For travel brands – from airlines to hotels, car hire companies to package holiday firms – every booking is a battlefield. PPC price wars, aggressive advertising from online travel agents and increasingly impatient consumers mean that securing a direct sale is harder than it’s ever been.
But the good news for the sector is that, overall, we’re all going on more holidays. In September 2016, UK residents had been on 7% more trips abroad than in the previous year – and spent 10% more on those trips, according to ABTA’s Travel Trends Report 2017.
So, although it’s a jungle out there, there’s a big opportunity for brands to convert casual browsers to completed bookings on their own booking site. Delivering a fulfilling, rich customer experience is central to this – and that means a seamless, smart integration of content at every stage. So take a look at our five golden rules for content that will keep travel customers with you from search to sale.
1. Preview the experience you’re selling
Giving customers an immersive taster of the experience that’s on sale is now an essential part of the booking process – and ‘look before you book’ has never been so sophisticated.
Travel agents like Thomson and Thomas Cook have worked hard to transform high-footfall bricks and mortar stores into VR concept stores. This has been an effective differentiator – Thomas Cook has reported that 10% of customers who try on a VR headset immediately make a booking.
But with three out of every four holidays now booked online, sensory temptation needs to go way beyond the high street to underpin the experience on every channel. This applies to brands across the entire travel sector.
If your marketing budget doesn’t stretch to VR, there are lots of ways enhanced content can provide a strong sense of place and time to really draw your customers in. Here are a few ideas:
• 360 video tours shot by real customers
• Facebook live stream views from the plane cockpit as the descent begins
• Interactive hotel room service menus
• Roadtrip playlists to soundtrack the destination
• Influencer coverage of the experience – an effective tactic in our work with Hyatt
2. Encourage spontaneous bookings
As consumer culture shifts away from self-service, we expect machines to do our legwork for us – and to do it fast. This mindset is great news for travel brands looking to capture and convert a sale in one smooth, fast transaction.
Naturally, mobile is the key channel here. According to booking.com, one in two traveller journeys now begin on mobile, and mobile users are much more likely to book spur-of-the-moment.
A new breed of travel disruptors are ready to serve this new spontaneous mobile travel behaviour, like Helsinki-based Whim – a mobile app that enables super-simple pre-paid, local travel ‘wherever and whenever you want’, launching imminently in the UK.
For travel brands across all sectors, how could content help to boost spontaneous bookings?
• Creatively link your brand with the concept of ‘spontaneity’ to drive mental availability for when the time is right
• Create helpful ‘travel’ content to whet the users’ appetite, especially video; YouTube searches for ‘travel hacks’ were up by 115% YoY in October 2016
• Target spontaneous messaging and last-minute deals specifically at mobile users
• Optimise your content for voice search – virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa will become our personal last-minute holiday booking agents
3. Create SEO-friendly content to leapfrog the PPC budget drain
Paid search can be a race to the bottom, with Google sucking up an estimated 90% of travel ad budgets in 2016 and online agents bidding against travel companies’ brand names while at the same time mopping up those brands’ budgets. Hilton, for example, pays for a huge 23% of all hotel sponsored listings space on Kayak.
And, according to Stephen Taylor of travel marketing platform Sojern, ‘Facebook is just cracking the door open’ when it comes to its advertising options for travel brands.
So what can be done, short of doubling ad budgets? The answer could lie in new-school SEO. Google’s Customer Journey tool offers a view of where organic search slots into the customer journey; for medium-sized UK travel brands, it’s the third touchpoint after generic PPC and email – making it a vitally important tactic that shouldn’t be relegated.
Tips for boosting your SEO using content:
• Carry out an SEO audit to identify – and enhance – your top performing pages
• Create content around travel trends, or more unique themes that aren’t covered by competitor sites – for 2017, ABTA’s research suggests these include micro adventures, long-haul city breaks and sustainable eco trips
• Optimise for natural language and search terms – this is especially important as voice search increases
• Convert your content pages to AMPs so they look great on mobile, and perform better in natural search
4. Improve your CX with better transactional content
“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read,” said advertising guru Leo Burnett – essentially giving us the ultimate formula for engaging content. It’s advice that’s particularly relevant when it comes to the travel sector, where the very first encounter needs to directly reflect the product, but where user experiences can be so notoriously ugly and awkward.
A great CX means a seamless convergence of design, functionality and message, across all channels. If your brand’s online presence can’t quite deliver all that all the time, focus on supercharging your content as one of the quicker fix options.
Some ways to improve your CX using content:
• Review your microcopy to check every label, button and header is clear and user-centric
• Increase the range of languages you use
• Focus on email, including creating a memorable and engaging mailer for people who abandon their cart
• Get rid of any dark patterns – deliberately deceptive language designed to hoodwink users, and the sort of shady tactic that gives far more value to the brands that eschew them
5. Understand and reflect your key customers
This one’s not rocket science for us marketers, but it’s always worth regularly refocusing on who your most important customers are. After all, as Deanna Ting of Skift says, ‘The travel industry – especially the hospitality industry – is really about people.’
If you can understand and empathise with your core customer base’s behaviours and motivations, you can reflect it in your marketing, engendering preference and loyalty.
And as our 2015 whitepaper benchmarking travel operators showed, the most-shared travel content is often successful because it was ‘created with an understanding of what was going on culturally in the lives of their readers’.
How to understand what makes your customers tick:
• Keep a close eye on what’s being shared on social by your audience using tools like Buzzsumo
• Carry out content and advert trials to test messaging, formats and channels – there may be a powerful combination you haven’t yet discovered
• Run independent focus groups with key growth segments, especially younger groups whose attitudes may challenge accepted user personas
Want to find out more about how we help travel brands create effective, engaging content marketing programmes? Drop us a line.