaigns such as Come Back New to the recent launch of the cruise line’s hi-tech Ocean Medallion, Princess Cruises has been regularly hitting the headlines.
As Princess Cruises’ vice-president of marketing, Ho stepped out of the wonderful world of make-believe at Disney and began to transfer his magic to the 18-ship fleet.
Ho’s first assignment at Princess Cruises was to meet a British royal princess, the Duchess of Cambridge, at the naming ceremony of flagship Royal Princess, and since then he has been inspired to develop a marketing strategy and create stories behind the Princess Cruises brand.
Ho, who is based in Santa Clarita, California, is clear about his team’s role and said: “In marketing we are the cheerleaders. Our Princess Cruises’ colleagues tell us their plans and we say that’s a great idea and advance the story.”
He said Princess Cruises was on ‘a great trajectory’ when he joined the company in 2012 and explained: “It was not so different for me, moving to the category of cruising from motion pictures’ marketing.
“I like to think we are storytellers; we need to create compelling stories that will break through the clutter – and will travel. Whether it’s Disney or Princess Cruises, we are selling entertainment experiences. If customers are buying a cruise or going to see a film, they want to be entertained and have a joyful experience. That is what helped me.
“At Disney we had great characters and great stories but at Princess we had the fundamentals, we had all the components. So the question was: how do we tell the story?
“For instance, food. We had great food but we needed a story. So much of it is education. We’ve all had great food but the cruise category cuisine has so much more.
“When you bring in a partnership with the Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone and he goes on TV to say ‘my only other restaurants, apart from Los Angeles, are on a cruise ship’ that makes people listen.
“He says ‘I work with Princess because I have a commitment to fresh ingredients, making food from scratch’ and at Princess we want people to know we are committed to try to make ingredients from scratch, avoiding cans and bottles as much as possible, and one of our slogans is Design from Fresh.
“Norman Love, the master chocolatier, has also added more credibility. He worked with our chefs and helped us source the best chocolate.
“A guest may put on social media: ‘This dessert by Norman Love took three days to make – it’s the best I’ve ever eaten’. That story will travel and people will say: ‘You had the best dessert you have ever eaten on a cruise ship? Can that be possible?”
AIMING TO BE NUMBER ONE
Gordon Ho says he wants Princess Cruises to be the favourite cruise line of travel agents.
“We have 50% repeat passengers and 50% new-to-cruise, and our goal is make sure satisfaction rates are at the highest percent so people say: ‘I definitely want to come back’.
“We want two things; a guest who says ‘thank you, I had the best time’ to their travel agent – and ‘I want to book another cruise’. “Perpetual customers over
“Perpetual customers over many years are the most valuable and that’s the way we measure our success.“Agents say we are one of the best
“Agents say we are one of the best cruise lines to work with and we need their feedback – we are trying to create a process so our sales force can offer a really smooth service to both the travel agent and their client.
“We are empowering our customer service centre, which works with agents. For instance, if there’s a last-minute change, we want to solve a potential issue quickly, and that is the best way to help the agent.
“We are not going to be perfect as some situations are unique but we are working on how we empower our organisation through the system and support agents.
“We want to be the most-preferred cruise line, the highest repeat, with a more empowered culture.”