Get to the Fun Faster

Episode #031: Lilian Tomovich, Chief Experience and Marketing Officer at MGM Resorts International

Episode Information

Every marketer at some point in their career becomes tasked with the responsibility of repositioning a corporate brand or conducting some type of brand refresh. No matter what you call it, the concept is grounded in creating a different perception for your brand that you wants consumers to embrace. Depending on your company, it can often be easier said than done because it goes so much beyond just developing a new look for your visual brand. It’s literally about every single aspect of your brand and for many companies this means your employees and their behavior are a major way your consumers interact with your brand. Yet, so many marketers don’t seem to put enough of an emphasis on how to incorporate your new brand with the operations of the business. That’s why what MGM Resorts did with their “welcome to the show” brand reposition is such a breath of fresh air from both a messaging standpoint, but more importantly from how they integrated it into every aspect of their business. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to the Chief Experience and Marketing Officer at MGM Resorts International, Lilian Tomovich, about how she helped transform the brand positioning and purpose for MGM Resorts, why you have to balance digital with human interaction, and how she thinks about balancing work and life.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Consider partnering with your HR colleagues on any brand initiative to make sure your brand is incorporated into your company culture. This will drive incredible results and ensure your brand permeates throughout the organization.
  2. Make sure you don’t forget about incorporating the human element in your customer experience. Digital is great, but some customers will want to talk to an actual person.
  3. Don’t judge others by how they manage their work and life. Everyone should do what makes the most sense for them.

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Stephanie Cox (VP of Marketing and Sales at Lumavate): I'm Stephanie Cox in this is Mobile Matters. Today, I'm joined by Lilian Tomovich. Lillian is a Chief Experience and Marketing Officer at MGM Resorts International. She's responsible for all the company's marketing functions including brand management, advertising, loyalty marketing, advanced analytics, guest strategy, consumer insights and research, partnerships, event marketing, martech, social and digital media, public relations and more. Prior to MGM she held marketing roles at MasterCard, Loyalty One, Citibank and more. In this episode Lilian and I talked a lot about how she helped transform the brand positioning and purpose for MGM Resorts and how it's turning phenomenal results. Why you have to balance digital with human interaction and what she believes makes a truly great leader. And make sure you stick around to the end where I’ll give my recap on top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently but implement it effectively. Welcome to the show Lilian.

One of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show was because you've got a really impressive background. Can you tell me how you got started out as being the Head of Marketing and Customer Experience at MGM?

Lilian Tomovich (Head of Marketing and Customer Experience at MGM Resorts): Sure. So, I've always been super passionate about marketing. And when I went to grad school, that is what ended up being my discipline and graduating with an MBA with a focus on marketing. And then I started, this was the early 90s, and it was the era of, if you wanted to be a traditional brand marketer, you joined Kraft or Procter and Gamble. And then if you wanted to go explore this new thing called database marketing and CRM, you would go work for American Express or Citibank or one of the banks who were doing a lot of work in direct marketing. And so, I decided I would go and venture out into this growing area of direct marketing, because I figured I could always go back to packaged goods. So, I started my career at Citibank and that's where I really learned the skill of direct marketing and database marketing and CRM and all that kind of fun stuff. And then I left and went to work actually in the mobile phone industry. And I loved, loved mobile phone. It was the mid 90s and in Canada, I'm Canadian, it was really a duopoly between two companies. And so, I learned a lot about technology and the speed at which it operates and really learned a lot about competition. Because when you're in a duopoly, you're fighting for every single customer and share of the market, it gets pretty interesting quickly. And then from there, I had an opportunity to join a company that's now called LoyaltyOne, which is one of the largest loyalty programs, certainly it is the largest loyalty program in Canada and about 80 percent of Canadian households are members. And in that program, it's a really interesting program because it's a coalition program, where multiple retailers. Whether it's gas, grocery, drug, they can all be part of this program. So, it makes it really relevant for consumers. They can shop at multiple retailers and earn points and so, I spent about seven years there, really building out loyalty programs. Some of the biggest brands in the world. So from there, I had a call to join MasterCard, to help a division for them called Customer Marketing, which was really about working specifically with the banks to help drive their profitability and competitiveness through MasterCard products and services. So, I had a really fantastic career there as well. Ultimately, I became the head of marketing in Canada and then was asked to come take over all Consumer Marketing for MasterCard in the US and move to New York, which I ultimately did. And then from there, I was working in New York, loving what I was doing. And like so many of us, had a call from a recruiter and said something about a 10 billion dollar, at the time, hotel. And no, actually he said hospitality and entertainment company and I thought well, that's interesting I wonder why he's calling me? I'm sort of a financial services loyalty girl, but to make a very long story short, I ended up flying down to Las Vegas to meet Bill Hornbuckle, the president of MGM and ended up falling in love with the business and the opportunity. I've been here now almost five years. So, that's a very short version of my career to get to MGM Resorts. 

