There are very few people who haven’t heard the refrain, “I know half my marketing expenditure is a waste of money, I just don’t know which half.” One reason for this saying’s longevity is that it contains a kernel of truth; every travel company would love to know exactly what turns a visitor into a customer – so it could only spend money on what makes that happen.
Companies have used a number of approaches such as consumer research, demographic studies and focus groups to limit the wasted spend - with varying degrees of success.
Within the past few years, companies have made strides toward their goal of tying marketing activities and expenses closer to reliable forecasts of associated revenue.
According to Seth Godin, three changes have taken place to make this possible: 1) advertising and marketing are increasingly viewed as separate and distinct; 2) online marketing is now much more participatory and effective; and, 3) social networking enables effective marketing to have a powerful and predictive effect on consumer behavior.
The term for the type of marketing which embodies these changes is “engagement marketing”. Of course, engagement has always been part of marketing – no responsible marketing campaign could ever be “disengaged”. But in this context, the marketing term takes on a different emphasis.
It’s not just about focus and interactions; now engagement encompasses granular information about people’s profiles, behaviors and activities; leverages technology to mine their data and uses analytics to turn knowledge into predictive marketing campaigns. As a result, this type of marketing can be linked to revenue outcomes, allowing businesses to forecast revenues and tie it to an ROI.
Engagement Marketing and the Travel Industry
In the past, travel marketing has sought ways to gain insights into probable consumer behavior and use those insights to influence the behavior in favorable ways. Designing marketing tactics to learn customer “intent” has been considered one of the best ways to gauge future consumer behavior. For example, if surveys revealed people have a favorable opinion of a company’s product or service, it was felt that opinion resulted from customer satisfaction, good word of mouth and could be turned into revenues by “intent” marketing programs.
Perhaps the best known examples of “intent” marketing are company reward programs. The travel industry was one of the first to experience reward programs. Now it’s hard to imagine travelers weren’t always making booking decisions based on their silver, gold and platinum status with favorite air carriers.
A weakness of forecasting consumer behavior from “intent” is subjectivity; one person’s idea of “favorable” is often very different from another, and answers can be affected by personality – some people are hesitant to give a negative opinion while others are only too happy. Reward programs avoid the issue of subjectivity, but even their objective data has limitations because it’s restricted to existing customers.
Engagement marketing, on the other hand, draws insights from data based on people’s direct interaction and behavior with marketing programs. This is what Seth Godin described as a “participatory” role and it goes beyond a subjective measurement of “intent” to discern genuine consumer attitudes and behaviors. What types of observed behaviors are we talking about? Essentially three: notice; interest and react.
Notice: people within a target audience signal they’re aware of – and favorably inclined toward – a marketing campaign directed at them. For instance; emails are opened, links are clicked and/or documents are downloaded.
Interest: having become favorably aware of a marketing campaign, a movement from notice to interest is determined and measured by units of time spent on related activities. An example would be the number of seconds spent on an opened email before closing it.
React: having noticed the marketing campaign and shown interest, the third behavior is a person reacting in a way defined as a good outcome. If a product or service is not complex or expensive, it might be a purchase. Otherwise it could be a site registration or a Facebook “share”.
To mine useful metrics from, observed behaviors must be tracked, measured and reported by social media software management systems with such capabilities as:
- Managing content publishing schedules, including posting and scheduling on all major social networks.
- Real-time content monitoring and performance tracking across multiple social media channels
- Managing social-CRM, email marketing, content listening and intelligence
The Role of Travel Technology
The role of travel technology in this type marketing is twofold: it must support related processes and applications – and it must do so in a way that’s scalable, efficient and doesn’t compromise a company’s operational performance levels or quality standards.
A travel company should be confident their existing technology can successfully take on this role. The most reliable sign of that ability is a clear track record of successfully supporting current operations satisfactory and competitive way. Unless management can clearly see that’s the case, assuming additional activities and software won’t cause performance issues is a risky bet.
Adding new software can be riskier than it appears because many travel systems have grown in exactly that way - as a company grew it accumulated applications as they became necessary.
In the beginning, this accumulation of software generally doesn’t cause serious problems because the company is small, processes are relatively uncomplicated and data is reasonably easy to organize. As the company grows, however, the situation changes and issues emerge.
For example, because information is held within many different systems, management can’t produce totally accurate reporting without manually cutting and pasting information into spreadsheets or having programmers integrate the systems. Adding the complexity of sophisticated marketing activities to a company reliant on manual spreadsheets or bringing in programmers would be challenging.
This is why most successful travel companies reached the point where they replaced separate systems with a travel enterprise resource planning (ERP) system - such as TINA from dcs plus. This software system eliminates the issues of separate systems by providing an integrated suite of applications – specifically designed for the travel industry – that provides a central data repository and standardized, automated, processes for such operations as: accounting; payroll; HR; supply chain; CRM & procurement. Data flows smoothly between all applications and reporting is quick, flexible and enhanced by analytic tools.
With an implemented travel ERP system, third party applications are easily integrated, so adding support of complex marketing activities would not be challenging. Information from the ERP’s CRM application will flow to marketing applications -and management reporting and analytics will incorporate data from both.
With flexible and integrated travel technology supporting the processes and applications associated with engagement marketing, this innovative approach for observing, interpreting and forecasting from observed behaviors linked to marketing campaigns can become a powerful competitive advantage.