Really knowing the customer

Really knowing the customer

How travel companies can reach, connect and engage more effectively.

There's no doubt that travel consumers have changed their attitudes and behaviours in recent years. It's no surprise, therefore, that content marketing has now become mainstream within travel – as it's a perfect fit for the aspirational, experience-led nature of the travel sector.

“In today’s content-driven world, travel companies have adapted to cater to customers’ needs. Content marketing is now more popular than ever before.” – Dave Montali, 'Content Marketing in Travel Has Moved From Niche to Mainstream', March 2017.

The trend for increased spending on content marketing shows that brands are much more willing to respond to customer needs and integrate this understanding into their marketing mix. Here, I've highlighted a few pertinent themes that travel marketers may find thought provoking and useful.

Knowing the customer

At present, the leading travel brands can easily understand their audience through data on:

  • how they interact with their booking system
  • referrals (what domains visitors are coming from)
  • geolocation
  • time spent on site
  • scroll depth on web pages and blogs
  • what keywords they used to find their site
  • how they respond in surveys
  • sentiment analysis
  • segmentation

Companies can use all of this information to build up scientifically-based customer personae with clarity and realism.  This can then help them anticipate likely behaviour and plan accordingly.

Whatever the data and analysis, travellers are real people seeking experiences that will enhance their lives in some way.  For travel brands, getting the pitch right with their content is a hugely complex task involving multiple departments and lots of hard work. Every word, image, rating and destination guide matters. 

At the heart of any content strategy needs to be a knowledge of the customer that can help travel brands respond to needs, rather than guesses based on traditional marketing methods that may be outdated or a poor match for their targets.

Reaching your target audience, again and again

Reaching an audience is not just about knowing where they hang out, but how they are hanging out. What mode are they in and what's their aspiration at that moment in time?

Whether it's via the search engines, on social media or your email list – knowing (and respecting) the places where your customers hang out is essential if your content is going to reach them in a timely way.

Keyword-related content of the highest order is always a great approach as consumers are never far away from search. For example, landing pages that are very specific in their content or blog articles that answer questions your audience is likely to ask.

The mood they are in at the time also needs to be taken into consideration – and content needs to be aligned with:

  • Daydreaming about destinations (think great images and aspirational blogs)
  • Actual research and comparison (think hotel or resort guides, airport tips and weather stats)
  • Being super helpful with booking (think seamless UX and customer service on tap)
  • On the ground help and assistance (think local info packs, restaurant and activity guides)
Connecting with the customer – on their terms

With cross device phases within the customer journey now the norm, travel brands are getting agile both with their content and their booking processes. With around 67% of bookings now involving a mobile device and over 20% of travellers seeking information from social media, the brands that are doing well are those offering great content on any device, at the right time.

The customer wants convenience, timely information and a UX that is easy, stress-free and seamless. Brands are actively responding to this all the time, so they can anticipate next steps and be there when their customers need them.

Engage with them – so they'll remember you

Whether it's an email enquiry, phone call, blog comment or a tweet, customers always have us on trial. Engaging with them in the right way is so important. Clogged up call centres, faceless email autoresponders and a lack of response on review sites are all disheartening for the consumer. Poor information before and during travel also makes an impact – so having content that will support, give insight to and reassure customers is essential.

It's the emotional response that really matters. We're selling dreams after all, aren't we?

Further crazy (and not so crazy) ideas to help you respond to customer needs

Writers on the ground

Travellers love to see things from a local perspective.  They want to feel local and get immersed in the experience. Writers that spend time in the exact locations (or even exact hotels) and then write or vlog are likely to strike a chord with your audience. This approach seems to be largely absent from current thinking within the travel sector.

“Travellers want to be able to experience truly the country that they are visiting and come away with a genuine appreciation of the local culture. In short, the average tourist no longer wants to feel like a tourist.”

Know everything about destinations and create content on all of it

Whether it's local bus times, restaurant guides, camel trekking or local cuisine cookery courses, get something published on it – and make it great. Food tourism, for example, is expanding fast – but how many travel brands are creating regular content on that?

“Food tourism is 59% more important than it was five years ago.” – World Food Travel Association.

Live chat support

Live chat support is powerful, but not many travel brands are using it. This kind of hand-holding for consumers really works and the stats are mind-blowing:

  • 44% of customers say that live chat is one of the most important features during purchasing
  • 90% of paying customers think live chat is helpful
  • 63% are more likely to return to a site that has live chat

Source: KissMetrics.

Live chat operators can also point customers towards destination guides, hotel menus and even their nearest high street agent (if they have one). 

My own 'snap survey' showed that out of ten well-known travel brands, only one had live chat support and the rest only had telephone support or contact form support. Although it's easy to understand the logistical problems associated with running teams of live chat operators who represent brands with hundreds of locations and thousands of hotels, I'm amazed that given the stats more travel brands don't take advantage. Certainly boutique travel operators should be looking into this.

Be authentic, and empathise with your customers

In a world where air travellers can (ok, so it's a very, very rare occurrence) be hauled off flights for no good reason – emphasise your empathy to gain the upper hand.

Positive energy creates more of the same, and thinking about how you'd like to be treated and reflecting that in all your content serves the best brands well. Whether it's a full-on holiday experience aimed at the younger market or a family holiday in Greece – how you respond to your customers in every interaction and within every piece of content is part of the ecosystem of their relationship with you.

Matt Rochford Account Manager Big Star Copywriting
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