Marketing Goes Mobile1 Nov, 2011 By: Jackie Jones Response
In an economy where almost every other vertical is taking a hit, the travel industry dials into DR to keep world-savvy consumers engaged as the busy holiday season approaches.
As the days of travel agents and agencies quickly fade, DR is a no-brainer for industry marketers now interacting with consumers in a direct and engaging manner. Couple that with modern-day digital and mobile advances, and the travel industry is poised to soar despite all other economic pitfalls.
The travel industry grew almost 150 percent from the first to second quarter of this year, according to Millennial Media reports, and the latest American Express Spending & Savings Tracker shows that 42 percent of American jetsetters plan to increase their holiday travel expenses when compared to last year. However, budget still trumps all for consumers when deciding where to go and whom to work with, increasing advertisers’ need for specific targeting, accountability and creativity to stand out in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive market. That’s where the facets of direct response shine.
“There is a sense of immediacy for consumers traveling nowadays. Combine that with the rapid growth of smartphones and digital technology, and the tourism industry should be taking it seriously and using direct response and technology to make travel functional,” says Beth Vendice, president of Mercury Media’s performance division. “Travel is a great category to be in right now — people staying put dropped by 5 percent in 2011; more people are flying and more people are spending. Online, social media and especially mobile are key to continued success.”
The Times, They are a-Changin’
The past five years have drastically changed travel marketing forever, according to industry experts. Whereas in the past, when travel agents and call centers were crucial to the tourism vertical and websites were a mere afterthought — if that — the travel sector is now very much online and consumers are arguably the ones in control, says Nishma Robb, business development director of I Spy Marketing, a digital marketing agency based in the U.K.
“Travelers decide how and when they want to buy their travel, who they take advice from and how they share their experiences,” Robb says. “Digital marketing is the connection between the supplier and the customer, and needs to work for both parties.”
Direct response digital marketing and search campaigns are easier to track than traditional campaigns, and social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become a viable alternative for travel companies, Robb says, citing figures that show six out of 10 travelers changed their minds about a purchase based on information found on Facebook, Twitter or TripAdvisor, making social marketing a medium impossible to ignore.
“Brands need a presence in the social media space, and need to be active in the search opportunities surrounding it,” Robb advises. “All major social channels — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — offer marketing opportunities. Facebook analytics will be as established in five years’ time as Web analytics are now.”
Most consumers would be hard-pressed to find a travel brand that doesn’t have a presence in social media at this point. While all of the travel industry could benefit from social-media marketing, certain companies like cruise lines or various airlines stand out in their use of DR and digital technology, Vendice says.
Norwegian Cruise Line recently launched a new brand platform that not only centers on television advertising, but also incorporates social media, digital and interactive onboard elements with the goal of uniting the brand with its customers in a personable, long-term way, according to the company.
“Our goal with this new platform is to elevate our profile and put Norwegian Cruise Line front and center by expressing what it means to vacation with us and inviting people to join the community of Norwegians,” said Maria Miller, the cruise line’s senior vice president of marketing. “We are confident that this integrated campaign — from TV to social media and digital — will engage our community in fun and memorable ways.”
While an overall integrated campaign utilizing a variety of platforms remains important, many industry insiders agree that one medium in particular is beginning to shine through as a major frontrunner in changing the game: mobile. In fact, more travel searches will be made from mobile devices than from desktops by 2014, according to Google.
“What sort of mobile devices will be around in two years’ time, never mind 10?” Robb points out. “The popularity of the Kindle and iPad took most of us by surprise, and the touch-driven interfaces are changing yet again how travelers interact with the digital world. Digital marketing has established its role within the travel industry in a short space of time. Over the next five years, its presence and importance will increase, with mobile as the next frontier.”
Smartphones Fueling the Future
Recent research stresses just how much mobile is the future of travel marketing, Vendice says. More than half of business customers now use mobile technology to search and book hotels, according to data from Travelport, and 80 percent of consumers would like that taken a step further, expressing an interest in mobile applications that would offer suggested restaurants, bars and other social sites near their hotels or vacation destinations.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Vendice says. “The growth of smartphones is really fueling the future of the industry. Mobile is extremely effective for this category, and it’s critical to not only adopt a strong mobile strategy for practicality purposes at the initial point of purchase, such as booking flight tickets or a cruise line, but also to implement a mobile strategy that continues to enhance your consumers’ experience while out on the go.”
Mobile’s increasing influence on travelers in particular hasn’t gone unnoticed, with everyone from big-name brands to smaller travel companies taking advantage of the new technology to connect with consumers and improve customer relations.
New Jersey Transit is one such travel company that has tapped into the power of mobile, partnering with Google as one of the latest Google Wallet users, allowing consumers to “tap and pay” while traveling at New York Penn Station, Newark Airport Station and on select bus routes (Response This Week, Oct. 26, 2011). The technology also allows New Jersey Transit to implement reward programs, discounts or coupons if it wishes to, as well as target consumers with relevant advertising while in waiting areas or on trains.
“We are putting the latest technology to work for our customers and improving the overall customer experience,” says James Weinstein, New Jersey Transit executive director. “By partnering with Google, we are leading the industry with emerging technologies that will streamline the way customers buy their transportation tickets.”
