Next-gen leader wields ’emotional technology’ in marketing

As vice president of marketing for Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Marcus Hotels & Resorts, Erin Levzow leads all marketing and public relations efforts for the company’s portfolio of 21 properties and more than 50 restaurants.

With a degree in acting and a sharp mind for digital marketing, the 35-year-old is making waves in her company and beyond. Her enthusiasm for storytelling and willingness to try new things have helped her bring exciting concepts to life, including the new Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee, the first-of-its-kind hotel with a focus on performing arts and theater. “I got into marketing by accident, but I fell in love with hospitality,” said Levzow, who is combining analytics and emotion to bring a fresh creative perspective to hospitality.

HOTELS interviewed this next-gen leader to get her take on disruption, changing career priorities and where she looks for inspiration to think differently.

HOTELS: How are you disrupting your field?

Erin Levzow: I know that I am young to hold my position and I come from a digital background, both of which make me abnormal [in this field]. Most chief marketing officers come out of a traditional background. I bring a different viewpoint. I call it emotional technology: the ability to analyze, but still take customer needs and wants into consideration when you’re making decisions. Often in marketing, you get someone who is either very analytical or who only wants to focus on the customer’s needs and wants. So how do you combine both of those? Well, that’s what we train digital marketers to do. What we really do is storytelling through performance marketing.

H: How does the industry respond to this?

EL: It creates a little upheaval. People are not always used to having marketing analytics clearly show whether something did or didn’t work. Some people are used to being able to go back to marketing to say, “I didn’t see this, so I don’t think it worked.” But we don’t have to think about it anymore! We have analytics to tell us if it worked. It takes a little bit of getting used to.

 “I hate when people say, ‘This is my 9-to-5 job.’ It’s not your 9-to-5 job because we’re always connected — we think about [our work] all day long. If it’s not fun, ambitious and exciting, you’re in the wrong place.” – Erin Levzow
“I hate when people say, ‘This is my 9-to-5 job.’ It’s not your 9-to-5 job because we’re always connected — we think about [our work] all day long. If it’s not fun, ambitious and exciting, you’re in the wrong place.” – Erin Levzow

H: How prevalent do you believe glass ceilings and the old boys’ network are in the hospitality industry? How are younger professionals creating their own networks?

EL: The old boys’ network still exists. It would be silly to say, “oh, yeah, all this stuff happened in the last few years and it’s gone.” I think all it did was hide it a little more. People may say, “oh, we have one woman on our team so we’re good now, right?” But it’s not as simple as that. That goes for all types of equality and diversity and inclusion — gender bias, racial bias and more. The important thing is to become aware of unconscious bias, to recognize it when it happens, and then be able to talk about it.

Glass ceilings still exist, too. There have been very few interviews I’ve had where someone hasn’t asked me how many kids I have or what my husband does. At what point does a man go into an interview and hear, “hey, what does your wife do?” No! They don’t care. They assume you can do to the job. My answer is always, “I appreciate your question, but I can tell you that there is nothing in my personal life that is going to get in the way of me giving 150%.” Because that’s a need-to-know basis. They wouldn’t ask a man that. That’s why I say it truly is an unconscious bias.

H: What are some of the changing needs of next-gen leaders? Do they have different priorities than the old guard?

EL: Having fun at work is important. Work should be fun and exciting and fulfilling. I hate when people say, “This is my 9-to-5 job.” It’s not your 9-to-5 job because we’re always connected — we think about [our work] all day long. If it’s not fun, ambitious and exciting, you’re in the wrong place.

H: What trends are you observing and where do you see them going?

EL: The biggest trend we’ve seen over the past couple years is boutique and experience hotels. They’re popping up all over the place. Even the big corporations like Hilton and Marriott rolled out soft brands as fast as they could to keep up with the boutique idea. We just opened up Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee and there’s no brand attached to it. We are hopeful that it’s such a strong trend that people will want to come here whether or not they’re receiving [loyalty points from a major brand]. People want unique experiences, not just a bed in a room. They want to feel fulfilled, whether they’re traveling for leisure or business.

H: What keeps you up at night?

EL: Making sure I’m making the right moves. I always tell the younger generation that I got where I am at a young age by saying yes. When people asked me if I could take something on, my answer was “yes.” I was willing to do what it took. I had a go-getter, “yes, and…” attitude.

Now, when you’re older and a little more seasoned, you can’t say yes to everything. I want to make sure I say yes to the right things and know when it’s appropriate to say “no.” As a people pleaser, that is hard for me to do.

H: What would you tell those entering the industry now?

EL: People are watching no matter where you are, so be your authentic self.

H: What are some things that you try to do every day?

EL: I try to tell people how grateful I am that they’re here and remind them of something they’ve done really well. I think that especially in marketing, we have this tendency to say, “you need to do this, we need to take on this.” People forget to celebrate all the great wins.

There’s still something beautiful about receiving a handwritten card, so I keep notecards next to my desk and I jot down when someone does something that impresses me, and I drop the note in the mail. Sometimes we don’t know what people are going through outside of work, so being able to let them know that they serve a purpose is really important. I don’t think people get that enough.

H: Where do you find inspiration outside of your industry?

EL: I look at other industries to see what they’re doing. For example, I went to the CoverGirl store in Times Square [New York City] to try their augmented reality experience where you can virtually try on makeup. I looked at it and thought, “I wonder what we could do with this?” How do we take this experience into a hotel? The ideas start to build. I think sometimes we look too much to our sister companies to see what they’re doing instead of looking outside the industry.

H: What’s a prediction you’re willing to make?

EL: We’re going to continue to see teams comprised of many different types of people, including those from outside the industry who can come in and become game changers. We’ve seen a lot of companies try and grow their own internal agency — some have done really well, some haven’t. For that to work, you have to build a very diverse and dynamic team. That doesn’t mean everyone is always going to get along, but there’s going to be a mutual respect when you’re all working toward the same goal.