Accor just announced they aim to regain power from the OTAs. They will spend $284 million between now and 2018 in digital initiatives that will reverse the 60/40 current OTA imbalance to a more reasonable 40/60 ratio and trend away from OTAs by focusing on “being outstanding players at every stage of the customer journey.” This, on the heels of Expedia Inc. third quarter results (10/30/14) of 50% year over year income growth of $257.1 M.
I applaud Accor’s action to win back the hearts and minds (and wallets) of their customer and I offer smaller organizations a digital strategy for a lot less than $284 million.
How do you become outstanding players at every stage of the customer journey? We start that journey with the first step; gaining actionable insight from relevant available data. Let’s also acknowledge that every single customer touch point is an opportunity to engage.
Relevant insight provided by available technology will allow you to engage more personally, more frequently and importantly – ahead of the competition and is a key step in regaining control from the OTAs.
Success today, in its simplest form, is all about successfully connecting with your audience. The key pillars of success have been built by delivering the right content at the right time in the right place for the right price to the right audience.
This concept has not changed but most certainly evolved as technology has allowed us to gain advanced actionable insights into the demographic, psychographic and other behavioral characteristics of the consumer. This allows a high degree of personalization and relevance. .
The travel consumer of today differs dramatically from the travel consumer of the past. Yesterday’s planning process was linear. There were less research options available. Today’s consumer is more non-linear in approach, almost a mind mapping process, with one thought leading to another, and then another.
Search engines are the reason for this non-linear travel planning approach. Review sites, OTA’s, DMO sites – a plethora of options. There are so many sites visited in the planning process and can be as many as thirty, according to Expedia. “Yesterday” we would visit our travel agent and ask planning questions for a visit to Paris. Today, typing in Paris in Google gets over 180 million results in about one half second. No lack of information! So, how do we as hoteliers, destinations, cruise lines, attractions and tour operators beat the OTA multi-million digital marketing spend, win the customer and yield award winning ROI, increase revenue and intent to purchase?
Increase and Enhance Lead Generation Success
Understand who your customer is. Better still, analyze your high valued customers. It’s this group you want to truly gain valuable decision making insights. Define their DNA. DNA may vary by strategy. Are you looking for a high spending “One and Done” traveler, or a traveler that is more predisposed to frequent visits? Perhaps you may want to identify travelers who have visited more recently, that have more top of mind awareness. Whoever your ideal customer is, understand their DNA. This DNA is what you will use to clone your high valued customers. This will be essential as you embark on getting higher converting guests, visitors, passengers and customers. Once you have your “cloned” group identified your objective is to figure out where this identified group shop. There are service providers who do a great job in this type of marketing and this effort is much more sophisticated that list rentals.
Let Technology Outsmart your Competition
I have always been intrigued by successful non-travel technology and adopting and adapting it for travel, tourism and hospitality. One such technology was developed in California by higher math PHDs and published Neural Scientists and mimics the way the human mind reasons content. This technology’s strongest value is the early intersection of travel planning before destination decisions are made. The kicker here is that your rich media banner ads will be dynamically displayed on over one million potential websites ONLY when the content and consumer is considered a match by the technology. You can also integrate RTB (Real Time Bidding) strategies. This higher degree of relevancy will lead to higher conversions. This is customer triggered and also incorporates “offsite” retargeting. Key data is provided enabling you to make strategy shifts “on the fly”. There are a number of service providers that can access many more websites than available through Google’s or OTA channels. For smaller organizations this lets you to punch above your weight. For larger organizations you can outperform OTA’s.
Get a Better Meta Platform
Until now, metasearch engines only allowed the consumer to book through an Online Travel Agency (OTA). Enter disruptive technology. Today, metasearch has met metadirect, allowing consumers to book directly with destinations, hotels, cruise lines, attractions, tour operators etc. You are getting closer to your customer and increasing your chances of enhanced personalized engagement. Embedding a meta direct booking tool within your dynamic display ad will not only increase intent to purchase but provide increased profitability by sending the customer directly to your site.