The overwhelming benefit of mobile for the travel vertical lies in its ability to target customers in real-time, enabling brand-consumer interaction at multiple touch points beyond the first purchase or decision to visit a new location. Lamar Advertising Co. recently launched the RoadNinja, an interstate travel app for the iPhone, which utilizes mobile technology and static billboards to help consumers find what’s available at upcoming highway exits. It’s a win-win for not only Lamar Advertising and the consumers, but also a slew of brands that stand to benefit along the way.
“This app is a must-have for road trips,” says Sean Reilly, CEO of Lamar Advertising. “RoadNinja allows consumers to see what’s available at any exit — even if it’s 3,000 miles ahead — as they travel on the interstate. They now have the ability to plan ahead and find their preferred gasoline brand, their favorite restaurant chain and their no-fee ATM all at the same exit.”
The RoadNinja app also incorporates social media functionality, inviting users to add reviews, ratings and photos to business listings online.
“Online, social marketing and review sites are having a huge impact on the travel industry. People are constantly tapping into others’ reviews. They no longer just book a trip or visit a hotspot without getting feedback before,” Vendice says. “It’s real-time, unfiltered feedback and it has a huge impact on consumers’ buying decisions.”
Other marketers are using mobile to increase functionality for travelers, such as FlightView, which recently launched version 2.0 of its Android travel app. Users can get up-to-the-minute flight information, track their flights on a map, and search and save flights 180 days in advance of departure, according to the company.
“Our customers are always looking for ways to simplify their travel experiences and have never been shy about suggesting how we can help them reach that goal,” says Mike Benjamin, CEO of FlightView. “The new features of FlightView 2.0 are in direct response to customer feedback and make the app even smarter, more intuitive and visually appealing.”
DR Does It Best
Mobile and online provide marketers with the interaction, accountability and opportunities for ROI that direct response advertisers do best, many in the industry note. Such strategies help marketers target a specific audience, increasing both the quantity and quality of response. Vantage Travel, a travel company specializing in developing, creating and managing deluxe tours, uses E-commerce and interactive marketing to hone in on their specific demographic: mature, affluent consumers ages 55 and older.
“Direct response for us is all about relevance and value. Because we only target a specific subset of consumers, we can use DR in our advertising to tailor the travel experiences to what our customers are looking for,” says Scott Weiller, senior vice president of marketing at Vantage, which offers international journeys for consumers ages 55 and older. “We do a lot of surveying and analytics to know what marketing material to put in front of our customers that are relevant to them, and therefore gets us a higher response. Following a direct-to-consumer model — we don’t go through travel agents — also allows us to bring a better value to the marketplace, since we can plow much of that money we save into targeted advertising or put it toward one of our newer cruise ships.”
Weiller adds, “It’s all about customer engagement and increasing our relevancy to provide our consumers with the type of offers they’re most likely to respond to.”
Emerging digital technology has proven crucial to Vantage Travel’s success, according to Ron Gerace, vice president of E-commerce and interactive marketing, who says more of their customers are Web savvy than expected. The interaction afforded to the brand’s customer base online provides an emotional connection that leads to increased sales, he says.
“One of our largest investments in the marketing side is upgrading our website, and social media has become surprisingly important to the travel industry as well,” Gerace says. “It’s amazing how the emotional connection that social media fosters is taken advantage of by our customer base. Many will start their own conversation thread or comment on others’ questions, so the more we can foster that interaction, the better.”
Vantage Travel uses E-mail, search engine marketing and optimization, and banner ads to target consumers traveling overseas, with mobile and social media becoming an increasingly important part of the equation.
“Eighteen percent of our customers have a smartphone, and that’s growing,” Gerace says. “We view that as an important source for consumers to use to check in on departure and airline information and check in on information pertinent to their trip. It’s easy to see how each channel grows and leads to the Web. The overall travel industry is seeing the importance of the Web and how that drives a lot of consumer interest.”
Advertisers can find even further success in their mobile strategies and beyond when tapping into the core facets of DR, Vendice says.
“There are many people in the travel vertical that are using some of the best aspects of DR — great creative and a strong call to action — but they’re missing out on all the elements as a whole,” she says. “They’re missing out on buying the DR rates, or they’re not using unique 800-numbers or URLs, or not using TV in an analytical capacity best suited to get them optimal ROI — which DR is perfect for.”
Honing in on mobile and the need to connect with consumers in a real-time capacity, paired with all the right elements of DR, sets travel marketers up for success, Vendice advises.
“Travel marketers are perfect for DR,” she notes. “They already have the whole DR mindset because everything they do is online, search and social, it’s all tracked and direct response-driven. They get it, everything they do is direct, and as long as consumers are headed toward mobility, so should the entire industry.”
Lamar Advertising Co.’s RoadNinja app appeals to consumers using mobile to find additional restaurants, bars and other social hot spots along their existing travel routes.
One of Vantage Travel’s largest marketing investments is in its plans to upgrade its website and increase its social media presence, according to Vantage’s Ron Gerace.