Hey, Travel Marketers, Here's the Story...

Originally published on MediaPost

According to the US Travel Association, direct spending on leisure travel by domestic and international travelers totaled $650.8 billion in 2015. Yet, even with this huge market, leisure travel is still just that—leisure. Put another way, people have to buy food, medicine and hygiene products—they don’t have to buy a Caribbean vacation. This ‘need vs. want’ dynamic makes advertising crucial to the success of leisure travel companies.  Marketers need to grab the imagination and emotion of perspective customers. And, in this realm, successful advertising most frequently comes in the form of great storytelling that paints a picture of an experience.

Most often, this includes sight, sound and motion. You’ve all seen it—a camera pans over a quiet beach resort. Next comes the soothing voiceover telling the viewer about the resort’s five-star restaurant and luxurious amenities. Finally, the creative, if done well, drives the consumer to take action—calling the on-screen phone number or visiting the booking website.

Not long ago, this is where the story began and ended. There was pretty much one path to success: a brand’s ad agency would come up with a (hopefully) genius creative concept and then the spot would air on TV.  Who the travel marketer was telling their story to was largely unknown beyond the limits of contextual placement and age/gender targeting.  And whether the story was resonating with consumers was measured loosely on whether the phone rang and how many rooms were booked—though attribution was vague.

Now, there are many, many more subplots to telling the consumer story. Viewing fragmentation shifted the dynamic. Today’s viewers seamlessly transition between devices and content channels. From linear to OTT, on-demand to social, video content is everywhere. So, while the landscape is more complicated, the complication comes with a whole new set of tools. And with those tools come new efficiencies and increased effectiveness.

In reality, we’re in a golden age of travel marketing. In addition to mass-scale branding, we’re now able to zero in on audiences, better understand who we’re talking to, customize messages accordingly and granularly measure results.  Better yet, these various techniques can be used throughout the entire purchase funnel, to drive a consumer from awareness of a travel opportunity, to interest, and finally, all the way through to actual sales on an individual basis.

For instance, when the TV commercial for a ‘Spring Break Package’ falls short of hitting the elusive male 18-25 age group, you can extend the campaign to find that audience on digital video. And if your effective frequency for getting a customer to book a hotel room is 5 exposures, you now have a multitude of screens to ensure that the frequency cap is met, and cross-screen data capabilities to tie it all together in an unduplicated manner.

Furthermore, through cross-screen planning and measurement, we can now understand the impact each screen is having on the final results, alone and in combination. When considering TV and video, some combination of the two is generally the most effective conversion driver. By linking TV viewing to digital video viewing, ad technologies can now tell a travel marketer which video viewers were exposed to a TV commercial, and equally important, which were not exposed.  In this way, messages can be targeted accordingly to build reach among the unexposed, or to drive conversion for those previously exposed to a message.

Holistic strategies employ every possible opportunity to tell your brand story—and do so in a connected, strategic way. Moreover, beyond reducing audiences to reach and frequency numbers, today’s TV and video campaigns can tell us so much more about whom we’re telling our stories to—thus increasing the chances that they are truly heard. For years, targeting was based on two factors: age and gender. We’re now able to leverage a plethora of data for both targeting and measurement.

By combining travel brands’ first-party consumer data with third-party data sources, we’re able open a whole new level of granularity in targeting precision. Using cross-device strategy, we can sequentially follow up a ‘one-size-fits-all’ branding ad that’s made for TV with a digital message encouraging a specific lower-funnel response. We can replace broad-brand messaging with personalized stories that resonate with a specific audience segment or a customer that’s currently in-market to book a vacation package. 

Additionally, new data sources allow us to measure the performance of campaigns and use that data to shift strategies for future success. Beyond the traditional measurement players, which still play a large role, there are whole new categories of vendors to help monitor how successful our campaigns are. Using location-based measurement, we can determine if someone checked into a hotel, for instance, after seeing a campaign. Using cross-screen connections, we can determine if a TV ad resulted in someone visiting a travel agent’s website. Using credit card data, we can connect an airline reservation to an online video campaign.

Reaching consumers might not be as simple as it used to be, but the principles remain the same. Tell a good story, get good results. Today, we can use innovative tools to do that better than ever.

Aleck Schleider

SVP, Client & Data Strategy

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