DR Marketing Takes Flight1 Nov, 2010 By: Jackie Jones Response
For travel marketers utilizing direct response, the adventure comes from opportunities in the digital sector.
Newfangled Marketing for Old-School Travel
While La Dolce Vita Style has utilized direct response to help consumers with where to go, Rail Europe has implemented similar strategy to aid travelers in how to get there. Rail Europe represents more than 35 railroads and provides train travel in most European countries, selling direct to consumers and to travel agents with the goal of making transportation in Europe more simple and accessible to American travelers.
Traveling by train is the best way to get around Europe, but it can be intimidating to newer American travelers unfamiliar with the mode of transportation, according to Lothaire Ruellan, director of online marketing. To combat this, Rail Europe has journeyed into social media applications to communicate more effectively with its U.S. consumers.
“Ten million North Americans travel every year, but only 30 percent use rail in Europe. There’s a huge group of potential customers there for us by addressing those 7 million whom we could target,” Ruellan says. “A lot of people are not aware that rail is a possibility, and there is also a misconception about it being slow or inefficient. Because of that, we have to do more than promote Rail Europe as a company alone — we have to raise awareness of train travel itself.”
Rail Europe researched its target audience and learned 60 percent of its customers had Facebook accounts and 30 percent were active Facebook users. The company determined many of its consumers were on social networks before Rail Europe’s traditional site itself, so the company decided to target the No. 1 social-networking site to better engage their users, Ruellan says.
The idea behind Rail Europe’s foray into Facebook apps was to give the company’s social site utility and purpose, according to Michael Weisfeld, director of social media for online marketing agency BusinessOnLine, creators of the Travel Comparator app that lives on Rail Europe’s Facebook page. Online consumers can enter their starting and ending destinations into the app, and the Travel Comparator calculates travel time via automobile, plane and train.
“(Rail Europe does) a really good job of manning the (Facebook) wall and the discussion boards, but this really gave it some dynamic functionality and increased its value,” Weisfeld says. “We’ve been working with Rail Europe for a number of years to improve its Web site, and now we’ve been able to extend what the brand is doing in terms of engagement on the social front.”
The Travel Comparator has had nearly 7,000 users since its launch in May, according to Ruellan.
“It’s a good start,” he says. “The challenge with us in social media is measurement. Facebook doesn’t provide analysis as much as we would want, and we can’t implement traditional tracking. However, we were still able to establish that post-click conversions — people who went to the app and then clicked through to our traditional site — was 1.5 percent, which is pretty good.”
Ruellan adds that one goal of the company’s latest DR campaign is to build a consistent customer base and encourage interaction. “It’s really an awareness campaign, a campaign for lead generation, but we were really pleased to see there was post-click conversion,” he says.
In addition to its Facebook page, Rail Europe has been working on building a multi-channel presence online with a consistent presence on YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and a blog. “The challenge is to reinforce the synergy of different platforms,” Ruellan says. “We want our content to become better, and we want to weave it into the different social media sites. Before, the Web site was the main place for consumers to get information — now we want to get that content to wherever users are, whether that is on Facebook, through this new app or on YouTube. For us, we’re trying to encourage cross-platform synergy.”
Rail Europe’s next marketing move in the DR world is to go mobile. The company is currently working on a rail-centered itinerary mobile app for consumers.
“The whole concept for us is to customize the user experience — let users plan an itinerary, build it, access it and manage it anywhere on their mobile device either before they depart the U.S. or while in Europe,” Ruellan says.
A Social Boutique
For Tablet Hotels, founded in 2000 and focused mainly on the planning stages of traveling, direct response has been crucial in building a customer base and in giving those customers the ability to interact with one another on the site.
TabletHotels.com, which features 1,800 boutique hotels, uses verified guest reviews only, and has an entire section devoted to user-generated guides that rate each destination. Users who book through the site automatically become part of the “Global Nomad” forum, where those passionate for travel can share their trips with the rest of the online community, according to O’Reilly, who oversees interactive marketing at Tablet Hotels. The site’s feature has created a sense of community for customers and increased traffic to the Web page considerably.
“We see people using it all the time,” she says. “Right now, this feature is still in its infancy, but it’s amazing to watch our users connect. Each week, more and more people are sharing information with one another; more have user profiles — it’s all happening pretty quickly.”
In addition to its own online community, Tablet Hotels has a steady Facebook following, with about 20,000 fans. The company uses the social-networking site to offer specials, promote new features of their main Web site, invite their followers to upcoming events and occasionally post discount codes exclusive to the Facebook community.
“It’s a great way to get feedback on what they think of our site and our hotels, and an amazing forum to start new conversations among people with similar travel tastes and interests,” O’Reilly says.
O’Reilly adds that Twitter has also been helpful for the company’s customer service.
“In the rare case that something goes wrong or someone has questions, we can respond much more quickly than going through E-mail,” she says. “It’s been great to help out clients as quickly as possible, and resolve small problems before they become major issues.”
Mobile and GPS Set to Explode
The future of direct response in the travel industry lies in mobile platforms and location-based technology, according to many marketers.
TabletHotels.com is hoping to replicate the “Global Nomads” community already in place on its traditional site in the mobile community, O’Reilly says.
“People are used to having everything in the palm of their hand now; mobile will allow us to have a much more instant interaction,” she says. “It creates a fast-moving dialogue, especially compared to waiting for an E-mail response or playing phone tag. There’s immediate back-and-forth. It’s a real conversation, it’s exciting and it’s better for both sides.”
For the marketers, travel isn’t just about going new places — it’s about going where the technology goes.
“We’re always listening to our user. The goal is to be forward-thinking in developing features that will enrich their experience and make their lives easier,” O’Reilly says.
Other industry experts say that combined with mobile, the recent popularity of “checking-in” via sites like Facebook and FourSquare will come into play in the future.
“The ability to check-in and the ability to let people know where you are is affecting how travel works,” says Weisfeld of Business OnLine. “For example, Rail Europe could engage with folks who are checking-in at train stations. Or with those who are still in a planning mode, they have the opportunity to listen and engage.”
Weisfeld says travel marketers can use digital media like Twitter to intercept potential customers who are warm leads and engage them with offers that may be of interest to them. He cites the Wynn Las Vegas resort, which watches to see if people check-in to their property through mobile or online platforms and then seeks them out with rewards since they’ve done Wynn a service by broadcasting that they’re there.
“There’s a little bit of a listening opportunity that social media would have travel-wide,” Weisfeld says. “The opportunities between location awareness and intercepting people who are in the planning mode are good social media opportunities for travel in particular.” Social media could also provide another outlet of customer support, according to Weisfeld, who says marketers like Rail Europe could take advantage of the wide-reaching scope of the digital platform to crowd source and troubleshoot.
Ruellan of Rail Europe, and many other travel marketers, agree that digital will continue to play a big role in their future marketing, especially when it comes to direct response and customer engagement.
“We want to support travelers at every step of the cycle, from the early planning stages to the actual traveling,” Ruellan says. “The goal is to always be accessible to customers.”