When you’re selling an experience, you need to understand “the why,” and it’s different for every single customer.
It’s a great—if daunting—time to be in the travel business. More people are traveling than ever before: the UNWTO estimates that on average, over the last 10 years, global tourist arrivals have grown by 3.7% each year (more than 3x the rate of global population growth!). This also means more people than ever are exploring, comparing, and purchasing travel products.
As travel trends upwards, the way people approach it is also changing and becoming more nuanced. We’re way beyond the “business or pleasure” dichotomy. The definition of travel is as varied as the people who do it, and for every reason a person would want to travel, there is a destination or a service tailored to fulfill it.
If you’re a marketer in the travel space, the old adage is still true: you’re not selling a product, you’re selling an experience. Only today, that experience means something different to every single person you engage with.
Whether you’re selling a component of the travel experience or the whole package, travel marketers need to know their customers inside and out. The key is to get beyond demographics and interest graphs and look at behavior. After all, the fact that a lot of 25-year-old women travel to Europe is not as valuable to me as knowing which 25-year-old women have recently been pinning articles on Tuscany to their boards, and which 25-year-old women would rather just go backpacking in Oregon.
Once you have insight into each potential customer’s behavior, you can start to surface the right content, to the right eyes, at the right moments. Consumers expect that companies will take their preferences into account—and, thanks to the influence of ad targeting, they expect that their behavior will be taken into account, too. Research suggests that they don’t mind giving to get: 4 in 10 travelers are willing to share data in the interest of personalization, according to study by Amadeus, “At The Big Data Crossroads.”
But they expect more than basic targeting. Another Amadeus study, “Trending with NextGen Travelers,” notes that these targeted experiences “must enhance them as a person and fulfill their needs and expectations.”
Let’s start dissecting the data available to travel marketers to get a better picture of how we can deliver on these lofty expectations:
Some data points come easy
Basic info about demographics and preferences can be extrapolated from specific user behavior, assuming that what they have done in the past is a reasonable predictor of what they will do in the future.
- What regions does this person generally go to?
- What airline companies does this person prefer?
- At what times does this person tend to travel?
But remember, people don’t always want the same travel experiences they’ve had in the past, so you have to pay attention to what’s happening in the moment.
But the richest data is a bit more complex
If we can build a deeper understanding of why an individual customer travels or consumes travel content, then we can begin to predict what kinds of content will delight her—not people like her, but her specifically—or lead her to make a purchase in the future.
- What does she get out of travel? Is it spiritual? Is it pure escapism? Is it about education? Adventure? Indulgence? Family?
In order to gain this level of understanding, you need to have a rich understanding of your content as well. You (or rather you and your analytics software) need to be able to recognize the difference between an article on ecotourism and one on luxury spa treatments.
- What does she like and dislike about travel? The inspiration? The planning? Cultural knowledge? Romance? The logistics?
For example, if, like me, she has a weird love of airports (and I’m not alone), content surrounding the logistics of travel may be more likely to convert her than beautiful landscapes, and she might be a great target for a neck pillow ad. (Yeah, some of us like those, too—what of it?)
To know these things, you need to know what she reads, what she likes/favs/pins, what she purchases, what she comments on and then compare that to other users who have engaged in similar behaviors or with similar content. You need to be able to correlate a lot of behavioral data points against a lot of content-related data points and infer connections. I say you, but I really mean your analytics platform, because it’s not practical to attempt 1:1 personalization without a lot of processor power.
And then you need to put that data into action
If you’re looking to turn data into personalized experiences, start with some marketing automation. Send push notifications (email, in-app, SMS) with personalized content based on the individual recipient’s behavior. Use behavioral triggers to reinforce user actions with relevant content. Even less spontaneous notifications like newsletters or daily deals can be tuned and timed to hit each recipient’s inbox when he or she is most likely to open it.
The best part is that this can all be automated. Set the rules and watch your engagement rise.
If you’re ready to get to the next level, incorporate machine learning into your marketing automation: with each new datapoint, your system learns more about what combination of content/channel/timing engages each user. It then optimizes your content delivery automatically. Publishers who use machine learning and marketing automation together can expect to see a 2-to-3x lift in engagement.
Extend that same level of personalization to your site. If you know who a visitor is, you can use your data to personalize your on-site user experiences, dynamically surfacing the content she is most likely to engage with and be inspired by. You can even use anonymous visitors’ in-session behavior to automatically tune the content they see as they move through your site.
If you’re a travel marketer, your customers are extremely discerning. Data one of your greatest assets for keeping them engaged and satisfied. Don’t let it lie dormant. Technology now enables you to act as a personal travel agent for every person, connecting each traveler to the adventures and products that’ll delight her.
Developing this kind of predictive intelligence takes some commitment and some investment, but the dividends are massive. And thankfully, it’s getting easier. Marketing automation is becoming industry standard. Machine Learning technology is still being adopted mainly by frontrunners, and it won’t be long before it becomes standard, too.