On the surface of it, the concept of an ideal client seems fairly simple. They are people who book the kind of travel you like to market and sell. They are loyal to you year after year. And most importantly, their business supports you in operating a sustainable, profitable travel agency.
While the concept appears clear cut, who that ideal client actually is, and how you tap into this “avatar” with focused and compelling marketing, typically isn’t.
“I have struggled with those same ideal client exercises that every agent goes through,” said Wendy Livingston Guth, a Virtuoso travel advisor. “There are a lot of travel advisors, where this is completely foreign to them.”
Many agents, like Margie Lenau', a travel consultant at Wonderland Family Vacations, identify their ideal client through a mix of intuition and online tools. “I have enough history that I can look at my clients, have conversations with them about the kinds of trips they are looking to take, and see what they have in common with what I want to sell,” Lenau' said.
She supplements these conversations by analyzing her agency’s social media followers. Using Personapp.com, an online avatar creation website, she builds more definition around that potential client’s purchasing behaviors, and memorializes those attributes in a tangible tool she can reference regularly.
Tracee Williams, manager at Destinations, a storefront agency in Fayetteville, Arkansas, relies heavily on her CRM, ClientBase, to store client likes and dislikes in their profiles. “We send out surveys periodically asking clients to update their preferences, and that helps us refine who we are selling to,” Williams said.
Building a loyal tribe
For other agents, like Livingston Guth, the most critical step is finding your own persona first – and being your favorite client unabashedly.
In November 2016, Livingston Guth created her Rebel on the Go Facebook group, a community of “like-minded rebellious women” who wanted to connect because of their shared desire to break free of conventions. (It was not focused on travel at the time.)
With 275 members today, the group recently has transitioned more towards a transformational travel community, and Livingston Guth is selling experiences to its members – including a fall 2020 group cruise on Virgin Voyages.
Rebel on the Go’s persona comes directly from Livingston Guth’s own lived personal experiences. Because her brand is so personal, it helps her focus in on her ideal client, and sustain that focus over time.
“There is no question, I think I’m my perfect client. I live my brand. I don’t put out there some all-encompassing name, like ‘Wendy’s Travel Design.’ I’m the Rebel on the Go,” she said.
Not initially a rebellious type, Livingston Guth started to feel stirrings in her 30s as her marriage was falling apart. She remarried, and in 2016 went through a professional transition. Leaving her job as a professional meeting planner, that summer she found herself landing in the solitude of Guam.
“It was a transformational experience, traveling to the middle of nowhere, someplace entirely new. With time to spare, I started to have the notion that I wanted to get into travel, but I also knew I wanted to do something different than most other agents,” she said.
She experimented with different niches and different brands for her agency, as well as different concepts of who her ideal client was. “But I always ended back at wanting to be Stevie Nicks when I grow up,” Guth said, referring to the unconventional, free-spirited singer and musician.
Frustrated with not matching her spirit with her business, Livingston Guth focused on launching and building a following through her Rebel on the Go Facebook group. She used the newsfeed, discussion threads and personal connections to gather market research about how her community defined themselves.
“Being a rebel is such a personal thing. We all can rebel in different ways. For me, my ideal client is someone who has the interest and inclination to get outside their comfort zone, because there is a stirring in them,” Livingston Guth said. That someone is a woman like Irena Miller, an intuitive memory coach based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
A corporate management refugee, Miller today teaches yoga and helps women pay closer attention to their bodies, to understand what those signals mean about their state of mind.
“The thing that I love about Wendy is that she is so adventurous. The images she shares online, the adventures she goes on herself,” Miller said. “She’s like Indiana Jones. If we get dirty, run into snakes, I’m down for it with Wendy, because that’s part of the transformational experience she’s taking us on.”
The two met through a mutual friend when Livingston Guth was running a Facebook group “challenge,” asking her community to create their own adventure based on a personal issue they were trying to understand.
“Wendy asked us questions like, ‘Would you prefer to travel as a group, or solo on your adventure?’ When you finished her Facebook challenge, she connected you with a type of transformational journey for your spirit. I knew I had found my tribe,” Miller said. “Wendy says the words that stir our soul and reach our spirit, and I immediately connected with her.”
Attract, then sell
The Facebook challenge led to the next logical step: Offering to take community members on a real journey.
Interestingly, Livingston Guth didn’t make the connection between her challenge and a group trip with Virgin Voyages when, this February, the new cruise line opened cabins for sale.
“I wasn’t certain a cruise was right for my rebels, if the brand was congruent with our community’s philosophy,” Livingston Guth said.
“Virgin is promoting things like an onboard vegan tattoo parlor, drag queen brunches, the flexibility of joining group activities, or going off on your own,” she said. “I realized, we have this whole concept in our community that matches with Virgin’s ‘rebellious luxe’ brand, taking you out of your comfort zone, pushing you to pursue your interests and passions with a self-care component. I said, ‘Whoa, this is it.’”
But instead of coming right out and selling a cruise concept to the Facebook group, Livingston Guth instead opened a dialogue with them about their wants and needs. She posted memes to see what resonated, as well as her “personal manifesto of statements true to me,” and watched the responses.
“Wendy built the curiosity slowly, and didn’t just throw it out there to the group,” Miller said, recalling a Facebook live video where Livingston Guth asked questions “that drilled down to our rebel pain points. I am the biggest anti-cruise person in the world. But when I heard Wendy speak about it, about how the experience is a transformational opportunity, I said, ‘How can I give you my credit card?’”
Livingston Guth opened up the Virgin itinerary to her Facebook community in April of this year. The group sold out in less than 30 days, and Livingston Guth is still selling additional cabins to the group this fall.
Today, the Virgin Voyages experience has reshaped how Livingston Guth thinks about her rebels, and suppliers whose brands and offerings might match up with them (she is possibly interested in a Rebel on the Go tour with National Geographic Journeys).
Be open to change
But even when you hone in on clear definitions of who your ideal clients are, travel advisors need to remain flexible. Ideal clients change over time as they grow older, enter new life phases, become more experienced travelers. And sometimes your ideal client changes because your travel agency does.
For example, Fayetteville-based Destinations has been in business for about 20 years. Currently, the company has hired a marketing agency to help it navigate through a transition that previously was heavy into romance travel and destinations weddings, to more family and luxury travel, said Tracee Williams, the agency’s manager.
“We’re seeing more of the families that came out of those destination weddings years ago, traveling together now,” Williams said. “They want to take the whole family to Europe, take a luxury cruise together. So, our existing clients are evolving into something new versus what clients used to be, and we’re trying to grow with them.”