Struggling Travel Marketers Get Social23 Nov, 2009 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response
As leisure and business travelers slowly return to the road, airline and hotel marketers and their partners look to new DR technologies for a boost.
Harnessing the Digital Space
Digital media, due to its ability to target consumers so directly and its inexpensiveness, is growing as a way for travel marketers to reach the vast amount of consumers using the digital space. The
Luxe Worldwide Hotel brand — tagline “Chic. Unique. Great Locations” — uses E-mail almost exclusively as its direct response vehicle.
Although the brand may add some print direct mail in the long-term, right now the most marketing dollars go to E-mail campaigns, which are directed to consumers, travel agents, meeting planners and corporate travel planners. “We firmly believe that DR is a vital ingredient in the marketing of travel and prefer to invest our marketing dollars there versus mainstream advertising,” says Jane Coloccia, owner of JC Communications LLC and representative for Luxe Worldwide Hotels.
“Online and digital marketing is incredibly important, as the amount of consumers and travel agents booking their travel/hotel stays online has increased dramatically,” she adds. “Any hotel company must maintain a huge online presence and continue to market online and digitally.”
In keeping with the trend, HMC is now dipping into online social media, mostly through its Facebook and Twitter accounts for some of its larger programs. There are also places for reviews and ratings on its Web site, especially for those in the VOILÀ membership. “VOILÀ has a bigger opportunity to get more buzz in a community in place using an online social network because the target market is the same as other corporate travelers and vacationers looking for points,” says Gorla. “But for our paid membership people, it’s different — we have ‘community light.’ It’s not a big part of our focus as there isn’t much of a demand yet.”
But one company that is fully embracing the digital medium is Brickfish, which offers a patented platform that helps brands enter the online social media space. Started four years ago, Brickfish was created when Co-owner, CEO and President Nichole Goodyear saw a growing difficulty for brand to reach consumers through traditional channels. At the same time, there was a rise in consumer-generated content. So keeping in mind the challenge “to build a platform that worked in the social media space and connect with brands in a peer-to-peer fashion,” Goodyear launched Brickfish. For brands and marketers, Brickfish today is a space where brands can measure user-generated content.
Goodyear says that peer recommendation is some of the strongest marketing a brand can ask for; in fact, 90 percent of the public trusts what is shared with them by another consumer or friend — on or offline. Basically, Brickfish can partner with a travel company and can help the brand ask the right questions and lead the topics of discussion in the online social media space. “Topics related to the brand and what they share with friends on Facebook, microblogs, E-mails, etc. — we can track all of that,” says Goodyear.
Though Brickfish works with clients across different verticals, it has hosted many campaigns for tourism, such as for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, or Ski Salt Lake. In total, Brickfish hosts 350 programs in the online social media space — some in which the company just hosts the back-end platform, others in which it helps the client to create the campaign concept.
“In terms of measurement, we work with SMAC.org and IAB, the government bodies on social media metrics and measurements,” says Goodyear. “We measure in terms of engagement, such as people creating something around the brand, writing a review, specifying a social action.”
She adds, “We measure time spent with the brand — on average 14 minutes. The brand is trying to reach a core group of evangelists to influence other consumers. You get those influencers and brand ambassadors into the program so they can share with their peers.” Word of mouth, whether online or off, is a strong marketing component that Brickfish is capitalizing on. According to Randall Travel Marketing, 75 percent of travelers trust reviews more than ads, and 75 percent of hotel guests are more motivated by photos than price. At the same time, an average consumer has 150 friends on Facebook, not including other blogs and online networks. “The secret sauce, why we’ve won so many awards,” says Goodyear, “is because we have created a patented program called Viral Map. We can track everywhere your content has been shared on the Map. We know where those people are located and when anyone in the world engages in your content. We know how it is influencing them. Then we share that information with the brand.”
Online social media seems to be the direction many companies are going in because it is where consumers are spending time. These platforms are also an alternative marketing channel when consumers are fast-forwarding through commercials on television and banner ad rates on Web sites are slipping fast. Not to mention, travel is one of the most powerful word-of-mouth marketing verticals.
Suggestions on what sights to visit, what restaurants to eat in, and where to stay are often made when someone announces a planned destination. Not to mention, 50 percent of all online purchasing is based on consumer reviews. For example, a recent Brickfish campaign for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau asked consumers to post some of their favorite things to do in the city and featured photos of downtown scenes with the words “wish you were here,” printed over them. In another campaign, for Ski Salt Lake, the online platform let people post skiing tricks and wipeouts — basically initiating the conversation.
“People might think of San Diego in one way, but we can change the call to action,” says Goodyear. “‘What are the great places you would recommend to eat?’ versus ‘Tell me what are all the activities you like to do?’”
Goodyear adds that an online social media campaign can be a key component to a multi-channel direct response marketing campaign. “We think about these platforms as integrated with other marketing pieces,” she says. “So, in mail pieces, you can drive consumers to the Web program online. We are driving a 360-degree integrated experience — instead of just mailing a direct response piece, consumers can see what others have said and are doing on travel.”
Goodyear sees direct response as a powerful aspect to getting consumers into the purchasing funnel, but adding in the online social media network can help clients understand what consumers like and dislike — using it as research — to better a product.
The travel industry’s job is to sell a dream, a vacation or a location that is exciting to consumers. With this responsibility comes the difficulty — whether for hotels, airline seats, rental cars, etc. — of selling a perishable item. “When the hotel room goes unoccupied for the night, you cannot get that sale back. If you don’t sell an iPod or iPhone today, you can sell it tomorrow,” says Coloccia.
Also key to selling travel is selling value, whether it’s the Luxe Worldwide Hotels brand working with member hotels to offer packages with value-added rates for consumers, or an airline offering loyalty programs with frequent flyer miles.
One brand that recently launched a loyalty program is Club Med, an all-inclusive resort chain — 80 worldwide — with an array of activities, facilities, open bars, full dining and day-care staff for children of all ages. The newly launched Great Members Loyalty Program is for returning guests to experience new benefits and privileges such as complimentary room upgrades and personal transfers.
As with other travel destinations, word of mouth carries huge weight for Club Med. And although the brand uses direct response marketing through print, mail and online, there has definitely been a shift of more advertising dollars to the Internet. “More and more, people are not only booking online, but also blogging and talking about travel,” says Katie Riguzzi, customer relations manager, Club Med North America. “It is actually a really good way for us to learn about and better understand our clientele. Any company that ignores this move to more online/digital marketing will struggle.”
Also this year, in an effort to reach out to consumers, Club Med launched the Insider, an interactive Web site that allows clients to share stories, photos and experiences.
Whether it is for returning or new guests, one of the most important aspects to marketing Club Med, as with other travel brands, is the experience.
“Club Med is an experience as opposed to just a product,” says Riguzzi. “When marketing an experience we have to focus on the product, facilities and amenities, as well as the value you will get with the purchase. We also take into consideration that the valuable time you spend on the vacation will be just as enjoyable.”