U.K.-based travel marketing consultant Danny Crowe offers advice on selling cruises to first-timers, especially in the current environment.
The unfortunate Concordia accident in the Mediterranean will no doubt have an impact on cruise bookings over coming weeks and months. Most notable will be the impact on consumers who are new to cruise – the holy grail customer that all cruise lines and agents seek.
The new-to-cruise client is often a challenge, mainly because to make a couple take a first cruise we have to convince two people. With a hotel it is less of an issue, but cruising is one of those "love it or hate it" products.
Now we have to overcome safety concerns too.
So how do we collectively move forward? Naturally the cruise industry has issued the obvious "we believe in safety" PR statements, but is this enough?
Cruise marketing hurdles
We know from numerous database segmentation projects with cruise lines and agents that the following barriers exist:
• Generating leads is expensive, and many of the traditional media routes, such as print advertising, are failing to deliver.
• The quality of these leads is dubious, as many are attracted by price-driven advertising, hence conversion goes to the lowest bidder. And many cruise businesses send a quote and leave them alone, with no fixed contact strategy in place.
• Taking a customer from one to two cruises is a mighty challenge, again mainly due to the agent’s lack of understanding of the customer.
• Once a traveller has cruised twice, they'll probably remain a cruiser and invariably loyal to their last experience. "Once a P&O cruiser, always a P&O cruiser."
The creative message
So how do we address this? Well first of all the creative message needs to be right.
We know that people cruise primarily because they want to visit lots of interesting places in one trip. Yes, it seems obvious – but very few advertising messages focus on this. They tend to be all about how wonderful the ship is or what great prices there are available. No wonder new to cruise is tough!
Then we have to look at the databases we spent so much money building. They are full of cruise "lookers and bookers" who we need to understand and communicate with using correct customer relationship management (CRM) techniques. For instance:
• Find out about them. Ask them what they are interested in and respond accordingly. Make them feel wanted.
• Mix up the communications. Three emails a week bombarding them with offers isn't good enough. Send appropriate direct mail and follow up with emails.
• Find out what "share of wallet" you have, so you know if there is potential in the customer.
• Most important of all, treat them as individuals, or at least segments.
Personalize the conversation
Consider a situation where you meet face-to-face with 10 customers from a cross-section of your database – enquirers to multiple-bookers. Would you have the same conversation with each? Of course not!
So why do you send the same messages to all of your customer segments?
Look at their history
Treat them as individuals and relate your messages to their enquiry and/or purchase history – or, better still, to the intention data that they supply to you. And be relevant. If you have a customer who books Silversea, don't insult them with a great deal on a lesser brand at £399!
Then, and only then, can you identify your loyal guests and turn them into advocates, where they recommend you to their non-cruising friends, like-minded people with similar characteristics.
Create a referral program, based on reward or ego, and get your brand talked about at your clients’ next dinner party.
Voila! You win over new-to-cruise clients.
Danny Crowe is managing director of Friday Travel, a marketing consulting firm in Hertfordshire, U.K. He has extensive experience consulting to the cruise industry and is a former head of marketing with Thomas Cook.