Stephanie Cox: Well and you've done a lot of great things in your time at MGM so far. One of my favorites is your "Welcome to the Show" campaign, so the commercial that you guys launched, I think it was early 2018. My favorite part is you're talking about what MGM Resorts is and you say, we're in the holy sh*t business! And that really gave me goosebumps because it was such a clear representation of your brand. So can you talk to me a little bit about that campaign and what went into it? Because I've read a lot of stuff about how it's more than just a marketing campaign, it's really about creating this as a brand for the company and getting employees trained on that. So, I'd love to know more about it!

Lilian Tomovich: So, one of the things when I joined was really to help define a brand positioning and a purpose for MGM Resorts because we are a company that has grown out of acquisition. And so, we had very strong independent brands like the Bellagio or Aria or Mandalay Bay, etc. But we didn't build a parent brand and connect all these properties. And so, we started doing some digging and we said, what's our what's our brand purpose? Why does MGM Resorts exist? And we really realized that we exist to entertain the human race. That's really how we look at ourselves, because the world comes to Las Vegas and they come to Las Vegas to be entertained. And so, it was very clear to us that that was our role in consumers' lives. And so, we wanted to send a message out, connecting all of our amazing assets, entertainment, food and beverage, restaurant, casino. We wanted to message that–here's who we are, here's everything we have to offer, and we're here to entertain the human race. And we had this tagline of “Welcome to the Show”. But before we launched that, I wanted to make sure that we didn't just launch this sexy, cool purpose-driven brand campaign. That I want to make sure that all 83,000 employees really understood their role in delivering this brand promise. And so, we set about building the brand and aligning the brand with the culture. And so, my Chief Human Resources Officer actually became my closest ally in this journey. And we literally redid every aspect of our business to align with the brand, everything from recruiting to how we trained people, how we communicated them through “Show TV”. And most importantly trained, we literally went ballroom to ballroom and we trained all of our employees on our brand purpose, the role that they play, what our expectations are, what we expect leaders, how we expect leaders to draw in their own employees when it comes to this notion of show. So, it really was an eight month journey of aligning brand with culture and only then did we launch a campaign to the world. And so, it was a was a fantastic time. And we're really proud of that work. 

Stephanie Cox: So looking back at it, what do you think so far has been the biggest success out of it?

Lilian Tomovich:  So, I think number one is, we track our net promoter score or in customer satisfaction and things like that. And I can say, given a bunch of things that we've done with that program around guest service standards and guest recovery. So, if a guest does have a problem, how we recover that problem and how we trained our employees on guest service standards. It, in fact, has decreased the percentage of customers who say they've encountered a problem and the percentage of customers who say their problem was resolved during the trip. So, we're seeing some very nice movement in our key customer satisfaction questions. But, most importantly, with employee engagement, when you talk to any of our employees, they're very clear on show service standards. We use the acronym SHOW as our guest service standard acronym to train our employees with: S stands for a smile and to greet the guest, H stands for hear their story, O is own the experience and W, of course, is wow the guest. And so, when we survey our thousands and thousands of employees, ninety four percent of them respond saying that it's very clear to them what the guest service standards are and what the expectation is, in terms of meeting guest expectations and wowing the guest. And so that's just such an enormous number to to hit, 94 percent. So we're just really proud of A) the results from a guest perspective but B) equally important the results we're seeing with our guest engagement scores. 

