Consumer culture has shifted and travel brands are on the winning end of a global economy motivated by experiences over material things. But with much opportunity comes impossibly high consumer expectations. Are travel marketers ready?
Speaking to Millennials is Speaking to the Masses
In a recent video, StackAdapt COO and co-founder Vitaly Pecherskiy states: “I think a lot of companies mistakenly think that [price] is the only thing consumers are looking at... More and more consumers are looking for brand values that align themselves with the company they choose to do business with.”
This statement should not come as a shock. As Millennials come of age in an “I’m a brand, you’re a brand” economy, a unique value set has emerged and seeped into Gen X and Gen Y alike. According to AdAge, “Millennials are proving to be cultural trailblazers for older and newer generations. Consumers today are broadly catching on to the notion that experiences make you happier and are as valuable -- or more -- than buying fancy things.” Bad news for Cartier. Great news for travel and tourism.
The Expectation Gap
But harnessing the Millennial mindset is easier said than done. In their Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook 2017, Deloitte points out that travel brands have relatively few opportunities to connect with the average customer who travels 2 or 3 times a year at most, compared to everyday brands like Amazon and Starbucks, and struggle to keep up with the expectations set by these retailers. “Those able to capitalize on these changing expectations with speed and agility are more likely to capture their share of the billions of dollars in 2017 global travel growth,” writes Deloitte.
Brand Values in Action
These expectations are often expressed as organizational “brand values”, and can make or break a company. Just ask United Airlines. But brand values go beyond pleasantries. They extend to every aspect of the consumer experience; the realities of the always-on, digital first economy; and the monetary implications of a culture permeated by social sharing. In all industries, but especially in travel, brand values without follow through lead to a decrease in revenue.
Let’s take a look at 4 modern brand values and how to integrate them into the traveler experience:
Travel and tourism is no longer as simple as clean beds and continental breakfasts. A quick scan of today’s travel content affirms this. Obvious examples include AirBnB’s Instagram account or the Generator Hostels website. These platforms are filled with photos of travelers from all walks of life marveling at new surroundings, promoting the message that “you too can experience it all.” “Brands now wield creative content and seductive images to sell a lifestyle, and therefore drive customer engagement, loyalty and sales far outside the traditional travel cycle,” states an article in the Independent.
“The travel industry is hugely benefiting from the rise of lifestyle branding,” agrees Amanda Hills, CEO of Hills Balfour, “this has now become the norm as travelers expect to forge more of an emotional connection in order to align themselves with brands that reflect their personal values and lifestyles.”
How can travel marketers put lifestyle branding into action? Deloitte urges travel companies “to conceptualize their brands as platforms for new opportunity and growth. With organic growth hard to come by in a consolidated and mature domestic market, travel brands must realize the benefits of scaling across the travel experience—rather than only trying to grow within their vertical.”
In other words, if you’re going to promote a lifestyle, you have to put your money where your mouth is and expand into products and services that actualize on the lifestyle you market. Airbnb has already initiated this through their Experiences program where travelers connect with local experts across a variety of local activities.
Though not everyone has the resources of Airbnb, growth comes in many forms: corporate partnerships, influencer relationships, events, exclusive promotions etc. It all comes down to providing concrete opportunities for customers to experience the lifestyle your travel brand represents.
The concept of “authenticity” permeates the travel industry. “For the 21st century traveler, authenticity has become the goal and measure of travel,” writes one journalist. Many travelers want to shed the label of “tourist” by engaging with local culture, history, and flavor.
This expectation of authenticity begins well prior to the local market. Travelers are wary of traditional advertising and expect a wealth of customer reviews to help inform their decisions. According to HuffPost, “Over 95% of leisure travelers read at least seven reviews before booking their holiday.”
How can travel marketers put authenticity into action? Leverage social sharing and peer reviews to your benefit. “Marketers have the opportunity to tap into authentic customer experiences and use them to evolve the way their brand interacts with travelers,” writes one expert. Many travel brands already mix User Generated Content (UGC) into marketing material and landing pages using online platforms like Stackla and CrowdRiff.
