Mr. Naeger

Technology

5 Tips for Driving More Digital Bookings

By Matt Naeger, Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy, Merkle

Travel industry marketers are setting their sites on the customer, following in the steps of other industries such as retail and using digital platforms to strategically target and message across the customer journey.

The advances in customer experience we see today are the result of platform and technology availability. Knowing customers like to be treated as individuals is not a new concept in customer service. Not long ago personalized treatment was reserved for face-to-face conversations and luxury experiences. Digital has evolved, but the concept remains the same.

To both the traveler and the marketer, customer experience is differentiation, timing, relevancy. Everyone wants to reach those 77 percent of travelers who use their phone in search of inspiration in spare moments or who use YouTube to dream of potential destinations and use Twitter to engage with travel brands during and after their experience. So how do travel brands reach and engage in a meaningful and performance-oriented way?

Here are five tips to help you drive digital bookings:

Tip #1 Target the Right Audience with the Right Message

Consider where the traveler is in their buying journey. Are they at the "dream," "plan," or "book" stage? With this and other knowledge, you have the ability to serve highly relevant messaging. There are an increasing number of platforms that enable you to better target your audience and serve that relevant messaging in a timely fashion. Google's Customer Match is only the latest addition to your people-based marketing arsenal. In addition, Facebook Custom Audiences, Twitter Tailored Audiences, and ONE by AOL all provide marketers a way to reach their known customers across platforms and networks. You know who your loyalty members are, you can now treat them differently by serving them ads that display loyalty member perks. For a frequent traveler, maybe you serve an ad related to one of their top travel destinations.

We all want to reach those unknown customers as well. But instead of spending all your budget casting a wide net, use look-alike modeling to cast a strategic and targeted net to lower your cost per acquisition. Who are your most profitable travelers? Is it those frequent travelers? Then use look-alike modeling to find more travelers who look like your frequent travelers.

Tip #2 Connect with Customer Intent to be Present at the Right Time

Search still reigns for capturing the customer. Most leisure travelers begin their travel planning undecided upon a brand, whether that be for flight, lodging, car rental, cruise line or vacation packages. The majority of travelers have brands in their consideration set with a smaller portion totally open to what a search might bring. This philosophy makes search a critical component of reaching travelers at the right time. According to Google, 77 percent of travelers use their smartphone for travel inspiration in their spare moments before planning. Not only are travelers getting inspiration on their mobile device, they are planning and booking. Think of the number of "near me" searches that occur every day. "Hotels near me" is a frequent search by someone who has a missed or canceled flight. If you appear near the top of those search results, there is a good chance you can own that booking. In Merkle's recent Digital Marketing Report for Q4 2015, we found 52 percent of all Google search ad clicks were on mobile, up from 46 percent in Q3. Mobile is only increasing in importance, so take another look at your mobile search strategy.

Tip #3 Develop Site Content that Helps Your Customers

Solve their problems and challenges - they will repay you with loyalty. Regardless of stage in the travel journey, site content is critical. This means having content that helps your customers at every stage of the journey. For example, Exclusive Resorts does a great job of providing content to inspire locations, then leads travelers to relevant vacation packages, and only then pushes booking. So how do you develop content that does this? Consider starting with personas and customer insights. How do your different segments of customers search and what do they use to search? Are they searching for deals, exotic experiences, guided packages? Do they use Google, Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter to search? Different customer segments are motivated by different content, and your site needs to respond to that. I won't pretend site personalization is easy, but if you want to do it, the first step is a deep understanding of your customer personas, the tasks they preform, their queries, and what content best matches those attributes. Taken one step at a time, site personalization is very achievable and extremely rewarding to both the traveler and marketer.

Tip #4 Measure Effectiveness of Multi-Channel Programs

Move beyond single channel views to a customer view. After you have done all this work to reach customers where they are with relevant content, you need to measure like you market - based on the customer. Move from journey plans to experience plans. It begins with uncovering insights about your customers - that critical component to tip #3. Then translate those insights into a plan. What are your experience objectives for each of the customer personas? Your plan should take those objectives into account. As you create and deliver that experience across touch points, measurement should be key.

Tip#5 Drive New Customers & Retain Loyal Customers Through Reviews

We live in a world where customer purchases are heavily influenced by customer reviews. Think about the last time you went to purchase something online and there was no review present. Did you question that purchase or perhaps purchase something else that you felt more confident in because it had a review? When asked for their top online desired feature, 44 percent of travelers ranked "traveler submitted reviews/ratings" above all else. Put reviews above things like traveler or professional submitted photos, videos, and maps that display lodging and attractions.

Reviews are important both during and after an experience, but much of their value comes in the ability to reach other travelers at the "dream" stage of their travel planning. Facebook has become a major hub for friends to share their reviews. According to Skyscanner, 52 percent of people on Facebook have said a friend's photos inspired where they took their next trip, and 45 percent say Facebook makes them visit friends abroad. Of women who use Facebook during travel, 57 percent say they use it for sharing photos and videos, 38 percent for updates or commentary about the trip. Twelve percent of those use it for research for their trip. With so much involvement with Facebook, have you considered the variety of ways it plays into your marketing strategy?

Twitter is also a key social platform for travelers. A study by Twitter and Millward Brown found 21 percent of Twitter users tweeted prior to going on their trip and 28 percent after. This leaves a key opening for travel brands to not only to gain more insights on their customers, but to engage and respond to them. Nearly as many travelers have used Twitter to share a positive experience as have a negative experience. 40 percent of travelers have engaged with a brand via Twitter, but for those 23 percent who were lucky enough to receive a response, 73 percent felt more positive about a brand afterwards. This means that if you have received a negative comment but then respond and make the traveler feel heard, chances are you improved their outlook on your brand. And anyone else's opinion who saw the original comment.

Social platforms and reviews are an ideal place to listen to what your customers are saying and create conversation. It is an opportunity to provide that personal touch all travelers desire. Your social strategy needs to include listening to what travelers are saying directly to your handles, as well as about your brands. Establish a process for responding and engaging with customers directly. There are social platforms out there created to help you easily manage and engage. Social is quickly becoming consumers' favorite place to provide feedback about an experience or to a company, and it is critical you are there to answer them.

If you didn't already notice, the theme here is your customer - understanding them, delivering content that helps them, and engaging with them. A customer-centric marketing approach is something marketers all know is important, but few have really shifted how their marketing organization operates and markets. The reason is largely that the task feels daunting and reaches across a number of teams. These five tips will put you well on your way to making the leap from channel to customer. Regardless of platform or medium, a customer-focused marketing strategy will always improve bookings.

Matt Naeger is the Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy at Merkle, a global data-driven, technology-enabled performance marketing agency. It is the largest independent agency in the US for CRM, digital, and search. Mr. Naeger joined Merkle through the acquisition of IMPAQT, a leading online marketing agency that he helped found and build. He brought experience in direct marketing and advertising industries to Merkle. As Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy, Mr. Naeger is responsible for developing a team of digital experts who help clients to utilize data to drive the processes behind online marketing programs and to build better user experiences on the web. Mr. Naeger can be contacted at 443-542-4000 or mnaeger@merkleinc.com Please visit http://www.merkleinc.com/ for more information. Extended Bio...

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