Stephanie Cox: Yeah that's a fantastic employee engagement score! I love that you partnered with HR on it and thought about it more than just a brand campaign, but really changing your company culture as well. Was there anything that was a challenge or a surprise to you that you didn't expect? 

Lilian Tomovich:  To be honest, I think having been doing this for as many years as I have, I think I was so taken with the amount of support and momentum that we were able to get internally against this campaign. I think the timing was perfect in terms of building one company culture and I think the company was hungry for a new positioning and new purpose for MGM Resorts. And so, as I said, it was very surprising to see how much support I got across the company and it got to the point where people would send me videos from the IT group or the accounting group and they would say, “Look how we're delivering show within our group!” And for a new employee that joined the company, they would basically wow them by setting up their office with their favorite chocolates or they knew they liked donuts, they would put donuts in the office or what have you. But they figured out ways to deliver show to their own employees and they would just be so proud of all of this. And they would share all these videos with me, in which we ultimately put on our internal TVs and share. But it's just amazing to see as I said, that groundswell of support for our brand and culture. 

Stephanie Cox: Well you mentioned donuts and I've heard that you're a big donut fan. 

Lilian Tomovich:  I know, notice how donuts came up top of mind for me?! 

Stephanie Cox: So...favorite donut, while we're on the subject?

Lilian Tomovich:  Oh my gosh, well I have to give a shout out to Tim Hortons, because I am Canadian and I grew up on Tim Horton donuts. And still to this day, the minute I land at the Toronto airport, there is a Tim Hortons there. And the first thing I do is go over there and I get a sour cream glazed doughnut and I know that sounds potentially icky, but it's like this dense, pound cake doughnut and I absolutely love it. I cannot get enough of it. It's so good.

Stephanie Cox: Well it's funny that you mention that. So I have a really weird tradition when I travel for work. We're based out of Indianapolis and we don't have a Shake Shack. So, it’s the first place I go when I land–and we did it in Atlanta this week. We landed in Atlanta, and it was like 7:30 at night with our luggage, and we went straight to Shake Shack. 

Lilian Tomovich:  Oh, I know I love Shake Shack. Thankfully now, we have a few in Vegas but I was the same. I'd head to New York and I would go to Grand Central or I'd go to their original one.

Stephanie Cox: So, thinking about your overall mobile experience for guests, how do you define what mobile should be for a brand like MGM and what that should look like? 

Lilian Tomovich:  Yeah, I think it's most important when you're very, very clear on what you're trying to do with any product or any sort of communication strategy. And so, for us mobile really, if I had to sum the headline, it's about getting to the fun faster. So, it is about getting to your room faster with mobile key and mobile check in. It's about getting to your restaurant reservations faster, so that you can get to your fun faster. It's about checking your loyalty reward points fast, so you can get to the fun faster. So, it really is about trying to simplify the guests lives while they're here primarily on property or when they're actually thinking about coming to Las Vegas, so that they can get to the fun faster. 

Stephanie Cox: I feel like that needs to be a campaign for something for someone. Get to the fun faster because that's a delightful mobile experience for literally any use case in any business, I feel like.

Lilian Tomovich:  I totally agree. 

Stephanie Cox: So, one of the things I've read about MGM is that you guys have done a ton of improvements in your native mobile app. And I think one of the stories was saying before the app store, your app store rating was below two stars and now you're at, I think was over four and a half already. I'd love to just know when you come in and you know that you're challenged with a native mobile app and that's a big undertaking as you think about getting to the fun faster and all the things that you just talked about, where do you start and how did you make that journey from probably not so great app experience to what now, your guests are saying is a phenomenal app experience? 