Tapping in to these newer technologies will not only give you an edge on your competition but also against OTAs. You will not only be developing your own web of relevance, but you will be able to test, measure and refine. You can now tag along with the travel consumer on their journey as they undergo travel metamorphosis from ideation → researcher → planner → shopper → purchaser. . Your own messaging can also change based upon the point of the travel planning cycle.
Ultimately there is a question of price. Price is relative. Accor have announced their budget of $284 million. What are the projected costs in the strategies I have outlined above? These services can be developed individually or bundled. In my experience, a refined lead generation program can start as low as $10,000. Effective integration of all three strategies discussed in this article can cost about $60,000. Many decimal points to the left of the Accor budget. This can deliver a stunning ROI.
Depending on the size of your business, this represents a compelling investment for customer acquisition and creates a positive environment to level the playing field with OTAs’
In our efforts to captivate the traveling public, it isn’t only the Big Boys that have all the “toys” to deliver the right content at the right time in the right place for the right price to the right audience. Today, we are blessed with incredible resources and leading edge technology that will transform insight into action, leading to increased relevance, engagement and conversion.
For years we have known that Content is King. More recently (our current Social (R)evolution), we have engaged Content in a different place. Namely, at the intersection of Search and Social.
Sometimes we shy away from content because we don’t understand its hierarchy in our attempts to captivate and intrigue the customer. Traditionally, content is for publishers. However, by having a website automatically makes us a publisher. We need to think as a publisher and act as a publisher. Our audience thrives on content. Relevant content, refreshed on a regular basis is a necessity. No news is actually bad news.
Content has re-emerged as the marketing go-to superstar in the social world we live in. Yet so many companies do not have a Content Strategy. First we have to agree on what a Content Strategy is all about. To me, it is simply stated as “getting the right stuff, to the right folks, at the right time, in the right channel, on the right device”. Easier said than done. The customer is at the epicenter of the universe attacked by a non-stop barrage of whirling junk debris and we as customers have become smarter and do a decent job of avoiding this clutter.
How do we avoid being part of the clutter? Embracing the “getting the right stuff, to the right folks, at the right time, in the right channel, on the right device” definition, where do we start ?
We start with customer insights. Understanding needs and wants and delivering a ‘sensing and serving’ approach to the customer. As seamless as possible. Data driven. Relevant, timely and personal. A good Content Strategy will extend the Life Time Value of your customers.
Successful Content Marketing is developed by organizing your customers into clusters or persona’s. This allows us to message appropriately. It keeps our eye on the ball and we can build Objective Profiles that relate to your defined customer group(s).
As we gain insight from this defined group we determine the triggers that will drive them to (as an example) your website. The goal here is to get your product or service, your destination or hotel, on to the radar screen and in to the consideration zone. But first we need to intrigue them with relevantcontent to fuel their planningand ideation process.
We should learn the timing of this from insights gained from the characteristics and behavior patterns of the defined group. Maybe even overlaid with transactional data.
Next develop your Communication Calendar. The Communication Calendar should again be driven by data insights. Preferably triggered by the customer as opposed to “Spray and Pray”. If you have specific events, make sure that you have created the persona group that will improve response rates and conversion. Remember the mantra “getting the right stuff, to the right folks, at the right time, in the right channel, on the right device”.
You are now ready to share your content. Make sure your content is the right content for the defined group. Is there anything missing? Do you need to grab additional content. Does the content fit the group. As an example, mountain biking content at a resort might not fit a customer group composed of Boomers. (Although a number of Boomers do enjoy mountain biking).
Today’s Über-Connected consumer can reach you from a multitude of channels and devices. Your content strategy should identify the various customer touch points. This requires some creativity in repackaging your content in to something that looks new and fresh. As an example; a series of top notch consumer generated themed photos collected over the last few months repackaged to tell a themed story. All content shared should be classy, polished and compelling. And remember that the first point of contact is likely to be mobile. Make sure you content renders well in this environment.
