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How might we inspire users to dream about their next getaway?

As a world-renowned historic hotel company, Hilton was the last stop on the user’s vacation to-do list and journey. The typical Hilton user dreams of a location, books their flight, and on the very last step, books a hotel. 

What if Hilton could get the jump on competition, and get on the path to purchase at the beginning of the user journey instead of the end? What if Hilton could leverage their 100 year brand reputation as a travel company to become a source of truth and inspiration for users rather than a last stop? 

Note: Since I am currently an employee of Hilton hotels, some of the finer data and roadmap information involved in this project is under NDA. Please contact me if you would like to review further privately on a one-on-one basis.

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Text


Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Text

User Interviews and Intercepts

​My first order of operations was to find how our users dream. Hilton has a multitude of well formed personas, research studies, and resources for user segments, but far less research around the previously unoccupied space of pre-travel research and inspiration. 

Questions to be answered:

  • How do users dream about a vacation? What do they need to feel inspired? Safe and secure?

  • What is their dreaming journey before they start to shop?

  • What views and preconceived notions does the user hold about Hilton? Biases?

I coordinated a series of in-person interviews, interviews, targeted user surveys, and user card sorting exercises with the Hilton qualitative research team.

Quickly, I found that users had mixed expectations for what they needed during the early travel phases. Users wanted vibrant photos (even if the destinations were wildly out of their price range) and easily scannable "list" content from relatable influencers - people just like them. Users found instagram and google images to be more "real" and "off the beaten path." However, when the Hilton brand was added, users instantly became more practical. Hilton + Dreaming users wanted to see hotel derived content, flexible shopping and had a much more purchase oriented mindset - regardless of if they actually had a destination in mind. 

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image

Journey mapping workshops

Armed with user research, I kicked off a series of journey mapping workshops, in order to find touch points where Hilton could organically slip into the user's flow - hopefully leveraging resources that Hilton either already had or could turn around quickly in a rapid MVP. Later journey mapping workshops would be used to realign our features with the user's needs, and generate new feature expansion ideas. 

 ​​Questions to be answered:

  • How might we help the user to research & decide where, when, types of trips, things to do, and budget? 

  • What entry points into the user’s journey can Hilton leverage? What touch points build trust?

One vital byproduct of these workshops was deciding together as a team how to define success parameters for our new initiatives. Revenue? CTR? Interaction? SEO? Internal cost savings?

KPI and revenue discussions also generated new questions in turn: What mix do users look for in terms of pure e-commerce vs inspirational content? What is the sales mix? How to wire it in to Hilton's existing platforms and flows?

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image
Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image

Establishing an MVP & Roadmap

I worked with product management in order to align user needs with business goals and together we arrived at a 2-prong approach: Leveraging and improving what we have (easy, short-term, mvp) versus re-educating the user and repositioning Hilton (difficult, long-term investment, roadmap and future functionality.)

For the MVP - I would find ways to integrate more flexible open ended shopping into the current website - aiming for users with a brand new intent; shopping to explore and narrow down options versus shopping strictly to purchase. For the long term, I would work with product managers, marketing, and content generation teams in order to unify Hilton's vast universe of travel resources, blogs, and knowledge under the umbrella. This way, I could satisfy users' practical need for flexible shopping, while still making Hilton's stretch goal of repositioning within the marketplace a reality.

After coming up with an attack plan in the workshop and brainstorming sessions, I created user flows to illustrate how Hilton users would organically discover "Dreaming" content on our pages, via internal and external entry routes.

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Text
Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image

Branching into uncharted user territory requires constant validation and constant realignment.  Rather than pushing overwhelming change or making mass assumptions, I used qualitative testing combined with rapid wireframing and interactive prototypes to organically grow our feature backlog into the user's needs incrementally. Why spend the time and engineering cost to develop features, when I could throw together a quick set of wires for the feature under debate, put it through testing, and have rough directional data within a day?

Below, I created content and SEO rich pages for Dreaming users to find in organic searches. 

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image

Since 90% of this was uncharted ground for Hilton, I relied on rapid generation and testing of high fidelity comps, both in unmoderated studies on, moderated user interviews, and A/B testing on our site.

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Text
Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image

Once users discovered our rich content, they were channeled into a new, revamped, shopping experience which I designed - which had been exhaustively AB tested.

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Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image


Thanks to rapid iteration and constant realignment to the user's needs via qualitative and quantitative testing - the Dreaming initiative exceeded revenue expectations – finishing Q1 with 2.1 million dollars in revenue. It took 88 days from production launch to hit the $1M mark, and only 19 days from that milestone to double our revenue. By the second quarter, the Dream initiative had made 7 million dollars in revenue and growing.

Dreaming's newly optimized pages hit 790K new user visits as of Q4 2019, with 2 million visits total.

Dreaming category pages hit 1st page placement on google search results for relative key words. 

Usabilla customer feedback scores boosted from 2.5 to 4.5 on pages I redesigned and optimized.

Hilton Dreaming Case Study: Image
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