Moving beyond UGC, travel brands are partnering with influencers as a part of their social proof strategies. To an older generation, this may seem antithetical, but consumers trust their favorite influencers as much as any colleague or friend. Lifestyle and parenting influencer Anna Whitehouse notes, “On a recent trip to Martinhal resort, a boomerang video of my daughter beaming as she’s chucked in the air by my husband in the swimming pool made them more bookings than a lengthier blog post ‘selling’ the facilities.” The power of third-party recommendation is unmatched in the travel and tourism industry. Use it or lose it.
Travelers crave personalized and unique experiences. A quick Google of “personalized travel” yields over 97 million results filled with companies boasting one of a kind trips with customized itineraries. In 2016 Google launched Google Trips, pulling data from Google Maps and crowdsourced traveler tips to help people better plan customized vacations.
While personalized trips abound, personalization in travel marketing has been a consistent challenge. Issues include infrequent travel, cross-device browsing, a fragmented customer journey, and the fact that “consumers are different travelers on different trips”. While travel brands know that personalization is necessary, it has been notoriously hard to pull off. Deloitte asserts that “so far, much is left to be desired in terms of the travel industry’s effort on the personalization front. In fact, most consumers probably do not feel that travel brands offer much personalization, at least not in the way that Amazon provides recommendations based on personal tastes.”
Traditionally, personalization has been attempted through segmented content, but according to Content Marketing Institute this simply doesn’t go far enough, “Providing a differentiated experience through content can give businesses (both large and small) an edge in a local market; but even that may not be enough if the benefits don’t translate to scalable growth against the Goliaths of this industry.”
How can travel marketers put personalization into action? Programmatic advertising, including social, video, display, and in-feed native, have the power to harness data that would otherwise be fragmented across the internet. The data is there. Success lays in how you use it.
For example, 43% of US travelers are considered “bleisure”, a mix of business travel with extended leisure time. Brands can now dynamically target and retarget these travelers based on both sets of interests and ensure timeliness by leveraging their recent browsing behaviour across hundreds of sites. Using this kind of intent-based data you can dynamically tailor ads to customer interests within a tight timeframe.
We’ve written in depth about dynamic retargeting here.
Regardless of industry, today’s most well known brands have one thing in common: on-demand functionality. Amazon, Uber, Google...They all serve up results at the click of a button. In fact, 56% of consumers are willing to share their data in exchange for faster and more convenient service.
Travel is not exempt from the “right here, right now” mentality. Airlines, hotels, and restaurants all use first party or third party apps for bookings, pre-departure, cabin entertainment, last-minute reservations, and more. But on-demand is not solely for when things are going smoothly.
“Travel brands bridge a physical gap with their customers unlike most other types of businesses,” explains Deloitte, “Hotels are temporary homes for their guests. Airlines fly passengers around the skies.” This means that proactive risk management is an integral part of on-demand support. As CMI points out “While it’s likely your business is prepared to respond on social media when a travel crisis emerges, you might score more consumer loyalty points if you have easily accessible information on hand to help them avoid potential travel traps in the first place.” Travelers, more than any other type of customer, demand a frictionless experience with your brand. Give it to them.
How can travel marketers put on-demand into action? On-demand travel marketing goes back to appropriate use of data. A differentiated travel marketing experience takes data scattered around the internet and pulls it into a single programmatic platform. The data must be carefully sifted for patterns that show intent within a reasonable timeframe, creative and headline choice must be tailored to this data, and the appropriate advertising channels chosen.
Thanks to machine learning and natural language processing, these tasks or becoming less and less daunting by the day. Technology can now do all of the gathering and sifting of data, intent based targeting, and employ dynamic creative based on specific browsing behaviour. While on-demand marketing still has a long way to go, it is certainly inching towards its potential. Programmatic technology is becoming more user friendly and great strides are being made in transparency and fraud detection.
By utilizing modern technology, travel brands will soon catch up to the everyday retailer when it comes to actioning on brand values expected by the consumer. As Deloitte states, “Over the next 12 months, travel companies should leverage an increased awareness of customer expectations, re-imagined technology strategy, and differentiated offerings to provide unmatched travel experiences. Loyalty will follow.”