Using a design system made light work of building three sites simultaneously. A conversation with vice president of digital marketing (emeritus) Mamie Peers.
Hey, I’m Mamie Peers, the Vice President of Digital Marketing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. My role there is to lead our digital presence and to sell all of our rooms and products online and also to moderate social media and online advertising and content marketing. So all the things that come with digital advertising.
13 months (September 2017 – October 2018)
Thanks for joining me on this conversation. We’ve been working together for almost a year now, doing all sorts of things with SuperFriendly and The Cosmopolitan. I’d love to recount that whole tale with you if you don’t mind. How did you decide that you even needed somebody to help you with all the things that we helped with? What was the initial problem that you were trying to solve?
For years, we’ve wanted to have an online experience for our most loyal customers, Identity members of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. Almost all of our competitors already have a website and a mobile app that shows customers their points earned, their offers, their ability to get a room, stay with us, or all sorts of concerts and insider benefits… all of that.
We had to re-architect everything on the back-end and we knew we needed to do that in order to present something really great for our guests and customers, so that’s why we went with SuperFriendly, why we reached out to you to say, “Hey, we’re a little behind here, but instead we want to lead and bounce forward and maybe even in front of some competitors who offer the best experience we can for our customers.”
One of the things that I find through all the projects we do is that the project very rarely starts when our client hires us, right? There’s a bunch of stuff that you probably had to do way in advance before you even thought about reaching out to a company that help with that. What are some of the things that you needed to do on your end to even get to the point where you go, “Okay now we can reach out to someone to hire to help us with this?”
There was a lot in this case. With this particular project, we were building six core technologies all at once, all in the same year. What had to happen before that is, first of all, gaining support from our CEO and our new owners that doing this was even possible given all the architecture behind-the-scenes and absolutely nothing was in the cloud yet, that we had zero API-based systems, that we had an offers engine that was home grown. It did great for us to serve customers on the phone but it certainly wasn’t something the internet could talk to or the public internet anyway.
We had to make sure that people believe this was even possible and possible within the timeframe we were proposing. So, that came with researching a number of tech platforms and compiling a bunch of quotes and going to our CEO and talking with him about it and building a nice team who said, “Well yeah, let’s just make some decisions and go.”
So that was part of it, the other part before talking was SuperFriendly was of course researching a number of web developers that help us in figuring out who would be the best and that’s when we would chat to you and you also participated in our RFP with a number of really outstanding companies and then it became a choice of, how about SuperFriendly?
What led to that, I’m curious? You talked to a number of really great companies. What was the thing that you saw in our proposal or our pitch that really put it over the top?
First of all, you live up to your name. You’re super friendly and everyone on the team is that way so that was great to see. Just your style of working, we could tell, was friendly but then more important than that obviously was the quality of people that you bring to the table. I saw it happen on our project, you brought the best kind of people to come together to make this happen. You knew that our project was a little bit fluid, you were going to have to work with us as we developed all these other technologies behind-the-scenes to come out with a product that really impressed our customers at the end of the day.
So, what I loved was you brought in people like you, of course. You’re an exceptional designer and you lead massive projects like this for companies but then Josh [Clark] who is an expert in designing for touch and that was important to us to have a really strong mobile presence and to make it really easy for our customers to book on their mobile phones and then you also introduced us to Brad [Frost] and Ian [Frost] who created a design system which was a new concept for us but one that we thought, “Hey, that’s not necessarily the problem we were trying to solve with this project but it had solved so many things for us because the minute we have data and information in the cloud, well then we can do a lot of different things with and for our customers so the design system could actually enable that further.”
And then also Jamie [Kosoy], who’s developed great apps in his work on a wide range of brands and products could work with many different kinds of technologies and what we needed here was flexibility, great attitudes and a premiere product at the end of the project so, yeah, that’s why we chose SuperFriendly, through all of that.
Yeah, awesome. It was a stellar team and I just enjoyed every second of it working with the team. What about on your end? What did the team look like on your end? What are the different components at The Cosmopolitan that you had to get wrangled into doing this work?
So we have, first of all, IT. This project had a huge data component. All the transactions that happened with Identity members, all of the hotel bookings that happened, and then the offers. We needed to bring all this technology into the cloud in a way that all of our partners could read. We also had CRM, who needed a new offers engine to power a robust personalized approach to serving the casino and hospitality customers. So that’s, each one of those teams, all the teams I’m about to mention have one leader involved and that created a stakeholders group.
So, IT, CRM. Revenue Management prices all of our rooms and deal with rates and they make sure that the booking engine shows all of those rates properly to each particular segment of customers. Then there was Marketing, of course. Me and my team, I have one person, PJ [Perez] who runs dot com, who runs the content marketing program and really is, cares most about creative and usability, but he was at the table and then we also had five main companies for the work that we were doing exclusively with SuperFriendly.
