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DR's Getaway

1 Nov, 2008 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

What are the trends online? One trend — and challenge — is that search and online media across the board have become a lot more expensive. Lawson's customers are reporting that clicks from of Google are becoming noticeably more expensive than even one year ago.

Another trend is the change in performance metrics. It used to be that a publisher got credit for any person that clicked through and booked a travel deal within 15 days. But today, that publisher gets credit for customers just viewing the page and booking within 30 days. Also, customers are no longer just clicking from a banner ad on a homepage, but even clicking ads on pages deeper in a Web site. And finally, the use of "cookies" is improving online targeted marketing. For instance, if you go to a car rental Web site and research a particular rental, ads for that rental (or a similar one) will come up on the next travel Web page you visit.

Perhaps one of the most noticeable trends of 2008 in online travel marketing is the integration of social communities. One company involved in this channel is Communispace, which builds and manages private online communities for businesses like IHG. The company has been around since 1999, but has taken off in recent years since social media has become incredibly visible from a marketing perspective.

"We marketers traditionally have had access to customers' conversations," says Leslie Ford, vice president, strategic alliances, Communispace. "But in the last three-to-four years, as customers are turning off a lot of places where marketers used to engage with them, it's challenged marketers on how to engage with them in new ways."

Often these private communities are challenged with keeping customers in conversation with the brand for months or years at a time. "Customers are having conversations about brands now all the time, online or offline, so you can be part of the conversation or you cannot," says Ford. "There is a lot to be gained by listening to your customers."

IHG is a major entity in the hospitality division of the travel industry — offering 600,000 hotel rooms at 4,000 properties in 100 countries around the globe. Keeping that many rooms filled nightly is a large task for the marketing department at IHG, which will send out 180 million communications to customers this year. A large percentage of those communications use calls-to-action online, with landing pages, E-mails and private communities. Social marketing has become an important tool for IHG's DR team because of its cost-efficiency and customer engagement.

"We have three, private online communities, each with 350 to 500 of our customers on there," says Cassandra Jerayam, social marketing manager, IHG. "We use it to drive messaging, build relationships, drive business decisions, and we give them a sense of ownership with IHG. It not only advocates the brand, it has increased revenue as well."

These groups are like ongoing focus groups where the marketing team can ask questions about IHG to better serve customers, and it keeps some of the priority customers engaged. Recently, the IHG team did a viral marketing campaign by giving community members a unique code so they could get triple the rewards points. It was sent to 150 U.S. members, who then passed it on to people in 30 countries, which resulted in more than 1.25 million increments in revenue.

Another recent IHG campaign asked customers to take photographs of their favorite destinations near an IHG property and post them on the community Web site. "We got them to convey a feeling or affinity toward one of the brands by the use of pictures," says Bott. "The pictures were of the caliber for traditional direct mail pieces. So we used them to show other customers what our best customers thought of our properties. So now it's been tested by one customer for another customer. It's the online world helping make the offline world more attractive, more lucrative."

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