U.K.-based travel marketing consultant Danny Crowe reviews the basics of successful marketing.
Improved marketing is something every business wants. You may be a travel agent, cruise line, tour operator or airline but, regardless of segment, size or brand, successful marketing depends on understanding the experience and stages your customer goes through.
There are many approaches to marketing. After 30 years’ experience in marketing, including for some of the world’s biggest brands, I know there is a common thread. That thread is the customer journey.
The customer journey has five simple steps, and you must address each of them.
1. Finding products and services
2. Asking for information
3. Becoming a paying customer
4. Going back for more
5. Telling their friends
So let us look at each step in turn and compare your activity for that step. Whether yours is a multinational brand with a $10 million budget, or a two-person travel agency working out of a small storefront or home office, the core basics remain the same.
#1. Finding products & services: create awareness
To reach potential customers, you must create awareness. Creating awareness isn’t as simple as making sure lots of people know your business. First you have to know what business you’re in.
You – and your staff – have to have a clear picture in mind of what your business looks like. What differentiates you from other travel sellers? Ensure that you communicate this clearly. Can you tell someone in three floors in a lift journey what you do and what you stand for?
If you are struggling, employ a specialist to help.
#2. Asking for information: generate leads
Success at this stage depends on generating effective and appropriate leads. To do this you have to know your audience, so you make certain your marketing messages are appropriate.
Be single-minded in your messaging. Don’t commit the cardinal sin of trying to sell every one of your products or services in a tiny black and white advert. Pick out one clear message and use that to attract customer interest.
Look at all available media. You may be on High Street, but your customers are looking everywhere for ideas, especially in the digital world.
#3. Becoming a paying customer: convert leads
Even the best brands in the world let themselves down here. How often have you sent off for something or phoned a plumber and gotten no response?
Most travel brands will respond to an inquiry then immediately let it go cold, simply adding the email details to the “looker” database.
They fail to find out what the potential customers are interested in, fail to follow up with relevant information and fail to make the looker feel important. Instead they send a barrage of emails offering everything the travel company has to offer.
If your messaging or advertisement was right, your leads will be hot. They also will have cost you time and money, so follow up immediately. Loyalty starts here, so get to know them, find out their interests and show them you really want their business.
Add them to your database so you can also follow up later, especially if your business is seasonal.
#4. Going back for more: drive repeat business
Good service and a good product are not enough to guarantee repeat business. Consumers today have far more choice, and they shop around. So talk to your customers regularly. Send them emails, letters and leaflets about promotions. Call them to make sure they’re happy with your services and their travels and to find out what else they need.
Learn more about them. If you sold them a short break, find out where they take their main holiday, and how many times a year they travel. (There is no point spending time and money cross-selling to a customer who only takes one main holiday a year.)
Build your database, and get to understand it. Are there common traits shared by your customers (age, sex, location, wealth, special interests, nationality, etc.)? By understanding your customers, you can sell more to them and find others that are like them too.
Simple segmentation techniques can save you a fortune and improve response rates (calls, visits, open rates, click-through rates, bookings). Can you identify your best 52 customers and ring them one a week?
#5. Telling their friends: turn customers into referrers
If a customer is unhappy with your services, they will tell, on average, six people about you. Keep a customer happy, fix their complaint, and they will tell 11 friends. And most of those friends will have similar purchasing behaviors.
So encourage your best customers to tell their friends.
Offer them incentives to do so. (American Express has been doing this for years.) For instance, if you recommend a friend to me and they book, you get a bottle/case/vineyard of wine, depending on the value of the booking, of course.
Now think about your own travel business. Are you taking each of these simple steps toward greater success?
Danny Crowe is managing director at Friday Travel in Hertfordshire, U.K. He is a travel marketing specialist with more than 30 years’ experience, including as head of marketing at Thomas Cook Travel.