Posted by Frank in Uncategorized on March 13, 2012
Most in our business think in terms of replacement. Newspaper ads with email, Facebook instead of your website, twitter instead of a quick call. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s about integrating all these efforts into a cohesive brand experience and in the opinion of most marketers; it all starts with your website. If we look at the majority of agencies, websites are dated, contain static brochure-ware and insist on telling their prospective customers about items important to the agency not the customer. If I visit your site because I want to go on a cruise; I could care less that you service corporate accounts. If you are a reader of my blog, you’ve heard me repeat ad nauseam, it’s not about you, it’s about the customer!
To add insult to injury, most put out information without collecting any. Even if you haven’t been paying attention, you’d have to have been working on Mars to not have heard that it’s all about a two-way communication with your customer – take in as much information as you give out. Social media opens up the lines of communication.
In speaking with agents over the last year, most have come to understand that social media is here to stay and digital marketing has grown enormously. Even so, an unusually high number of our travel colleagues barely understand what is going on in these complicated spaces. So many are swamped with “traditional” marketing issues that they cannot take the time to educate themselves or to even figure out how to hire someone that understands.
Take some time to review your competitor’s sites (good and bad) and glean out what you can afford and make use of. Many of the top 10 Canadian travel sites do a great job of giving and taking. They are dead clear on what their customer wants and they provide content, videos, tips, games etc. Some, for example http://www.tripcentral.ca even go as far as to illustrate their expertise by giving you a list of agents that ‘have been there’. As a prospective customer, after seeing what they offer on their websites, I’d have no qualms about giving you my wishes, concerns and most importantly, my contact information. Even if you can’t afford a booking engine, you should be making your website the hub, the centerpiece of your business.
In 2012, whether you’re a one person shop or a large travel supplier, all must allocate resources to blend your marketing plan with social media. Even if your efforts fail, there’s so much to learn that you’ll still be ahead of the game. Waiting for it all to go away or to get easier is a fool’s game. Start with a plan. Build a website that responds to your customer’s needs and slowly add all your social media layers as you develop them; failures and successes! Websites were a fortune years ago, now you can get a good website built at a reasonable price but it’s the plan and the content that requires your effort and expertise – only you can address these questions. And remember, outsourcing is not a bad word.
If I gave you a plane to fly, would you trust yourself to fly it without taking lessons first or would you hire a pilot?
Posted by Frank in Uncategorized on February 13, 2012
A few days ago, I got a call from one of my accounts. They were wondering why I don’t have a questionnaire attached to the subscription form we provide all our customers; something that would request an address, define their interests and where they might want to travel to.
I wish it was that easy.
The sources for the argument against this are too many to count. Trust me when I tell you that extensive research has been done and without exception, results show that potential customers are willing on an impulse, to provide a name and an email address but subscription rates drop by a very high percentage when further info is requested without a relationship being established first.
There can only be one reason for this agent’s request and that is customer list segmentation. In my opinion, unless you are loaded with both tens of thousands of email addresses and lots of cash to buy sophisticated software and 3rd party demographic content, you’re wasting your time and worse, you’re risking potential sales and customer retention. To the typical travel retailer, the following scenario is much too common…
You receive a “Free Air for Children Sale to Florida” from a supplier. You rush to your client list and fire off an email to all recurring Florida travellers with children. Last time you talked to Mrs. Brown, she told you that her son was just graduating but you forgot, or didn’t have the time to check each customer file individually and now she’s opted-out of your list because it’s the 4th Florida special you sent this winter. She’s now in fact interested in a Med Cruise but she’s going to another travel agency because she thought you specialized in Florida.
When emailing content to your list, inspire them with several choices they may have never thought of. For one thing, it will generate a new conversation with that customer that may turn into yet another Florida sale but it will also get her thinking about that Med Cruise and when the time comes, she thinks of you because she knows you are able to fulfill myriad travel choices.
Email marketing done right is all about acquiring and nurturing client loyalty. Making sure that the client knows why they do business with you and why you’re their travel agent. Soft-sell, interesting, but most important, REGULAR messages work much better than alienating customers because of faulty segmentation and a knee jerk reaction to a seat sale. By regularly emailing your customers with the right message, you generate business by being top-of-mind when that particular customer wants to travel. Mrs. Brown will stay on your list (and probably one more to keep you honest) but most important; she will always give you the opportunity to compete on the booking when she’s ready to travel.
If you really must segment your list, the one solution that I would consider when selling travel is to differentiate between the budget traveller and the one with resources. If you have the time to generate two newsletters and diversify them by price point you’re lucky but be careful, a $20K Kenya Safari being marketed to your Cuba specials audience won’t bring you many sales.
Then… on the other hand if it never was about segmenting but about list growth, please refer to my November blog post, Mailing list growth for the Travel Agent
Posted by Frank in Uncategorized on December 16, 2011
In my last post, I outlined recent changes we made here at Travelwatch and I hinted at how survivors in our industry need to constantly tinker with their business. In this post, I’m limiting my comments to the marketing aspect of running a retail travel business.
In recent history most agencies have had to move away from selling air for obvious reasons. Now, many are rethinking the packaged holiday business based on shrinking margins and discounting (although somewhat curtailed these days). There’s also a group out there that argue that packages have become a commodity that is best serviced in volume and with a strong online/phone presence. I’m not sure I agree, I think you can still make a decent living selling packages but your marketing has to be right.
So where does that leave the main street, independent owner/manager shop?
A common move for most is to join a group/consortium/association. This is an excellent solution as long as you’re clear on your objectives vs. theirs. For example, is your membership simply a tool to generate sales for the supplier/owner of the group? Or are you there to drive overrides to the umbrella company that promises to share them with you (only after all expenses are covered)?
Let’s for the time being consider only the marketing aspect to determine if you are associated correctly or for that matter, whether it’s worth associating:
- What are the tools used – email, direct mail, traditional advertising and who is deciding on content?
- Is there an overall strategy and do they offer the flexibility you need to meet your objectives and target your customers, not just the group’s?
- What is the target market of the preferred suppliers that form part of that group and are they in line with your clientele?
- Are you sending disorderly email blasts or do you have a cohesive plan with a start, finish and measured ROI?
- Are you getting relevant (to your business) simplified stats, marketing advice or do they offer a mentor you can chat with?
When I talk with agents about a marketing plan, most don’t have one, think it’s not necessary, it’s too difficult to build or becomes obsolete as soon as you write it. I beg to differ. If you belong to a group, review carefully what you can use from their arsenal. Do your research and arm yourself with additional tools freely available on the market. Check out www.travelagentapps.com (I know, it’s self-serving but couldn’t resist)
There is nothing wrong with these business models as long as you understand how you fit, how you can tweak it to make it relevant to your business and leave you and not someone else in control.
I recently dealt with a group where less than 30% of the agencies belonged to their ‘marketing solution’. Once I reviewed what they offered and what the cost/value proposition was, it was a no brainer! Great Value! Why didn’t the other 70% belong? They didn’t bother taking the time to understand it.
The days of suppliers giving agents everything from marketing dollars to computers to training to fam trips are gone. It’s time to rethink your business and get aggressive because the guy next door is!
Thanks for reading and my best to you and your family for the holidays,