Lilian Tomovich:  Yes it's a great question, so I will tell you that we started from scratch. We completely started from scratch. We hired two new firms to help us and we started from ground zero. And we started with, what is the use case for this app? Why would people who don't have a reason to use this app every single day want to use this app? That was the biggest question we had to answer because let's face it. With the Starbucks app, of course, we know exactly why people want to use it and they use it every single day. And it's so important to them, so of course they're going to download it. When we look at even other traditional hotel companies, if you are a frequent business traveler, of course, you're going to download your favorite hotel app. Because you know you're going to be using it at least a few times a month. So, for us, we realized the main reason people are going to download this app; It's either number one to search for hotels and things to do in Vegas because they're thinking about coming to Vegas or they're going to download it because they are in Vegas. And so we realized once they're in Vegas, they want to download this app to check in. Because that's one of the greatest customer pain points we have right now, is the check in process. Five thousand rooms and on a Friday morning, guess what? You've got three or four thousand people trying to check in. So, no matter how many people we have working front desk–20, 25–there will still be a lineup. And so we wanted to make the app really easy to allow people to do mobile check in. And for our properties where we had the ability to do mobile key and use your phone as your key, we wanted to make that an option. And so, we worked really hard on delivering on mobile key and mobile check in. And then second, we worked really hard on what I would call, a discovery. Allowing people to discover our properties, where they should eat, what show they should go to, what spa they can attend. Are the pools open, who's got the best pool? And so, I would say, those are the two main factors that really helped us improve the guest experience and I would actually add a third. Which is, allowing people who are part of our loyalty program, the M Life rewards program, to very quickly access the app, their points balance, etc.

Stephanie Cox: So, thinking about technology, we just talked about and the overall guest experience. How do you think about finding the balance between using technology to improve the guest experience but then also still having that human element?

Lilian Tomovich:  Well, that's really important and I'm a big believer and I preach this a lot. Which is, we still are in the hospitality business and people still care about engaging with humans. And so, we cannot swing the pendulum too far and forget that there are some people who actually do want to check in and talk to somebody at the front desk. And so, I want to make sure that we provide options to people. So, if you want to check on your mobile phone and never speak to somebody at the front desk, that's terrific. Do that. If you're the kind of person like me, who actually likes to speak to somebody at the front desk, then we have to make sure that that's available. So in my mind, it's really about providing options and not limiting guests in their choice and really only providing digital as the only solution. Because I can tell your organization, they've all been on websites and used certain service providers and retailers who do not provide the opportunity for you to actually speak live to somebody. And it really is only through text or chat that you can contact someone. I can tell you that's incredibly frustrating for a lot of people, and so we never want to be in that position where we don't provide ample options. 

Stephanie Cox: I think that's a really great point because that's one of the things I've seen other brands start to do, is they almost lean too heavy into digital and forget about the actual human element and connection. Because at the end of the day, you're not selling to robots you're selling to people and sometimes people need to talk to people. 

Lilian Tomovich:  Exactly. Exactly.

Stephanie Cox: Thinking about the future and what that looks like overall, as you're a marketer, but you're also a consumer. What is the one thing that you wish all marketers and brands would start doing tomorrow?

Lilian Tomovich:  We touched on this a little briefly just a few minutes ago, but I really wish that brands would do a better job of being more relevant to me in their messaging. And I know we all talk about that as marketers, it's personalization, it's relevancy. But the reality is, it's damn hard. So I can't point my finger at any brand right now that I think is exceptional at that. So, I think we all strive for greater relevancy and personalization. I still get communications from brands that make no sense, not sure why they're sending it to me. So, I think that's important. But the second piece is really around giving me options. Don't force me to chat, don't force me to email you if I have a question about a product or service. Please give me an option to speak to a human. And I really do believe that we as an industry and as brands have over-rotated on technology. And I think you're going to see a bit of a renaissance, where we're going to have some retailers really understand the value proposition it can provide is to deliver a hyper personalized one to one experience. Which means I'm going to call you and you're going to answer the phone. And I'm just going to fall out of my chair when that happens. And I could tell you there's a couple, well one retailer I hope, still in Canada does that. A big luxury goods retailer and I call and somebody answers the phone and it's the most delightful experience to have. To be able to not get stuck in IVR hell, pressing five four three two one to finally say “agent”. And so, that's something I wish that we could all remember the human element and touch. And as much we're pushing digital transformation in our organization, to just think about the power of human interaction. 

Stephanie Cox: That's a really good point. I have a love/hate relationship with IVR. I'm the first person that as soon as I get on, I'm like dialing 0 0 0 0 0. Agent, Agent!

Lilian Tomovich:  Exactly, which most people are. It's sad that we don't recognize that as an industry and as marketers and sometimes push against that. And, of course, there's a good reason for it. But I think you just have to find that right balance.