So then we had five other companies, five in total working with you to build the site. So those were the main players: five companies and six individual teams.
That’s a lot! A lot of people, a lot of teams, doing a lot of different things at the same time. Were you worried at all about how that would come together, or did you feel like, “Eh, we got this in the bag?”
[laughing] I probably should have been more worried about it but I’m so confident in The Cosmopolitan’s ability to work hard and work through anything. We’ve always said we’re a big start-up.
We have three thousand rooms, five thousand employees, twenty-some restaurants, three pools… we have so much going on but really it’s a very lean team behind-the-scenes trying to get the technology to work but also at the same time running operations. So I still have a social team to run, the current dot com to run, revenue to get in the door, and so did all the other teams. IT needed to institute some new policies and they were bringing on a new wireless network at the same. So there’s a ton going on and really the same people doing all of those things.
So I probably should have been more worried about it and maybe more cautious in how I lead all of the teams forward. I have some thoughts about that but, yeah.
Alright, well we’ll get to that.
Anyway it worked out. I mean it worked out in the end.
This project was so unique for the SuperFriendly team in lots of different ways. One in particular that I want to focus on is, you mentioned all the people that were involved but notable is who was not involved. So a lot of the projects that we do is working with internal teams of designers and developers who are making web and websites and apps. You don’t have an internal team of designers and developers. You’ve got PJ, who kind of plays a web designer/web developer as well as he can, but his core responsibility there is not designing and developing. It’s keeping the website up to date, among other things. How did you think about that in not having an internal team that’s sort of like relying on outside vendors to be able to do that work?
Yeah, it’s a different set up than many of our competitors and also in my previous experience. What I like about it is you bring in these strong resources from SuperFriendly specifically, bring in the world’s best experts in atomic design, the best experts in designing for touch, experts who develop the best apps in the world. We can bring them in. We couldn’t afford to have you on staff all the time—that would be ridiculous… there’s no way we can afford that. But, to bring you into initially launch what we think is the best product of its kind for our industry is phenomenal; it’s the best possible outcome.
So we can bring you in, you get us set up with the slickest tech and new apps and best design experience possible and then we just maintain it. It’s a very efficient way for us to work and it brings an infusion of creativity into our environment that we don’t have otherwise so it was a great luxury for us to work this way.
That’s awesome. We feel the same. It was certainly a luxury for us to be able to work in that capacity too because it meant that we got to put our hands on a lot of stuff. So let’s fast forward to months later with the new site is up and the new reward site is up. How did it go from your perspective?
It could not have gone better. You know, we had hiccups with our back-end and the tech leading into the dot com work, but it could have not gone better from a guest perspective. They absolutely love the site. They love what they see. They feel like this is what they’ve been waiting for in the hospitality and casino industry is a site that gives them full transparency in a way that’s super easy and beautiful to look at and that just makes sense to them. It’s the data that they were looking for in a way that they were looking for it. Typically in hospitality, customers feel like they aren’t getting premium online experiences and they’re right because they haven’t.
As our VP of Slot Operations & Marketing Kevin Sweet said, “We went from the worst to first.”
Going from worst to first and that is an achievement. The customers love it. At the same time we also brought online our co-stars into the scene. We launched web chat and we launched Rose at the same. So you added in and you were able to help us with that to easily get these things online but to say, “Let’s also integrate humans into the online experience.” And that also made a difference to our customers who love personal service in a very human approach to their experience at The Cosmopolitan.
One of my favorite parts of this project was that both the SuperFriendly and The Cosmopolitan team were really focused on what’s gonna make a good experience for guests. I remember talking so much to guests, to players, to people who work at The Cosmopolitan, to co-stars. We were constantly in touch with all of the people that needed to touch thing and I know that your team was too.
Do you think that was part of what led to making it so great?
Oh absolutely. That would be one of my biggest compliments to SuperFriendly is your ability to bring the rich and firm understanding of our customers for us and for the project and all of the vendors who were involved in the project. So, sitting in on the interviews with Josh Clark with our customers, he was kind enough to let me sit in on it. If you’re interviewing a customer and you want to hear directly from them, sometimes having a client sit right there can, I don’t know how Josh would feel about that but I wanted to hear his questions and I wanted to hear what customers were saying so I can really understand that point of view with these questions. His questions were so good and easy and made sense, and the way he interacted with customers just revealed a lot more about them and their preferences than we knew.
We would ask SuperFriendly, “Hey, what do you think the customers really want in this space, like which is a priority for them?” And then it was just a no-brainer because Josh would help clarify that and we kept going.
