Recently, I had the pleasure of connecting with Frederic Gonzalo, a speaker, consultant, and the founder of Gonzo Marketing. Frederic is an expert with over 20 years experience working with travel brands, and I wanted to gain insight into some of the trends he is seeing through his work with global organizations. We discussed the challenges facing travel marketers, and he shared some examples of brands that are doing a great job of delivering authentic marketing experiences.
What are the biggest challenges facing marketers in the travel sector?
“Building meaningful experiences is a primary challenge for travel marketers. When designing digital experiences, how will they impact the consumer expectation when they arrive at a resort, or attend an event? There are many implications at the product or experience-level itself of these decisions. Of course, after building the experience, the challenge becomes how to tell the brand’s story. There is a huge fragmentation of tools and channels currently, as consumers spend more time on mobile devices and social media. As much as we talk about online efforts, many people still want to walk-in or call-in and get information about travel opportunities, and so the offline experience also has to be considered. When we refer to “omnichannel,” what makes it so difficult to get right is that it’s multi-platform and multi-device, so putting all of those experiences into a cohesive strategy is not easy. If we think about customer relationship management (CRM), how can a brand get a single view of the consumer when the consumer is exposed to the brand in so many varying capacities?”
How can travel brands insert themselves into the conversation organically?
“That word is the key: “organically.” There are two answers to this question:
- A brand can’t be on every platform. Sure, travel brands strive to be everywhere, but except for rare cases, they need to prioritize. If you can’t do eight platforms well, you need to focus on one or two with exceptional execution. Answer comments actively and publish regularly, rather than spreading your brand too thin. There is a prioritization that needs to take place. In addition, brands who bank on visual storytelling will get more bang for their buck than brands who do not. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million. We know that on Facebook video engagement is second to none, though both Facebook and YouTube are critical for brand engagement. Photos and videos are a way to set your brand apart, because visual user-generated content (UGC) has much more perceived authenticity. Of course, you can have a fantastic, highly-produced content roll-out on social, but when it’s OPC (other people’s content), it has that extra layer of authenticity and legitimacy.
- Brands and consumers are challenged by what I call “content shock.” And due to the enormous volume, brands need to be focused on standing out. In 2016, you simply can’t expect to get all of your engagement “organically” on social media, it isn’t realistic. Travel brands need a line in their budget for content amplification on social media. On Facebook we all know the stats, the average organic reach is 6%, and while some brands do better it’s not an enormous figure. Additionally, consumers are super busy, so to rise to the top of their mind-space, you have to be willing to pay-to-play. Travel brands need a balance between organic and paid content, that is how they will be able to enter the conversation in a meaningful way. Remember, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the business model of social is based on advertising, so we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s just a shift that marketers need to make.”
Which travel brands are doing a good job of creating authentic marketing experiences?
“There are lots of brands doing it well, I call them “love brands,” meaning brands that have extremely loyal consumers. Ski resorts, golf resorts, brands based on activity and lifestyle, those tend to have an easier time engaging consumers. Vail Resorts, for example, and their “Epic Pass” and “Epic Mix.” The brand started five or six years ago adding technology to enable consumers to participate in their marketing programs. Now they’ve enabled through a mobile app real-time engagement not just with the brand, but with other consumers. Someone can tell which chair-lifts are functioning, how long they’re taking, and consumers are populating that information. It’s user-generated, and users are helping each other navigate the experience. It’s not just about advertising the services.
Marriott has also been doing a very cool job with engaging travelers through authentic experiences by giving them GoPro cameras when they check-in to various resorts. In doing so, Marriott is enabling the traveler to tell their story, in their own way. It’s not, “take a picture of the pool or of your room.” Instead, the message is, “Have a great time, share your memories, it’s on us.” That’s authenticity.
Another cool example is Royal Caribbean, who wanted to reach new first-time cruisers, largely a millennial target. This demographic may not know what it’s like to be on a cruise; if they haven’t been on one, they likely think it’s a bunch of older people, probably a boring experience. So Royal Caribbean connected with digital influencers and invited them onto one of their affordable cruise ships. Then, they streamed through Periscope, sharing the experience live with potential travelers. When a consumer saw it, they could experience the cruise from the perspective of a person on the cruise. They could see what they liked and more importantly, what they didn’t like. That’s authenticity.”
We’ve worked with over two dozen of the world’s leading travel brands at Olapic. A recent example of a hotel brand doing innovative work with guest photos comes from Hyatt. The renowned hotel brand tapped Olapic to launch social.hyatt.com, a hub of traveler photos that showcases guest experiences while staying at any one of the more than 575 Hyatt hotels and resorts worldwide.
With experiential filters like beaches, golf, family friendly, and weddings, the hub allows travelers to seek inspiration and book their next Hyatt stay without having a specific destination or hotel brand in mind. It also reflects the direction Hyatt is taking as it advances its digital offerings beyond transactional, toward experiential. In addition to the gallery of consumer-generated photos found at social.hyatt.com, guest photos are featured on individual property sites such as Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa.
What can travel brands be doing better to engage digital consumers?
“Before anything else, travel brands need to understand who their important segments are and what those segments care about. Too often, brands are using interesting tools but not putting a strategy in place. The example of Periscope and Royal Caribbean is awesome, but it’s because it makes sense for that target: millennials. If they were targeting older consumers, it wouldn’t be as effective. You see it more and more nowadays, as marketers are bombarded with additional tools to implement that may not actually be valuable – Remember, if your customers aren’t there, don’t prioritize a platform.
From there, lots of trial and error needs to take place. What worked a year ago on Facebook may not work on Facebook today. Travel brands need to keep up with how consumer behavior is changing, and to do that they need to look into the analytics on a regular basis. Checking Google Analytics to determine which referral sources are performing and why is critical to developing an engagement strategy. Having well-defined key performance indicators (KPIs) is also important, so that you can measure performance over time. In addition, brands need to listen to what their consumers are telling them. Only then will they be able to fully engage consumers in a meaningful way.”
To learn more about Gonzalo and his work, check out his website. For more information about activating earned content in travel, read our latest post, “Why Travel Brands Must Look to Authentic Content to Increase Bookings.”