Q&A

5 Ways to Humanize the Travel Booking Experience

If we are not currently using traveler content in our marketing efforts, what is the first step to getting started?

Brands that need a place to start, or don’t have a large pool of UGC assets just yet, can follow a few quick tips to get a content creation strategy going.

Step 1: Create a Customer Engagement Program. One of our most popular recommendations is the creation of an evergreen hashtag and campaign. Whether you have a common hashtag associated with your brand, or are just at the beginning of creating one, the key is promotion.

Step 2: After deciding on your brand hashtag, distribute it across a number of diverse channels such as post-purchase receipts, booking confirmations, Do Not Disturb signs, confirmation pages, emails, billboards, social media, at your physical location, and more. Additionally, motivate customers to opt into this brand experience by offering incentives such as discount codes, free breakfasts, a free drink, or simply as a way to be featured in their marketing experiences through the contribution of user-generated content. By doing so you will be able to create a library of content and buzz around the brand, which can then be harnessed to contribute to your marketing assets and experiences.

Through the collection of earned content you can contribute to your brand’s creative arm by decreasing your lifestyle content cost and increasing user-generated imagery, which often drives more engaging travel marketing experiences for users.

You talked about authenticity. How can we marry UGC with our own creative and still display authentic messaging for our audiences? What truly makes content more authentic?

Simply put, user content performs better because consumers recognize that content to be real given that it is created by their peers. Travelers spend about 40 percent of their media consumption on a social network, often interacting with native content. Having said that, we have seen combining brand creative and UGC successfully is entirely possible. At Olapic we believe it’s important to pay close attention to the aesthetics and qualities within the photo that make it engaging to users, and by default more authentic.

A lot of our clients also work closely with their creative teams to bring them into the process in order to understand the characteristics of what content performs better, even down to which colors in photos encourage users to stay on site or continue exploring a branded experience.

Additionally, our platform uses a machine-learning algorithm called Photorank, which analyzes photos based on 46 variables (i.e. color, CTR, lighting, etc.) to identify which photos will perform better on your site or in an Olapic widget. The key to integrating UGC with other creative and branded assets is to provide guidance for consumers submitting photos or videos. Consider promoting a space on your website that features a gallery of earned content that also includes a call to action for what and how customers should share their images and videos. By doing so, your brand will be able to provide visual examples of the type of content your brand expects and accepts, while also showcasing your appreciation for authentic, customer content.

We have plenty of data, but not enough information. How do you recommend that we identify which data is most important and which is just noise?

This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) and serious analytic capabilities can really help out. Typically, the amount of data available today creates a super-human scaled problem as one struggles to identify the meaningful, predictive, and helpful bits of information within a giant sea of data. First, do not limit your data pool avoid making assumptions of what is important or what is not, and do not base data ‘inclusion’ on what has worked in the past. Instead, employ AI to help test, find, and surface data that is actually useful to accomplish your goals. The answer will change over time, across campaigns, among different goals, and even within targeted audiences.

Ideally, you would have an AI technology in place that can not only test, learn, and improve results, but can also transparently surface and present customized meaningful data for your brand. With this, humans can use the relevant insights to learn and improve across all of their marketing and advertising efforts, and not just where AI can be applied.   

How can I move my organization away from a channel-based approach and toward an audience-based approach?

See below the three steps needed to create an audience-first marketing strategy:

  1. Think like a customer:  Collectively agreeing on a customer segment, or audience-first approach is usually the easy part. But what can be a bit harder is thinking like that defined customer. For example, in our minds we don’t separate hotel services — we expect to be treated like respected customers whether we’re dining at a hotel restaurant or relaxing in a hotel spa. Taking that into consideration, why would we expect a travel brand to treat us differently if we arrived to their site on a tablet vs. a smartphone vs. a laptop? Many marketers agree that smartphones don’t buy things, people do. So it’s important to remember, regardless of how a customer is engaging with your brand, to view them as people and not devices. With this perspective, you have taken the first step to an audience-based approach vs. a channel-based approach.
  2. Organize around the customer: This step is often the hardest one because it requires taking a massive step organizationally to create budget and reduce barriers to reach your customer. Consider making your site team collaborate with your media team, search team, and others to ensure that you all have customer-focused goals in place across your company. Organizationally, you also need to change the mindset of finding the “right audience.” Don’t always go looking for locations that promise to deliver your defined audience. Remember that while sports fans are often on ESPN, they are also human beings that check the weather. You don’t always have to buy obvious locations, but instead should concentrate more on following your audience wherever they may go. With this approach, you may end up in the same place you thought you would, but chances are you will also end up finding your audience in a lot of other locations as well.
  3. Pick a capable tech partner:  Finally, look for a digital platform to connect devices to the individual to create what Rocket Fuel calls the ‘unified profile’. This profile not only includes an individual, but also encompasses a household of individuals and all the devices they use. Additionally, this tech partner should be plugged into a number of inventory sources (exchanges) that will allow them to serve impressions, make decisions for your website, and collect behavioral signal data. Through creating this strong tech partnership, your brand is now ready to set goals, create experience rules, and use AI to figure out how to help your customer engage with a product or service. Lastly, with flexible budgets, open inventory sources, and machine learning, your brand now has the best chance of discovering the right audiences and achieving your marketing goals.

How do you recommend creating a process or template for customers/employees to use when used as brand advocates?

First, identify loyal and enthusiastic employees that would volunteer or are willing to create content on your brand’s behalf. This can be identified either through the content they are already creating or a willingness to participate in elevating your brand with their content. Customers who actively provide content with high engagement can be identified through Olapic’s platform.

After identifying key influencers, consider a level of incentivization to motivate participation. For example, in the travel industry, one could offer exclusive access to certain locations, comp a nice meal at a hotel restaurant, provide frequent gift card drawings for submitting a minimum number of branded assets, and the list goes on. In addition to incentivization, the brand must also provide some level of exclusivity, reminding ambassadors that they are valued and chosen to participate for a reason. Lastly, your brand must make sure that there are very specific guidelines in place for how assets should be created in order to ensure you receive on-brand content. Lastly, if you are using our platform you could then ask ambassadors to directly upload content to moderate, or whitelist these ambassadors in order to collect their content using a specific employee hashtag.