I remember that in one of the phone calls that we had. Josh is so good at understanding customer needs and I remember there was one phone call, I think with Kevin and with Catie [Briggs]. Josh had designed this thing and both of them were like, “You seem to know too much about the way that we work, too much about our rewards program… maybe we dial it back a little bit.” So, he’s so good at understanding the level of nuance there that, it was, well maybe we need to make this a little more general so that people can understand it.
Yes, it’s true. We were amazed because even we forget, like, “Oh my gosh, how do we earn points, like, when do the points expire? I don’t get expiration.” It’s so complicated when you do it but it’s also the best way you can expire points for customers. It gives them the longest use of their points versus just expiring when every other company just says, “Oh it’s December, it’s January… clear out everybody’s points,” We do it on a rolling basis. It’s hard for us to understand we even get confused and then Josh knew it like the back of his hand. It really helps because we’re trying to run the business and work with not just you but five other companies to build a bunch of other stuff. It’s hard to retain all of the details in our brain, and SuperFriendly is so good at listening, documenting, reiterating, going back to the vision that we’re trying to achieve that it kept us all really stable and clear.
You mentioned earlier that it wasn’t without its hiccups. If you don’t mind, I want to spend a couple of minutes on that too. From your perspective, what were some things that maybe didn’t go so well? What are some things that you wished maybe we had done differently or done a different process or something like that? Is there anything that comes to mind there?
Yeah, I look at some things I would have done differently as a client and a client of all these companies. I can’t look at this project just in terms of the work that SuperFriendly did because like I said, there are really eight other companies involved if I talk about the full scope of project. What was difficult for us was knowing when other areas of the project might be off track and creating an environment initially when it would have been okay for people to let me know that as a client. We were very aggressive about our goals and getting done in a very short period of time. One of the hiccups was that some other components of the project were behind because they are very difficult and some of the technology maybe did or didn’t use some of the things that we thought in a way that we thought that we did it and so that caused some delays for the front-end that caused us to maybe not be quite so efficient as SuperFriendly.
The good thing was that created space for SuperFriendly to come in and say, “Well let’s achieve other goals for the company like create a new dot com.” Not just Identity Online, but a new design system. So those things were done while we were working on other components, but I think if I were to have a slight do-over and my point as client, I would have just said, “Everyone look, this is a lot. It’s hard and don’t worry about being the one that holds it up. I’d rather you let me know if you’re stuck. Let me know if you are being asked to do a thing that you can’t do or something you think is beyond reach. We can just talk about it, find a way to get unstuck from that and move along so the other components of the project can be more smooth sailing.” So then I could have handed it off to you maybe to finish the API and we can work on other stuff.
Those are great points. I have a similar recollection too. It’s a similar feeling as I think about the project. I’m like; “All right, what would I do differently had we done it again?” It was a big project and there were lots of different moving parts. My team is really good at being scrappy—for better or worse—and I think sometimes the scrappiness is like, “Well, we’ll kind of plug in over here and plug in over there and even though this was the plan, we can do this other thing.” I think that caused a little bit of confusion as to what we’re actually supposed to do. We are doing a bunch of things, but what’s the thing that we’re actually on the hook for that we should do?
I remember you and I had a couple of phone calls where you were like, “I’m just not clear about what you’re doing.” And I’m like; “Yeah, I didn’t do a good job of clarifying where our scope was, because we were jumping into all these different things.”
I think had I done it over again, that’s the thing that I would wanna be a lot more clear about, is to say, “Here’s the thing that you can count on us for, although we are happy to jump into these other areas.” And I think it took us a while to kind of get into the rhythm of saying, “Okay, this is what we’re supposed to do and this is what you can look for from us.” And then also hear some things that some of the other partners are working on that we needed from them that were dependencies or they needed from us. I think more clarity around that might have helped everybody to kind of move along at the same pace.
Right, exactly. What was nice is that we could be really open and almost immediately say, “I think you’re doing this or you’re actually do that or is that a later thing or?”. We had good communication, which is critical when there are so many moving parts. I felt very comfortable going to you and saying, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing and this is how it should be. Or, should it be this other way and you were very easy to work with in that way. It was nice to have an open conversation.
Well, the feeling is mutual, which is why I think it was a success overall. One of the things I wanna go back to that you touched on earlier is that, as part of this output we were responsible for was to help make this new website for the new rewards program for Identity. But part of what we did to it in order to make that is actually make a design system that helped power those things.
I know that was something that initially as you were kind of looking for partners to help you out with that, that wasn’t part of the initial brief. That was something that we said, “We think this is gonna be a good tool for you to have.” Maybe you could talk a little bit about what a design system ultimately meant for The Cosmopolitan and why, I remember you being really excited about that. What was so exciting about having a tool like that from your perspective?
We don’t have a team of designers in house. I don’t have any web developers in-house, neither does IT, so I think [Chief Information Officer] Philip [Irby] and I both looked at it like, “Oh my gosh, wait. We could have styles in the design system for digital interfaces ready to go and we bring up this API, it’s like a master beautiful API of all of our data, now the world is our oyster here, we could do whatever we want and do it much more quickly than ever before.”