Stephanie Cox:I completely agree. So one of the things I know about you is that you are a mom, as well. So, you have a really high profile career. How do you balance being a working mom and your career and family and making sure you have time for both? 

Lilian Tomovich: So, I know I just answered this question recently speaking in another engagement. I always say that I wish I had an elegant answer. But, the reality is that there is no elegant answer. And I always say, the sooner you realize that life is going to be very chaotic, the better. There is no sort of balance between work life and personal life. The sooner you realize, it's the kind of a state of chaos all the time, the easier it becomes. And so, I realize my life is pretty chaotic from morning to night. There is a sense of discipline in terms of how the day will go. But I try very hard, for example, for me, my peace and sanity is that I never disconnect. I mean, people talk of a disconnect on vacation. I'm not sure how that's possible. I haven't done that last 15 years, so I never disconnect. But what I try and do, for example, is on the weekends Saturdays and Sundays if I'm walking around and somebody emails me, I'll email them. But I don't actually sit and do “work work”, usually until Sunday nights. So I keep myself sane by trying to carve out the weekends for myself and family. And then I try and find those moments with my daughter, who is now 15, that are very meaningful and make a difference in her life and I'll change my schedule upside down, if she needs me or I need to be at her school or I have to get to her volleyball match. And so, looking at those precious moments, I work with that and otherwise, I really just try and blend work and personal as much as I can. But everybody finds their own their own rhythm and it's never perfect but you end up finding your own rhythm that works for you and allows you to sleep at night with a conscious that you're the best you can for all facets of your life. 

Stephanie Cox: I think that's actually really great advice. So my sister just recently had a baby a couple months ago and it's her first. I was talking to her the other day and she said, “I am absolutely exhausted”, because she just went back to work. “When do I feel like I'm not exhausted?” I was like, “ don't know, my kids are 13. Ask me in a couple of years maybe?” I don't know if it goes away because it hasn't so far. 

Lilian Tomovich: No, it doesn't!

Stephanie Cox: And it's crazy and it's chaotic. And I think for me, as a working mom, the one thing that I've realized is, to your point, you can't do it. You can't do it all. There isn't a balance. And for me, the biggest struggle was learning to let go. Like learning to realize like, there are some things like, the house is not going to be as clean as I would like it to be and that's OK. 

Lilian Tomovich: Exactly. Exactly. I think it's just when you put these unrealistic expectations–I know some people are really good at having a fixed schedule, they get up super early, they work out in the morning, they carve out an hour to middle of day for personal work time. I haven't found that to work for me and so I just figure a rhythm for myself and it can be every week could be different. But it's really just about figuring how to merge the two together as best as you can do for yourself and not judging. Being kind to yourself and not judging yourself too harshly. 

Stephanie Cox: And that I think the most important point is that it's about what's best for you, because your point about not being able to disconnect. I'm the same way. The only way I can disconnect is if you put me on a cruise ship in the ocean where the internet doesn't work.

Lilian Tomovich: Exactly. 

Stephanie Cox: My husband will do that sometimes, but I think the thing about is this I am less stressed and actually more engaged on vacation when I do have access to email and I can check in. Otherwise, I worry about it. 

Lilian Tomovich: I’m the same way! I'm so glad you said that, I just talked to somebody about that recently and they said, “Why don't you disconnect?” I said, because it gives me more anxiety not to be. First of all, I'm in the position, where I can't do that. But number two is, I'd be more anxious coming home to hundreds and thousands, frankly, of emails and feeling two weeks behind. And so, I'd rather spend a couple of hours a day staying on top of it. And that just makes me feel better. 

 Stephanie Cox: Exactly. And that may not be right for everyone else, but that's OK. 

 Lilian Tomovich: That's right.

 Stephanie Cox: So thinking about your job currently,  like when you wake up in the morning, the best part of my job or I am so excited that I get to do, fill in the blanks? 

