J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote a poem as part of his Lord of The Rings odyssey that contains the searing line “not all those who wander are lost”. And so it seems pretty obvious that travel goes to the heart of what it is to be human.
So, it makes sense that the best travel marketing touches this part of our humanity in a way that no other marketing can do and, in my opinion, that there are many lessons for all marketers in the way that travel marketers operate. I’ve been in this tourism caper for about five years and, although I never planned to be in the industry, I can confidently claim that it’s the part of my career that has taught me the most about how to ‘do great marketing’.
One of the best ways to do marketing is to turn it into a revenue centre in some way, rather than just a cost centre. That’s putting some commercial thinking into what’s sometimes considered a budget black hole for many organisations. And, frankly, it’s about time marketers grow up and start thinking about this stuff and not just about the creative for next summer’s campaign.
With that in mind, here are three lessons from travel industry brands that have shaped their content programs in such a way that they’re bringing some money in while still contributing to broader organisational goals.
Marriott: content, community, commerce
You may know of the very smart French Kiss film from Marriott, but what you may not know is that an exclusive holiday package was created to complement this content and, wow, did it fly off the shelf.
The package included a series of unique, money-can’t-buy experiences not just at the Champs-Elysees Marriott location, but also around Paris. Overall, more than $500,000 of that package was sold in just two months following the release of the film.
This is a great articulation of the media company-esque mentality of Marriott’s global VP of creative and content marketing at the time, David Beebe.
The lesson here? If you’re selling a physical product or experience, make a very tangible, solid connection with your content program and don’t be afraid to ask your community (or audience) for the sale when the time is right.
Expedia: your customer is on a content journey
If anyone has the data to understand the customer journey, it’s Expedia. And it not only uses this data to place ads in the right spot and at the right time, it partners with destination marketers to use content as a way to deliver customer intel.
Expedia just executes flawlessly on this all the time (check out the refreshing ‘Find Your Aloha’, the very helpful ‘An Australian Adventure’ or the inspired ‘Sound Travels’ for starters). It creates content-centred digital experiences for its users, measures interactions, trends the data and, aside from selling flights, hotel rooms and holiday packages, it also feeds that structured data back to its destination marketing partners as intelligence about their target customer.
Hari Nair, the global SVP for Expedia Media Solutions, said this information is critical to help marketers understand what’s going to cut through for their target audience.
“It’s true that consumers are very undecided, which is actually great news for [marketers]; what you want to give people is ‘the hook’ that’s right for them,” Nair said.
The lesson here? Understand that every moment on your customer journey can help you learn something about that customer. Use your content program as a means to an end to learn that something and you can save your organisation a bunch of money on additional research, surveys and focus groups.
Air New Zealand: content + audience = business asset
Everyone who’s been on an Air New Zealand flight (or, indeed, been on the internet) in the past decade will be familiar with the airline’s genre-defining safety videos. These fun little numbers started out as in-flight entertainment, but soon grew to be central parts of branded content campaigns for the Kiwi carrier.
By extending the concepts into other formats and supplementary-owned and -earned content (especially social media), Air New Zealand can grow its audience through more efficient and means than traditional paid acquisition approaches. What’s more, audiences acquired through a content program are more engaged with the brand than those acquired through an ad.
In what is one of the most volatile and price-driven of all categories – air travel – Air New Zealand has found a way to build a content program that balances out its more tactical marketing.
And, as the GM of global brand and content marketing at Air New Zealand, Jodi Williams, said: “One of the challenges is balancing long term brand building [with] short term needs and you need to get that balance right.”
The lesson here? Like media companies, brands have the opportunity to build a business asset in an audience that is engaged and responsive to marketing messages. By extending your content program to an audience acquisition strategy, you might just draw in new users at a lower cost than if you were paying for every single one through a TVC, digital banner or paid sponsorship.
In my opinion, each of these examples can teach marketers of all stripes a valuable lesson. It’s definitely clear that marketers in travel have cottoned onto the central idea that if you monetise your content program, you not only change the conversation within your brand, but you can elevate that activity to something more business critical than just a ‘nice to have’.
Andrés Lopez-Varela is head of strategy at Storyation, and was formerly the global content editor for Tourism Australia.