Travel brands stand at the forefront of digital marketing — combining creative social campaigns, first-rate mobile experiences and long-term promotional content strategies to drive customer engagement and boost their revenue.
Retailers of all varieties can learn from the successes of travel brands, even if they aren’t selling honeymoon packages or offering special getaway bookings. Here’s how.
Get To Destination Mobile
Retailers must get more serious about mobile. Two-thirds of travel and hospitality brands provide dedicated mobile sites to tailor experiences for customers wherever or whenever travel interests them.
According to eMarketer, mobile will drive 37 percent of digital travel sales by 2018. And while travel is a dominant category in mobile commerce now, other industry verticals are catching up. Forrester estimates mobile and tablet commerce combined will account for 20 percent of all online sales this year, increasing to 49 percent by 2018.
Research also indicates only a fifth of consumers are willing to stick with a travel merchant if they encounter a bad mobile experience and 13 percent will flat out turn away from the brand completely. For this reason, travel brands know how important it is that check-out processes on mobile work seamlessly on every device.
The Search Agency recently ranked Choice Hotels International as having the best mobile sites. Their click-to-call functionality, responsive designs and easy sharing and searching capabilities are just some of the features that have won them acclaim. Comfort Inn’s mobile site (part of the Choice Hotels group) illustrates how retailers should focus on the most common or desired user behaviors when creating their mobile experiences. Choice’s mobile revenue nearly tripled from 2011 to 2012 with implementations like these, and it now comprises almost 20 percent of the company’s online bookings — with continued growth expected.
Travel brands also understand their audiences’ behaviors and demographics and target them accordingly through mobile. A recent comScore and Millennial Media study showed most travel consumers are between the ages of 25 and 44. This is a very mobile savvy group; 92 percent own a smartphone and 51 percent own a tablet. To reach them, travel brands deliver ads through popular shopping and dating apps that different groups within this range commonly use.
Additionally, by using location-based targeting near airports, hotels and tourist districts, they increase their brand’s relevance to consumers’ immediate needs. At a time when consumers report ad fatigue, personalization and smarter targeting like this matters significantly. Retailers must think in similar ways when serving their target customer groups products, events, special offers, coupons and other promotional content on their mobile devices.
Enter The Social Stratosphere
Most marketers are still warming to the idea that social can provide real value to consumers while still driving measurable sales. However, here too travel brands succeed and have a great deal to teach.
Hilton’s @HiltonSuggests Twitter account functions as a free local concierge. Like smart targeting, this service answers the immediate needs consumers have and drives them towards a particular sales outcome they can track. Imagine an apparel retailer using a similar initiative to recommend additional clothing items to someone in-store who needs help completing an outfit. By including a link to an ecommerce listing or even directing them to a specific department in-store, a sale could occur as the result of a simple social interaction.
Special offers, coupons, contests, sweepstakes and giveaways offered through social media also lead to deeper brand engagement and can drive additional sales for retailers. Knowing this, Discover Hong Kong recently launched a contest where entrants designed their ideal travel itinerary. The brand created an easy-to-use, multimedia experience on Facebook that allowed consumers to directly interact with travel offers that were actually available to them for purchase.
How might this apply elsewhere? An apparel retailer could offer a giveaway to those who build the most stylish outfit with their products using a site like Polyvore. An effort like this could drive consumer consideration for the retailer’s products that are immediately available to them for purchase online or in-store, so even if they do not win the contest they have interacted with products and know where they can buy them.
Travel brands are also using social to directly make a sale. Loews Hotels allows users to use the Twitter hashtag #BookLoews to reserve a hotel room directly and it is driving multiple tweets a day. In response to customer demand, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines began allowing customers to pay for a flight through Twitter. “Buy Now” options are on their way to Facebook and Twitter, so retailers must be ready to follow these travel brands’ lead and plan accordingly.
Create Great Content
For today’s successful travel brands, content marketing goes well beyond sponsoring articles in in-flight magazines. Astute retailers can learn how to better connect to customers’ needs in extremely personalized, relevant and creative ways by examining their content marketing efforts.
Marriott International recently announced its plans to become “the world’s largest producer of travel-related content.” The company’s new content studio, headed by former Disney/ABC executive David Beebe, has already billed its first major project as an “action comedy filled with parkour stunts” that also will feature Marriott’s JW Marriott property in downtown Los Angeles. The end goal for Marriott is that when people look for travel-related information and entertainment – something they can watch and share with friends or read on their lunch breaks – there is a good chance they also will encounter the Marriott brand.
Not all retailers need to become a “publisher.” Rather, they need to adopt the core philosophy Marriott understands so well: Today, retailers need to have personal relevance to their consumers’ needs and interests. They must pick the right channels and tactics and serve the right content to them.
The data around travel videos, for example, makes it clear customers are eagerly consuming branded video relevant to their personal interests. It’s up 394 percent YoY — while interactive video is also performing particularly well. For national retailers and brands, video is also an effective way to reach consumers. A home repair tutorial featuring tools available at a nearby home and garden reatiler or a cooking demonstration featuring items on sale at a local supermarket are two simple ways retailers could speak to customers directly in creative ways while still promoting what they offer in-store.
Even as Marriott sets its sights on big content production, the Marriott on the Move blog remains “universally recognized as an excellent example of corporate blogging,” according to prominent social media blogger and marketer Jeff Bullas. The blog is an outlet for 82-year-old board chairman Bill Marriott to candidly discuss a broad range of topics, from dogs to terrorism. Even in its early years, the company attributed $4 million in bookings to the blog. So even if retailers feel too strapped for resources to create a series of branded videos or release a special publication, there remains value in something as simple as a well-written and topical blog.
Innovation and risk are huge parts of what travel brands do to win with digital marketing. However, they also stick with what they know works for their brand. Retailers should do the same — across digital devices and channels — in order to establish greater personal relevance with their consumers. That in turn will deliver higher returns on their marketing investments as well as better online and offline sales.