Are we there yet? 3 approaches for a thoughtful travel marketing strategy

With the holiday season in full swing, most of the focus is on the retail space. As much as we want everyone on our list to get the perfect gift, the focus should really be on the experience and time spent with loved ones during this time of year.  For many this means traveling out of state or long distance to be with family. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of long-distance trips increases by 54% during the Thanksgiving period and 23% during the Christmas period compared to the rest of the year.

Given the short timeframe during which this travel spike occurs, it’s impossible for travel marketers to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. But a thoughtful strategy can help you make the most out of your efforts and engage travelers throughout the year.

With travel on our mind, here are a few ideas to help travel marketers get to their destination

1.Know your travelers.

Differentiate beyond past purchase. First party and demographic data gathered on travelers is an essential starting point for segmentation. However, the rich data that will help drive content and imagery in your program is behavioral and attitudinal clusters. There tends to be great homogeny in travel attitudes among members of the same cluster. With this knowledge, you can create more detailed and actionable contact strategies by traveler cluster for more a personalized and relevant approach. For example, purchase history and demographics may reveal that you have a two dads, age 37, booking travel for their family to Florida, something they do every year for the week before New Years. By understanding web behavior trends, we can identify the trips have different intentions and therefore, require different content. One dad is traveling to stay and visit with family while the other is traveling for a family getaway filled with adventure and tourist attractions. Your contact strategy should deliver messaging with these intentions in mind.

Recognize and reward. Travel reward programs provide additional value for marketers to offer their members along with rich data to personalize marketing.  Travel brands should use the holiday period to build  value and reward customers beyond  miles or points. Understanding what intrinsic rewards you can provide to make traveling with you more compelling will help to boost the goodwill and connection to your brand. Consider aligning charitable efforts/donations with customer travel to provide a greater sense of community and goodwill. For example, for every trip booked between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you will donate one toy to a specified charity.  Additionally, for customer segments that value social influence, use the holiday as a time to recap travel history in a visual form that is easily shareable. This will boost the viral aspect and make the customer look accomplished and well-traveled to their social networks.

2. Understand the mindset.

Once past travel trends have been identified, it's important to understand what emotional ‘modes’ each traveler segment is in.  These emotions vary throughout the trip planning process so you need to cater the messaging throughout each phase. For example, when booking the trip, a budget traveler may experience stress, anxiety, confusion and annoyance. Once the trip is booked, they may be relieved and excited; and as the trip approaches, anxiety, nerves and (more) excitement come in to play. Relate to the customer on an emotional level by incorporating imagery, video and messaging that connects with these emotional states..

Understand the mobile mindset. According to eMarketer, 54.6% of digital travel research and 37.7% of digital travel bookings are expected to be done on mobile devices.  Brands can leverage this opportunity with on-the-go travelers’ by communicating with them via SMS messaging, push and in-app messaging and mobile landing pages and optimized site design. The device of the customer can also help define what their mindset it as the time of booking or while en-route. Device engagement can be even more powerful as it enables the use of geo-targeting. Consider integrating  mobile strategies as a means to help, educate and entertain your travelers  to make the experience even more enjoyable. For example, if you can detect the customer is in route to the destination, consider sending them a quick-access guide for the check-in process to be expedited. Or to capitalize on the impulse cross-sell opportunity present them with the option to upgrade or have an amenity waiting for them via your mobile app. .

3. Don’t stop at the destination.

Once you’ve been able to convert a contact into a booked traveler, your work has just begun.  Make sure you’re taking every opportunity to provide additional value leading up to and during their trip.  In terms of upselling, understand what purchase trends exist and suggest accordingly.  For example, airlines can use email and in-app messaging to dynamically show the current inventory of available seat upgrades for luxury travelers on specific flights. If targeting a budget traveler, airlines can use the same messaging technique to feature in-flight entertainment options. Additional value does not have to be limited to upsell opportunities but can also include content pushed with the goal of engagement and positive sentiment for the brand. For example, send the  most popular restaurants or attractions as recommendations or help the customer feel more connected by sharing social conversations trending in the destination city. A best in class contact strategy should have a balance of upsell and relationship messaging throughout the travel journey  to maintain an optimal customer experience.

Post-travel engagement. Even after the trip is complete, it is important  to keep travelers engaged.  Lasting engagement is critical for existing customer growth as well as new customer acquisition.  According to Google’s The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision, social networking sites are a top source of inspiration for 83% of leisure travelers, with 42% influenced by travel review sites and apps.  Given the power of social, and relevant timing post-trip, target recently traveled customers to encourage the sharing of positive experiences on review sites or social media. Use social data matching capabilities to monitor social activity and target accordingly. In addition to free-form social buzz, brands should have a feedback method such as a survey to enable a two-way conversation and understand where improvements can be made from the customer’s perspective.

Use these tips to ensure your brand is well on its trip to success during, and after the busiest travel season of the year.

 Matthew Lindenberg also contributed to this piece.