Why Carnival’s CMO Sees Blurry Lines Between Marketing and Experience

By ​Jonathan Duch

November 1, 2017


Kathy Tan Mayor, Chief Marketing Officer at Carnival Cruise Line, has had a distinguished career that’s followed a path from Procter & Gamble, to Harvard Business School, to Las Vegas-based Caesar’s and Sands.

In her current role leading Carnival’s marketing efforts, she builds on everything she has learned in order to navigate the unique challenges of business in an experientially-based leisure industry.

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kathy and learning more about her unique insights and perspective. She shared how “experience” and “marketing”, for a company like Carnival, are basically the same thing. In her expert opinion, to separate the two would be brand self-destruction.

Keep reading for more highlights of what Kathy had to say in that interview.

Exceeding Your Customers’ Expectations

When we think of Carnival, most of us think of vacation—from a customer’s perspective. But what perspective does the company itself take on customer experience and how does that shape how we view the brand?

If you hear CEO Ronald Donald talk, it’s always about exceeding guest expectations, rather than simply meeting them. Any of us who have customers of our own want to do the same thing, but how do we get there? Kathy explained three fundamental methods that are mainstays of Carnival’s approach:

1) Understand the psychographic that matches your brand


For Carnival’s part, they call these “the people with a spirited mindset.” These are people who are comfortable in their own skin, who are able to share the Carnival brand values around optimism, participatory fun, authenticity, and inclusiveness.

When you’re very clear about who you are as a brand, what you offer in customer experience, and who your target customer is, there will always be a match in your ability to exceed those customer expectations.

2) Keep going back to brand

Carnival team members attempt to exceed guest expectations every day. Their brand promise is around “fun,” and their crew themselves seek to embody that spirit. When you go on a Carnival ship, you become part of the Carnival family.

This is staying close to your brand, something that Kathy learned before her arrival. In Las Vegas, her company’s property president really believed in building the brand on their partners. In retail, they had partnerships with big names like Emeril Lagasse.

She’s brought the same philosophy to Carnival, by initiating more partnerships that can help them build their brand. These ambassadors contribute to guest experience in two ways: not only do you get a great food experience, but a well-chosen partner, such as Guy Fieri on food, also personally evokes those key brand values (i.e. authenticity and participatory fun) that resonate with the guest.

3) Let digital help you

Carnival offers an app that is designed to both enhance the individual experience and facilitate connections with others--two aspects of the guest experience which the company understands as equally essential. The app makes it easy to understand and access the many offerings available to every guest so that you can tailor them to your unique preferences. But it also looks beyond individual needs to enable connections with others: when you’re on board a Carnival ship, you may be enjoying time by yourself, with the party you came with, with other guests on the ship, or with the crew members. The hub app allows you to easily chat with those in your party or meet others outside the group you came with, providing a wide range of options and social opportunities for each guest.

What’s the Role of Marketing in All of This?

The Carnival marketing team has a great partnership with their operations team.

“At the end of the day,” Kathy said, “we know it’s about making a brand promise and delivering on that. Everything marketing is experience, and everything experience is marketing.”


Think about trying to market something that is inherently experiential. Some of you won’t have to imagine.

You can’t do it without actually bringing experiential into marketing. On the experiential side, when you think about trying to market an experience, you can’t just give out a product sample like a packet of dishwashing liquid to try out--you have to bring the experience to life.

This is one area in which digital plays a big role. Kathy and her team work to bring the experience as close to real as possible with things like VR and AR on top of traditional photos and videos. But the greatest advocates for the Carnival’s cruises are also the people on their ships, whether that’s guests or their crew, who love the experience and really want to share it.

If you ask Facebook the top three things shared, it’s kids, weddings, and travel. So Carnival’s category is inherently share-worthy.

Therefore, as Kathy said, “everything that is experiential on the ship is also marketing.”

How Leisure Customers Have Changed

Everybody wants to make sure they’re getting a great vacation, because when you think about it, what’s more scarce than your time and money?

In today’s age, the expectation is for you to make the most of that time and money. Kathy and her team empathize with that expectation.

That’s always been the case. What’s changed is that they’re not just doing digital marketing: they’re marketing in a digital world.

They now have to answer the question: How do you bring digital into your marketing experiences in a way that matches what your customers expect in a digital world?


The Future

In the interview, Kathy was asked what excites her about the future of marketing.

For her, it’s the possibilities that digital is bringing to marketers. She wants to inspire brand love and choreograph the customer contact. Everybody has a unique sense of what fun is for them: what digital now allows marketers to do is go to a level of one-to-one, personalization marketing at scale based on a deep understanding of who you are and how your offerings will provide the highest delight to customers.

In other words, say goodbye to blanketed, generic marketing. That ship has sailed.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Kathy Tan Mayor from Carnival. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Marketing Executive.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

Jonathan Duch is the Product Communication Czar for Monetate, where he oversees and directs cross-departmental product launches. Jonathan is a 10-year veteran of marketing technology software, and has pursued a career that has taken him from the US, to Europe, to Southeast Asia, and back again. He currently lives in the Washington, DC area with his wonderful wife, and can often be found running the local trails, or sailing in the Potomac River.

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