Recently, I had the opportunity to attend several events specifically focused on travel marketing and merchandising. I thought it might be interesting to surface some of the key themes that came up in these experiences.
First, I attended the LVIMA Digital Technology and Planning Day in Las Vegas. While not strictly a travel event, it always attracts a large number of travel marketers. Second, I went to the WBR Digital Travel Connect conference in San Diego , and finally the Eye for Travel event in Las Vegas. Here are some of the themes that continued to surface.
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Naturally, leading hotel, car rental and airline companies are very focused on getting as many people as possible to book on their sites rather than the OTAs. Partnerize works with leading OTAs as well as travel and hospitality brands, so we see both sides of this particular issue. Brands absolutely know that OTAs are an absolutely critical source of revenue and trial, but they’d like their customers to visit them first to avoid the commissions. Interestingly, partnerships play a central role in the traffic driving strategies for every travel company, including the OTAs. Partners are a key way to reduce friction and encourage site visits right at the moment of consideration. Partnerships were a key point of interest during these conversations, as brands look to source alternate methods of boosting traffic, conversions, and ultimately revenue outside of OTAs. We love and will continue to love the value and business OTAs contribute but driving organic business is critical to a complete partner program.
It’s the watchword of most digital marketers these days, but in travel the stakes are particularly high because the sticker price for many travel experiences is substantial. Further, the consideration stage can be fairly long. Getting the fit right between the experiences you promote and the specific users you attract is such an important consideration. In my discussions, we talked about everything from sequencing information for luxury versus bargain travelers to very specific considerations like telling specific prospects whether a budget hotel offers parking for truck drivers. Partnership plays an interesting role in personalization. While it tends NOT to be an industry powered by deep personal profiles, contextual relevance is critical to how many partners attract their audiences. From there, bespoke creative can help you make the right pitch to groups of users that share similar or related passions. In addition, building relationships with the “right” partners plays a pivotal role when driving demographics and the desired audience.
Customer Value Marketing
One of the really interesting developments in marketing over the past several years has been crafting marketing programs based on the likely lifetime value (LTV) of a particular individual. The idea is to invest in customer acquisition and retention based on the true value of the individual. This concept powers so much of marketing these days -- everything from some RTB programmatic ad buying to highly personalized experiential marketing programs for Las Vegas high rollers. Recently, LTV and other customer value analyses have penetrated the affiliate and partner spheres. For example, we now have several clients that reward partners based on the ongoing “lifetime” value of the customers they bring to a brand. These efforts are not only driving dramatic improvements in ROI; they also help aggressive partner and affiliate marketers sell their bosses on incremental investment in the channel. When I told people about our approach to compensating partners based on customer value, there was always a big lean forward moment. This lends to the value partnerships bring. Focusing on rewarding partners to drive LTV as well as new customer acquisition is critical to keeping customer engaged, focused, and most of all, HAPPY.
The Rise of the Influencer
Travel decisions are very important to people, whether they are for business or personal holidays. The industry has long recognized the power of people like specialist bloggers to influence purchases on a fairly grand scale. From sites like SeatGuru that tell you which business class chair is best, to experts on wine tasting in Tuscany, online opinions are very important to this industry. That said, some marketers have nagging concerns about influencer marketing programs that operate on a flat fee versus pay-for-performance basis. More and more companies are considering and implementing influencer programs that bring the efficiency and accountability of affiliate into this new space. And more and more brands see the value in testing CPAs, high margin routes/bookings, and driving the most “squeeze” from premium conversions.
Virtually every travel company is interested in finding new users to connect with. As the effectiveness of traditional media change, there is increasing curiosity about what we call ”non-traditional partnerships” in which a travel brand might work with another type of company -- like a luxury retailer -- to acquire customers and grow awareness. As a company that has pioneered this arena, we understand the tremendous power of such collaborations, and are encouraging travel companies to try more such programs in the months ahead. Pairing advertisers with like minded advertisers to achieve a common goal is a beautiful thing.
I always like spending time with travel marketers, in part because success in this arena requires both a passion for data AND a rich creative sensibility. I feel fortunate to have been able to hear more about what is on their minds, and to point out how data-driven partnerships can answer some of the needs and opportunities they face. There’s no lack of creativity in the mind of the travel marketer and I feel blessed to have learned from some of the best. Although our experience with travel customers and prospects is strong, I feel like I’m still scratching the surface of the potential to come, and couldn’t be more excited to learn more!