 Lilian Tomovich: I get to work in the business I do. I pinch myself. I'm fortunate enough that my office is actually in the Bellagio. And every day, I wake up and I'm just so excited to be in the business that I'm in and try and move the needle forward every day. Because, who doesn't want to work in the entertainment business, and the food and beverage business, in the hotel business and the spa business and the casino business? I mean we joke every day is Saturday at work and it's just when I when I need to feel energized, I walk 20 feet out of my office and I'm in the middle of the casino floor of Bellagio. To me, that's all I need to have energy for the rest of the day. It's just such an exciting business. And I just love every aspect of it and I feel fortunate that I get to do this every day. 

 Stephanie Cox: So, one of the other components of your job is also being a leader. So tell me, if you had to give someone some leadership advice, what would you say that they need to think about or how do you think about being a really strong leader?

Lilian Tomovich: You know there's a lot of things but for me I keep it very simple which is you know I have a big signed poster or a big poster in my office that says “do better”. So for me, it's about every day trying to do better than you did the day before. So, I think that's really important, the next day we just try to do better. But number two is: people matter. And I learned that lesson very early on from my father and from one of my early mentors in my career, that building relationships with your team and actually caring about them as human beings, more so than the output that they can deliver for you is critically important. And the more you care about your team and genuinely care about them as human beings, it's a full payback because they then will follow you into the fire. They will work harder for you. They will support you during those difficult times. And so, I invest a lot of time really trying to understand my team, personally, professionally. Their backgrounds, their children, their mothers, their fathers. And that for me personally has has paid off very much so. And so, the ability to have people skills, the ability to build relationships is undervalued in this day and age. And frankly, sometimes I come across leaders who don't have that and I scratch my head. And I wonder how do they get to the position that they have without those skills? Because I think it's so critically important and sometimes lacking in this day and age.

Stephanie Cox: I could seriously talk to Lilian for hours about the work she's been doing at MGM Resorts. How she's balancing her career with motherhood and so much more. What I found so refreshing about our conversation was how authentic she was? It's clear that she's extremely comfortable in her own skin, and I personally love talking to people like that. She's a type of leader that people would walk through fire for and I think that's a type of leader we all should strive to be. Now, let's get to my favorite part of the show where we’ll take the education and apply it to your business.

There's so many great insights to my conversation with Lilian that can really help transform how you think about marketing. Let's dive into my top three takeaways. First, we think about establishing a new brand positioning and launching brand campaign we often think about the marketing-related elements of it and we don't always think about how it impacts every operation of the business. One of the aspects of the story she told about Welcome to the Show was how it came to life when she partnered with her Chief HR Officer to make it part of the company culture from recruiting to training current employees. Think back to your latest brand initiative. How many times did you actually partnered with your HR colleagues to implement it? Or even get there buy in? It is something that we all need to be doing if we want to create a culture that's aligned with our brand and make it permeate within our organization. The results that MGM Resort is seeing in their net promoter score and with Employee Engagement are proof that it can have a tremendous impact. 

Next, technology is great and none of us can really imagine having a life without it now. But we also have to make sure that we're not swinging the pendulum too far on that digital direction and that were not removing the human element from our customer experience. We have to remember that while some people would prefer for us to use technology to chat with them online or text with them, there others that still want to talk to an actual person. We have to accomodate for both groups. If we want to provide a customer experience that really meets all of our customer needs. Plus, can we also all promise to make sure our IVRs become better and easier to get to an agent. If I'm calling you then I likely want to talk to someone. Make it easy and fast for me to get to them. 

Finally work-life balance has been a hot topic for many years now and everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject from finding a balance to work-life integration to the importance of disconnecting and so on. But why do we keep assuming that what works for one person has to work for someone else? Why do we keep judging how others manage their work and their life if it doesn't look like how we think it should.

Is staying connected on vacation and checking emails an hour a day works best for me then why isn't that okay? We all need to realize that life is chaotic and we’re all different people. We should do what's best for us and not feel the need to judge others because their choices look different than ours. Now, here's my marketing challenge for the week. If you haven't watched the Welcome to the Show commercial for MGM Resorts. Then you need to take 3 minutes and do it  now. It's probably one of the best examples of brand positioning for a company that I've seen done in a long time and there's something that we can all learn from it.

I’m Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then be sure to visit and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders’ best practices and all things mobile.

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