Back to School: Travel Agent Digital Marketing Benefits from Sound Testing Skills

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Back to School: Travel Agent Digital Marketing Benefits from Sound Testing Skills

Digital marketing can give prospect feedback to help travel advisors test and learn effectively, and efficiently. Photo: 

Digital marketing can be a worthwhile source of sales for travel advisors, but many agents are intimidated by the process, or have tried in the past and generated a low rate of return. So, they gave up.

That could be a mistake, because success from tools like email, Facebook ads or Google ads, could be just a few tests away.

Getting your digital marketing messaging, images and call to action right requires patience and monitoring to refine ad concepts that eventually deliver the results your business needs, according to two digital marketing experts on a Simply Measured webinar earlier this year.

“We always want to put our best foot forward,” said Jen Joyce, senior social content strategist at WONGDOODY. “But not everything will work out. Social is constantly changing, and there is always new stuff to try. It’s okay to try something and realize it’s not right for your brand.”

The beauty of digital marketing is that it provides detailed, nearly instantaneous prospect feedback to help travel advisors test and learn effectively, and efficiently. Facebook’s Ads Manager tool provides almost real-time updates on ad performance. If you set up a Facebook pixel on your website, it will even provide you with sales or consultation call conversion metrics. Most email campaign tools similarly provide you with open rate and click metrics.

What to test
The first decision a travel advisor should make is identifying what you are trying to accomplish, said Lucy Hitz, head of marketing communications at Simply Measured, a social media consultancy that provides tools that can help marketers and entrepreneurs easily track their campaigns.

Is it brand awareness (e.g. impressions or traffic to your website)? Or maybe, it’s conversions (e.g. consultation calls or actual sales)?

“Before you can test effectively, you need to know, what are you testing for?” Hitz said. It’s best to narrow down your goals to as few as possible, as choosing too many metrics will complicate and dilute your test results.

For example, you may want to see what digital platform performs best for your travel agency, Hitz said, as your ideal client may prefer one marketing channel over another (e.g. Facebook versus email). Taking the same piece of content (perhaps a blog about romantic FITs to Tuscany) and running it through each channel, over different days, will help you understand “where your sweet spot is,” Hitz said.

Joyce urged entrepreneurs and marketers to think about testing different channels on different days of the week, and even different times of the day, to get the most accurate results.

 Joyce and Hitz both gave an example of how Uber used its Seattle Twitter account to raise overall brand awareness. Even though most of Uber’s Seattle clients were booking cars on the weekend, unbeknownst to their marketing team, as their rider base increased, customer social habits changed.

“We saw more Twitter activity on Thursday and Friday,” Hitz said, leading Uber to shift more of its efforts to those days. Giving up on Twitter ads due to unknown prospect behavior changes could have undermined their sales lead generation efforts. “Don’t set it and forget it. Check in as your audience grows,” Hitz said.

At conferences, travel advisors often ask about when the best time is to publish ads. Hitz offered guidelines for Facebook (Wednesday at noon and 2 p.m.; Thursday at 1-2 p.m.); Instagram (Wednesday at 3 p.m.; Thursday at 5 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3-4 p.m.; Friday at 5 a.m.); and Twitter (Friday at 9-10 a.m.).

Hitz reminded Simply Measured webinar participants that you need to test and monitor your ad results, as every business is different. “The most reliable data is your data. To maximize ROI on your ad spend, look at data that is specific to your own brand,” she said.

Or perhaps you want to test which photos or videos generate the strongest positive response from your prospects? Joyce recommended business owners and marketers perform a social audit on existing content to narrow down which unpaid assets and messaging might be best for a paid ad.

For WONGDOODY, “We ran over the most popular engaged posts to see what resonates. What I ended up seeing was interesting. For financial brands, the audience liked culture posts, learning about our team and what goes on behind the scenes. We found it builds client confidence and loyalty in our brand,” she said.

Posting ads about you, what you do, and how you do it, might be a way to “differentiate yourself in a saturated space,” Simply Measured’s Hitz said.

Testing one thing at a time
Once you have chosen what you want to test (e.g. your best performing organic static image, a video, or even different text copy), set a schedule for the paid ad, to establish a foundation of results.

For emails, give your prospects a few days to find the email in your inbox before checking your email open and click-to-open rates. For Facebook, most marketing experts feel it takes the company’s algorithm 3-5 days minimum before Facebook has refined who to show your ad to, and provide you with optimal results.

After reviewing those initial results, change one thing at a time, Joyce said.

Perhaps include the second-best performing photo from your social audit, but keep the ad’s headline and the text the same. Let the new ad run, and again see what happens to metrics like click-through rate. Did your click-through rate go up? Down? If you received direct inquiries and contacted the client, did they feel like a good fit for your business? All of this input will help you see what works for your business and your ideal client.

Understand how different pieces fit with your ads
Your ad is only one element of your marketing that will impact results. Most ads should lead a consumer to a landing page of some kind where you provide the ad respondent your call to action — e.g. “book a consultation with me now.”

Your landing page should look and feel like your ad, so the consumer is having a consistent experience with your agency from start to finish. If you are getting a high click-to-open rate on your email, or click-through on your Facebook ad, but no conversions, perhaps your landing page is negatively impacting your prospects.

If your ad was for a special group trip you’re marketing, does your landing page reflect similar images and text to your ad, to excite the consumer to request a call with you? If your ad was a “lead magnet,” did you make it easy for your prospect to fill out their contact info to request it? There may be tweaks you need to make to your landing page to improve conversions.

Digital marketing can be a tremendous source of sales, when done right. You don’t have to get overly complex or sophisticated with your tests to improve your business performance, but not testing could earn your travel agency a failing grade.

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