So he can hire a developer and I can work with a developer that’s working more in back-end data systems and transactions, and, with a design system, they can just be really empowered to lay on a style on top of that we don’t have to incur extra cost in a front-end designer. We can give all of that code to some developers to move very quickly on a project. It’s turned out to be one of the most valuable things. Not just for the dot com, but, in order to get to launching Identity, we actually had to use the design system on the co-star interface, the employee interface were developing at the same time.
We had developed one site to interface with the dot com and the first version didn’t work out for our employees, so we had to move very quickly in a few months redo all of that. The design system makes it so that now I’m actually building a system, like this isn’t so hard. We can trust that it’s going to be user-friendly and our employees are gonna love it and they do.
We created and launched a whole new system within six weeks and the employees loved it. It was easy.
That’s awesome. You know I didn’t even know that you used the design system for the co-stars interface, I didn’t realize that until just now, that’s cool. I know that as we were kinda working on it…
Are you serious? Yeah, it’s in use right now with a whole other system.
That’s crazy, that’s awesome. That’s great to hear. Part of the way that we work is that we use a design system, even if it’s not the deliverable for the client, we’ll still make one anyway because at least a pattern library can help us to build interfaces better, Through the course of working together, we had iterated on the interfaces and the content and all that stuff a bunch of times and having a design system helped us to do that quickly. Even while the design system wasn’t “finished,” we would use it with some of the other vendors and to say, “Hey, we gotta make a wifi landing page.” Or “We gotta make this other interface over here.” Having this kit of parts to be able to spread around to all the other vendors was really useful. It meant that they didn’t have to worry about that part because we already have that in the can. I’m glad to hear that it’s spreading around the organization too where other people are making use of it because that’s the point. It’s a way to scale design without having to reinvent the wheel every single time or invent new interfaces from scratch every time that you’re doing a project, so it’s great to hear.
We’ve always been such sticklers about our brand but it’s been hard to articulate how that brand should show up visually in visual interfaces. Even though our brand color is purple, that should never be the prominent color. How do you convey that to a developer? It could end up being ten different versions, but now with the design system, it’s so clear. And to a developer…, they love it. Probably the most aligned IT and I have ever been is when we looked at each other and were like, “Oh, the design system. Yes, we have to do this.” And it’s a perfect fit.
So good. As we wrap it up here, the last question I have for you is: for somebody that’s in your position at another organization, so somebody that’s running marketing, somebody that’s overseeing the digital presence in the way that the organization presents itself to the world, what advice can you give to them in terms of how they should look for a partner or what types of things they should be concerned about? What advice would you share with them?
When we’re working on a massive project like this where you’re trying to go from worst to first, or even if you’re trying to create a product that customers really love, you want to work with a team that has more talent than you. I always look for people who have more talent than me so, it’s a luxury to have people who have worked on so many different brands and have a disciplined approach to design and visual development and transformation.
Somebody that’s in your position that needs to hire a team like SuperFriendly, what should they be looking out for?
I think, if someone is gonna hire a team like SuperFriendly, I would hope that they are ready to soak in a lot of goodness and by that I mean, how to work. Like, I learned how to work better, so we might, my team hadn’t quite dialed in how to use color effectively but by watching SuperFriendly, you guys, you using it, we were able to work with you very quickly and luckily you’re open to allowing us to have that kind of discipline and interaction with you as somebody like who wants a lot of visibility and wants to look at every inch of a project, that’s great, ’cause you’re very transparent.
For me, I hope other clients look at you and say, “Let me just have a lot of fun with this and let me use this opportunity to learn from a lot of really great people.” And to not just learn about web design and development but also learn about how to work. So, you created this beautiful working site for us, and the site and all the documentation is so easy to follow and when you’re working with so many different vendors, sometimes it’s just hard to follow where the notes go, where the documentation was, and so you made it very easy for us, so I would just embrace how SuperFriendly works and consider that as part of the project too, it’s a lot of fun.
And then the other thing is, we had a pretty clear point-of-view of the outcome, like what we wanted to offer our customers, but how we did it and the details of that was just amplified times twenty with your involvement, so I like that you have a strong point of view as to what product offering was in getting people to book offers online but, I also like the fact that I was open to, our whole team was open to learning, maybe a slightly nuanced approach to that, with the feedback that we get from our customers, we are able to understand how to guide them through a beautiful experience. But I think being open to all of that goodness would be my advice to anyone looking work with you.
That’s about the perfect way to wrap this up. I can’t think of anything better. Mamie, thank you for your time and thank you for talking about all this stuff and let’s do some more work together in the future.
I’d love that.
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