We shared this article as it really breaks down the concept of marketing today. Using the cruise business Robin details how understanding your customer is important to your success.
The more you can find out about your customer the better you can serve them.
Marketing is one of the keys to travel agents’ success, yet they routinely cite it as one of their greatest challenges—if not the greatest.
“There are very few people who get into travel because of their marketing abilities,” said Cruise Planners Vice President of Strategic Development Scott Koepf. “They do so because they love to travel and they love to help people.”
How then, can agents arrive at a successful marketing scheme? Host and franchisor marketing experts and savvy agents contend the answer hinges on key strategies and practices.
First, they must recognize the significant difference between acquiring new clients and retaining current ones—something that some agents haven’t been doing, Koepf said. “They [require] two very different approaches. When clients want to buy travel, the whole world is their oyster; so marketing is the primary thing to get their attention. But most agents say anyone who travels—anyone with money—is their target. That’s failing from the very beginning.”
Targets should be narrower than say, such categories as Millennials, and can include a geographic area, a special interest or a destination, he said.
Once agents turn targets into actual clients, it is imperative that they personalize their communications with them in order to retain them. “If clients come back from a luxury trip and get a welcome-home call and the next email the agent sends is for a mass-market cruise or an all-inclusive, that tells them ‘I have no idea who you are,’” Koepf said.
Rosemarie Reed, vice president of marketing & strategic partners for Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., agreed that targeting is key. “First, we establish who we are marketing to—for example, existing clients whom we already have a relationship with or new prospects who are in the vacation-planning process but have not transacted with us yet,” she said.
“Second, we use data to tell us as much as possible about the audience we have identified; for example, analytics, historical booking patterns, online behaviors, etc. Finally, some may establish the budget first, but we identify goals and audience first and then our budget—because there are ways you can get creative with budget to reach the most qualified people in multiple ways versus having your budget determine how many people you can reach.”
Once a target is established, agents should consider their travelers’ demographics, said Cris De Souza, Nexion’s vice president of sales and marketing. “For example, Gen Y and Millennials spend more of their time on Instagram, while Gen X and Boomers spend more time on Facebook.”
When it comes to specific marketing vehicles, agents should never discount direct mail. “Believe it or not, good oldfashioned direct mail is back in a big way with all generations,” she said. “Keys to successful direct-mail marketing include personalization—making [a mailing piece] look like it was made just for [the recipient] and sent by you—with stunning visual imagery and engaging curated content with a compelling call to action.”
Judy Nidetz, a Travel Experts agent based in Northbrook, Ill., also employs traditional marketing strategies. “With marketing, I’m still old school but with a mix of new ideas,” she said. “My business model proves that 80 percent of my business comes from 20 percent of my clients.”
Nidetz markets to that 20 percent through mailings from her consortium, Virtuoso. “I encourage clients to send referrals using positive reinforcement,” she said. “I handwrite thank-you notes with a small Starbucks gift card enclosed each and every time I receive a new referral. I’ve also embraced social media using Facebook to post all of my travels and keep in contact with clients.”
Instagram and Twitter are key marketing vehicles for Mike Hanlon, a Wilmington, N.C.-based Dream Vacations agent. “I am very active on social media during my own trips, which I believe shows my clients or prospective clients what their vacation would be like if they book with me,” Hanlon said, adding that he’s also begun to advertise with organizations within his community.
Working with host agencies, franchisors or consortia is also an indispensable marketing resource. “We have a very proactive marketing and publicity program within our franchise headquarters,” he said. “I love the support we’re given. I always take advantage of our automated social media posts, as well as all of the additional marketing and promotional campaigns.”
According to De Souza, every group that agents target has separate needs. “This is where being part of a host agency is invaluable,” she said. “Good hosts provide a variety of marketing tools that can be customized.” Nexion members, for instance, have access to robust CRM tools that enable them to input future travel intentions and that automatically record past travel history once the client’s trip is finished.
“Nowadays, relevancy is critical to the effectiveness of your marketing, so we use a rules engine to determine who has the highest propensity to take action as a result of our marketing based on historical travel patterns, age, children in the home, and client communication preferences,” De Souza said. “We personalize our marketing based on the channel. For example, our messaging, images and call-to-actions may be completely different in print advertising than in the digital space.”
Assessing how frequently agents should market to clients is also a key issue. “We’re so concerned about bothering folks, we don’t communicate enough,” Koepf said. “More than once a day would be ridiculous, a couple [of messages] a week would be the most you’d want to send, but at some point the customer will want to look and the agent doesn’t know when that will be. Communication should be consistent.”
At Nexion, “What we’ve found that absolutely works is a blend of high-tech and high-touch marketing efforts,” said De Souza. “For example, we have beautiful travel-themed consumer campaigns that include layered marketing timed very carefully. Direct mail arrives in homes, email then arrives in the client’s inbox, and related posts then appear on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.”
The most important element is “human to human” communication, “the magic of the travel professional,” she said. “It’s often the human touch and conversation that will ultimately drive consumers to book their vacations.”