Vacations require a lot of work. In today’s interconnected and never-off world, even R&R requires planning, patience, and organizational skills. From the moment the decision is made to take a trip, a multitude of travel marketing streams begin to converge on the traveler(s). As described by Google, the travel customer journey has five stages that can take quite awhile to unfold. They are Dreaming, Planning, Booking, Experiencing, and Sharing.
Direct marketing campaigns may step in at any point in this data driven journey, but need to be fully up to speed with the customer. While the focus of the Google model is primarily online, the stages unfold regardless of the marketing channel being explored. Organic and paid search, websites, email, SMS, interactive print, phone and direct mail all have the ability to shepherd prospective travelers toward the goal of positive, shareable experiences.
Travel plans often begin through word of mouth, where a sort of look-alike marketing happens. Those who share – perhaps on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter – their experiences and may be trusted advisors start the ball rolling.
The circle then widens to include resources deemed to be “neutral”, insofar as they are not directly selling…yet. Prospects are sometimes directed to the latest travel section in the newspaper. Or a magazine like Travel & Leisure, where direct response ads pick up the baton.
The most established of the travel resource publishers cover multiple bases. TripAdvisor/Viator, Rick Steves, Michelin, and more publish long form literature that is available for purchase or at the library. Each includes easy reference for all aspects of destination planning. This will include phone, text, and web URLs, or even QR codes, maintaining contact throughout the planning process by handing off to multiple channels.
Despite the rise of “self help” travel resources, many people still value the services of a traditional travel agent. Basically, a trusted travel agent is like that friend who says “you’ve got to go (wherever)”, but who can then make it all happen. Both business and pleasure travelers (the distinction is often blurred) may follow the informed lead of their agent and explore options at their own pace to whatever degree of depth they need in order to make decisions. This raises their comfort level while saving the agent consultative time.
The browsing process creates the opportunity for airlines, local transport, hotels, tours, and restaurants to offer their services. Website browsing sessions may trigger emails and direct mail pieces.
So the decision has been made. A destination and duration are set. A new checklist is needed. This includes buying appropriate clothing and gear if needed (L. L. Bean anyone?), modifying one’s mobile phone plan, security considerations such as RFID protection, choosing which credit cards to use, and more. How many times have we received direct mail promotions from our bank encouraging use of their credit products (and protections) on that next trip? This is a chance for the best travel credit cards to step forward.
More and more, vacations are hybrid experiences in the sense that travelers mix business with pleasure. As much as people may feel the need to go off the grid, it is becoming harder to do so. Global, 24/7 reachability has become the price paid for flexibility in the workplace. Logging in to the corporate network in our pajamas has a flip side. Decision makers take vacations too, yet they often still have to make informed decisions, wherever they are. Reaching them with fresh I.P. address, email, or SMS data in a relevant, respectful manner is important for direct marketers who want to become or remain part the team.
How do marketers necessarily know that a prospect is traveling? They may not, but they can know if a person – a decision maker – is self-employed, a sole proprietor, or holds a title that suggests always-on availability. Judgement leads to the conclusion that contact is appropriate, especially if an offer is time sensitive and in the recipient’s interest.
The Travel Marketing Payoff: Sharing
This is the Grail. When people have enjoyed fulfilling travel experiences, whatever the combination of business and pleasure, they want others to have similar experiences. It is human nature to spread news of one’s own good decisions. “Yes, I needed to hold a tele-conference from my suite on the beach, but the connection was perfect, and it didn’t cost a fortune. Dinner was a celebration.”
For travel marketing professionals, that’s data driven music to their ears.