by Peter J. Bates

Monday, March 5, 2012

Understanding The 'Human Element'

Many of us travel marketers subscribe to the idea that today’s consumers are driving the sales process. With this acceptance comes a constant redefinition (and in some cases a reinvigoration) of our role as influencers and as profit generators. Times have indeed changed – we don’t have the control we once did but we must still steer an effective strategy. A provocative and insightful article I read in Advertising Age titled “The Dawn of the Relationship Era” gave me a lot to consider on the subject (and I’ve quoted the article throughout this e-mail) because it is indeed the ‘human element’ wherein the power lies.

As marketers, we are often also researchers, analysts, strategists, and in some cases prognosticators navigating the channels of our science while staying attuned to the needs and desires of our target demographic. The Ad Age piece tapped right into what travel marketers, travel advisors and anyone in the hospitality and tourism industry needs to recognize more than ever before in order to keep pace with the modern-day consumer mindset – brand integrity, relationships and trust are vital when “you are being evaluated 24/7 in countless conversations that have zero to do with your ad slogan.”

Trust Trumps Nearly Everything
Genuine trust is huge – its value shouldn’t be underrated or taken for granted. As stated in the article, “Trust is an asset, not a commodity. It cannot be purchased. It must be earned. And it can dissolve before your eyes.” Trust is the cornerstone – and if it is not, it should be – of the relationships consumers have with advisors (who guide the travel narrative through their insight, contacts and expertise) and suppliers (who must deliver a flawless and exceptional travel experience). At once fragile and powerful, trust builds fierce product allegiance on the part of the consumer because of a strong emotional connection that is developed, whether with an advisor or a brand – and when respected, it can positively propel sales forward.

Consumers crave transparency – of pricing, of the travel experience itself, and of brand values – and this transparency can breed life-long, invaluable trust. “All you have to be is beloved, or at least respected, for how your conduct yourself as well as what you sell.”

Cultivating Ambassadors With ‘Genuine Purpose’
Effective marketing is no longer about controlling our consumer prospects. Said David Rogers, executive director of Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership: “‘Awareness, opinion, consideration, preference and purchase’ have been supplemented by ‘loyalty’ and ‘advocacy.’” Get consumers on your side. Let them willingly be your ambassadors among their network of listeners.

So what should advisors and suppliers do? Define your genuine purpose (going beyond your formulated USP’s). “If you can identify why your company exists and what values it embraces, and if you live by those values across all aspects of your enterprise – from hiring to choosing suppliers to acting on civic responsibility – then you have the foundation for values-based relationships that command loyalty and trust.”

Social, Social, Social
As marketers, it would be remiss for us not to hone proper social media strategies, with the optimum word being ‘proper.’ Why? “Social media has taken the stolid, dependable old tortoise – word-of-mouth – and transformed it into countless hares, multiplying like, well, hares.”

What is one of the biggest missteps that many traveler marketers are guilty of? “They squander the unprecedented potential of the online feedback loop by conducting themselves as aloofly in social media as they always have in paid media.” There’s no richness to the content or the character of the hotel or tourism product.

Key to success requires drilling deeper in our travel marketing efforts. As referenced in the article, it’s about getting to the consumers who take the time to write a positive review on a site, such as TripAdvisor, or happily share their praise and affection through other channels be they Facebook, Twitter, etc.

In terms of innovation, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has emerged as a confident digital strategy pioneer. Part of the company’s recent website revamp includes the inclusion of “Reviews at a Glance” with postings from TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter. I applaud their bold move because they are embracing the future and thinking with a 21st century mindset to drive their marketing efforts.

In Closing
The shape of things today means travel advisors, hospitality and tourism professionals must work harder not just to capture their market share but cultivate it for the long-term with honesty and integrity. Be genuine. Let consumers praise your ideals. It’s not all about the hard-sell approach for the luxury market – it’s about relating on the human level.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Let’s keep the conversation going on Facebook and Twitter.

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