As you define your Content Strategy ensure your framework has good metrics. If you can’t measure it seriously consider it being part of your plan. What can’t be measured normally doesn’t get funded.
Another major reason for a Content Strategy (as if we needed another reason) is the continually changing algorithmic playing field from Google as they continue to tinker with their search bots. We have witnessed Google give content a higher priority over keywords. Cramming keywords in to posts and messaging doesn’t cut it anymore. We should be more concerned about the topic searched and make sure it is found in an authoritative and naturally flowing content. This landscape will be in continual flux as Google’s encrypted organic search keyword algorithms change in future updates.
Bottom line is that consumers love content, fresh compelling content…and so do Google bots.
So, let’s head in the right direction at the intersection of Search, Social and Content or you could be headed down Lonely Street and checking in to Heartbreak Hotel.
The story goes something like this….Need to plan a weekend trip….I have selected my destination and now I quickly look at TripAdvisor to read reviews on the hotels I am considering. Reviews from strangers that lead us to make a purchase decision. The power of social media, content and search…all wrapped up with a nice little bow. We trust strangers’ reviews, but ultimately it’s TripAdvisor we trust. It is TripAdvisor that, over time, built and earned this trust.
How did TripAdvisor gain this incredible trust factor? Trust builds better and faster results. Everyday new businesses emerge all focused on speed to market. But without the trust factor many are doomed. What should we be doing to build trust? Consider these ideas to get you started.
1. Keep it Personal
Treat your customers as individuals, which they are. Mass marketing died in the last century. Mass personalization took over. The more you can personalize and individualize the customer experience the faster you will win their trust and their business. Take a look at yourself. What do you think others would say about you? Are you sincere, reliable, respectful and dependable.
Being open and honest will stand you in good stead. You don’t have to remember lies or half truths. Keeping honest is much easier than the alternative. If something goes wrong admit it and resist the temptation to spin. You will get found out and it is difficult to climb out of that slippery hole you dug for yourself.
Has somebody ever said to you…”Well, technically…….” and whatever follows you know is a spin. You have be straight forward and squeaky clean to quickly gain trust. Use language that is unambiguous. Language that cannot be misunderstood. It is not as easy it sounds.
4. Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk
The cliché has been around a while but its message is extremely relevant in building trust. Always deliver on your promise no matter how small or how big. A wedding vow is a huge life altering commitment. Honoring your commitments in business is a significant factor that builds an incredibly strong reputation. Good reputations travel fast these days due to the viral dynamics of our social networks (i.e. TripAdvisor) further cementing and building trust driven by an independent social army.
Being responsible and accountable will go a long way in building integrity. Integrity is one of the key pillars of trust. Having integrity in business means that you have values and guiding principles. Nordstrom’s taught the world about integrity and values. They built fiercely loyal customers because Nordstrom’s listened to them and served them, no matter what. Integrity is a passion. It is part of the Brand personality.
We recall Robert De Niro and the Byrnes family Circle of Trust from the 2000 movie Meet the Parents. As De Niro explained to Ben Stiller, and I paraphrase…… “If I can’t trust you, then I will have no choice than to put you outside the Circle of Trust and once you are out Greg, you are out, and there’s no coming back. You will never get back in.” In business, as in our personal lives, trust takes time to build but can be shattered in a New York minute.
Trust recovery is painful and never easy but if you find that you have over committed or cannot meet a promise or deadline, be the first person to immediately communicate the problem personally, apologize face to face or at least over the phone. Never with an email. Make a new promise and be 100% confident that you can keep that promise “as advertized”.
It’s no wonder there are many companies that have built a business around Reputation Management! Much needed by businesses like AIG, BP, Goldman Sachs, and a longer list of celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, Pee Wee Herman, George Michael, Hugh Grant, Paula Deen, Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan, Lance Armstrong…OK enough, I hear you say (as you add more to this list.)
You can trust me when I say that it is better to actually demonstrate trust than talking about trust. Trust, after all, is earned and needs to be part of your DNA.