Travel Marketing The Path To Purchase

Puerto Vallarta

Travel Marketing Improving The Path To Purchase

By Todd Wilson

Purchasing travel online isn’t a linear experience. Finding the right destination, lodging, transportation, and activities takes time and effort when it’s done with care. All of us have likely gone through the experience of looking for prices on one site, reviews and photos on another, and seeking out more and more information to make sure the experience we book is everything we expect it to be.

A recent Millward Brown study (profiled here by eMarketer) illustrated just how much time and effort we’re willing to spend for the right travel experience. In its research, it discovered that the travelers they surveyed visited over 40 sites on average in the six weeks before booking their vacations – with 15.5 of those visits coming in the week of the booking itself. It goes without saying that that’s a lot of research.

What the report doesn’t detail is the number of opportunities each travel provider has to market to those travelers during that time. Think about this: If the average travel prospect is looking at 40 sites in a six-week period, how many email campaigns are they signing up for (and how many and what kinds of emails are they receiving)? Are they downloading apps and getting push messages for new deals and features? What about social – are they being driven to Pinterest and other social sites to learn more and potentially follow your brand’s boards? And how many travelers are sharing their plans in their social networks across all of their favorite social touchpoints (and what are they saying about your brand)?

It’s been said before: The number of ways consumers can interact with your brand today is mind-boggling – but understanding the journey from inspiration to booking is essential to success (especially in light of the research above). Last month, I discussed how critical the mobile user experience is to attracting and converting customers. It’s also important, though, to make sure you’ve mapped your customer’s journey across channels to help them make a decision. A few things to consider:

* How are your travelers inspired to book a new vacation? We all know the power of search, but Pinterest has become a force of nature for consumers looking for visual inspiration in all kinds of areas – including travel. What’s your strategy to reach them there and drive them to your site?

* How are you encouraging them to stay in touch with you and book – and what’s the state of the channels you’re using? Is your email program in optimal shape? What about your social strategy – are you maximizing each social channel you engage with to inspire and encourage? How about Push and SMS? Perhaps most critically, are your channels working together to build and nurture a customer journey that makes sense from first inspiration through final booking?

* What information are you providing after confirmation? Is it useful and relevant? Is it customer-centric and focused on building excitement (and encouraging sharing)? Are you using the right channels for the right messages?

The Millward Brown research confirms what many of us already knew: The opportunity to create a lasting impression on a prospective traveler is fleeting at best, and the competitive set they’re considering (for the same trip!) is intense. Are you standing out from all the others? Does your customer journey across channels, from inspiration to post-purchase, deliver an experience they would want to repeat?

Todd Wilson is an associate principal in global accounts with ExactTarget. Follow him at @toddwils.

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