Tricks of the marketing trade

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The travel marketer's digital toolkit

As consumer tech trends change how they interact with the world, travel marketers are having to change in turn. John Speers, head of strategy and performance at Kemosabe, argues that’s opening many more opportunities for brands than ever before.

Travel is digital. We inspire, search, plan and book on digital channels and platforms, so it’s hardly surprising that the majority of marketing expenditure for travel brands is digitally oriented.

But in a world where everything is digital, what are the most potent channels, priorities and platforms that really perform for travel? We’ve managed over 20 travel brands on a digital transformation journey across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific, and our agency group just picked up the 50th award for effectiveness in travel marketing over the last 2 years. Here’s a little of what we’ve learnt along the way.

Digital destinations

Digital takes the lion’s share of the media budget split across paid search, social, video, display and OTA (online travel agent) spend. In our experience - borne out by the latest Sojern Research of leading travel marketers across the globe - digital share of spend in the UK and Europe slightly lags behind our counterparts in North America and Asia-Pacific.

In North America with ‘cord cutting’ proliferating, strides have been made with Connected TV witnessing the merge of traditional TV with video on-demand. We have used addressable CTV to pinpoint our audiences to great efficiency and effect. Overlaying destination visitor data and segmentation analysis, we know almost street by street those who have already visited a certain destination and those who we wish to attract. With this efficiency in mind, spend on Connected TV video is predicted to be up 70% in 2019.

Access and use of the right data and technology provides us a deeper understanding of customers, smarter more relevant creative and better targeting.

In compiling a sustainable marketing strategy and plan for Guyana in South America we used AI tools to drill down the exact people who we wanted to target. To achieve sustainability in travel it’s paramount to target the right people with the right message and activities in order for spend to be directed into local communities. AI tools enabled us to find patterns and connections with consumers at depth and scale enabling us to identify the specific audience we wanted. This amounted to less than a million from a total US population of 327 million by correlating not just demographics with psychographics but also lifestyles, personalities, interests, influencers, brand affinities, competitors, and media usage. Our audience segmentation then allowed us to narrow down the niche activity categories of the destination offered to those who we knew had a specific interest in them. We found engagement and conversion multiplied with this level of relevancy.

VR and beyond 

When talking about tech and travel, VR always rears its head. When we took people in an actual snowstorm and transported them to a warm sunny destination, people naturally loved it. We’ve crafted 360 immersive videos, but in reality these are one-off executions that create an impact but do not have, in my opinion, long lasting campaignable effect. 

There is debate in the travel industry, as the cost to the environment escalates, as to whether travel will become virtual in the future. Will travel be brought to you at home without leaving your doorstep? The sustainability of travel must be addressed, but the positive reasons for travel of education, empathy and bringing the world closer at a time of disparity, plus the distribution of wealth and richness of collaborative experiences, is probably best attained physically rather than virtually. Yes, a virtual experience will save emissions, but if we remove the physical human element from experiences where will that lead us?      

Video visions

We’ve found that the best way to convey an experience to entice travel is through video, where we’ve seen unprecedented engagement results across social and display networks. Epic ‘scene setting’ plays a significant awareness upper funnel role, while niche experience video may ‘unpack’ the destination and provide tangible reasons to visit matched to niche audiences. ‘How to’ videos may illustrate practical considerations, and there may also be pure entertainment videos that spotlight the nature of the locals. All these are then tailored specifically to the platform and channel, each produced with the unique character and style of the brand.

This is as important on social media as it is on any other channel. 89% of millennials claim to plan activities and travel based on the content posted by their peers. This ‘reality check’ naturally benefits destinations and has led to the rise of ‘authenticity’ of content. ‘User generated content’ – what your mates post – plays a key role in the travel communication mix, but shouldn’t replace the sheer power and impact of great creative content.

Capturing real people authentically is one of the hardest things ever to do; it involves craft and skill and that seems unfashionable right now. The results this gets, however, are astounding. Social media is nothing without great content, so it needs to be the best it can based on budget and scale, and feed the hungry social beast with quality content that speak volumes for the brand and multiplies engagement and conversion.

Creative concerns

The problem is, great creative content is hard to come by. Search any destination and you’ll find the ubiquitous sweeping panoramic shots reminding me of the way much car advertising used to be, invariably featuring a car snaking down a dramatic mountainside. The problem was all car advertising then began to look the same - we have a similar issue with destinations.

As a board member for the Caribbean Tourism Organization, I see many destinations falling into the ‘Caribbean Sea of Sameness’. Yes, it’s a beautiful colour of water and yes, the white sand is alluring, but that's the same no matter which one of the several hundred islands you visit. You have to go behind the scenery, or at least use it as a backdrop for engaging stories told about the destination. That's where creativity, skill, and craft come in. Influencers have a strong purpose, but great creative content can only come from great creatives skilled at getting a destination to confess its authentic truth. We all know when we’ve seen something that has truly captured the soul of a place, but how often do we really see that?    

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is the strength of your owned digital platforms. When you truly understand your audience and their desires, your sites need to reflect that and lead them through a journey to make a decision. Take care with assessing the analytics to know the flow through to conversion and the leakage away from your sites at what point. Understand the reasons why and close the gaps. What is the point of knowing the consumer inside out, deploying all the compelling video and content through highly targeted media, only to lose them before booking?   

So, your toolkit is ensuring a differentiated brand, using data driven insights to know your audience truly inside out, and expressing your brand powerfully on strong owned, earned and paid media channels. The fuel that flows through all these is great video and content tailored to purpose and platform. It’s not rocket science, just rarely done.

John Speers, head of strategy and performance, Kemosabe

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