To grow their business through successful branding, travel sellers need to identify and draw on their “key influencers,” says an author and former partner in the firm that helped launch Apple, Intel and other high-profile brands
“What Apple did and does so well is to engage their influencers before rolling out their products, something agents can do, too.”
said Karen Kang, a former partner with Regis McKenna Inc. and founder of the consultancy BrandingPays.
Here are five tips from Kang, author of BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand, on how travel agents can succeed in establishing their own brands.
1. Start with positioning. Niche positioning is the foundation for a strong brand. Ask yourself what problem you can solve or what unique opportunities you can bring for your target audience. To articulate a niche, agents might start by thinking about their ideal customers – “the ones who booked what you like to sell and raved about your service to their friends,” Kang said.
“Unless you have customers who are absolutely delighted with you to the extent that they will tell their friends and write a review, your business is not going to grow.”
2. Create a compelling message. Describe your value concisely and compellingly so it resonates with your target market. This is your elevator speech and it has three components: what you do, the value you provide, and evidence.
An educational travel specialist might talk about boomers’ desire to engage in educational trips and the problem of weeding through too many websites and explain why he or she can solve the problem. Do you have personal experience with every vendor you recommend? “Evidence messages like that create trust,” Kang said.
3. Articulate your brand strategy. Kang compares branding to baking a cake. You bake your cake by defining your “your expertise, experience and functional value,” she said.
Then you ice it with the emotional connection that comes from your likability, trust factor, core values and image. For example, Starbucks’ function, or “cake,” is coffee. The icing is the ambiance, the comfy couches with outlets and Wi-Fi, a place where you meet with friends.
4. Define your ecosystem of influencers. A successful brand is not just what you say and do, it’s what others say about you, according to Kang. Like Apple, agents need to identify the influencers for their niche.
Think in terms of spheres of influence rippling out from employees and key customers to clubs and social media environments where your target customers are. Pick a few key people from each sphere and build a relationship with them that goes beyond your immediate business needs.
5. Create an Action Plan. To ensure that your brand experience will delight your customers, start with a 360-degree look at your current brand, Kang suggested.
“You’ll create increased loyalty by doing this right. Get input from your key influencers,” Kang said. “Then put yourself on solid footing by filling any gaps in skill, expertise or experience the 360 reveals. The last step is to roll out your communications.”
If you make sure everything you think, say and do aligns with your brand, people will soon associate your brand with something of value, Kang added. “That’s how you’ll build good will, referrals and brand loyalty.”