by Peter J. Bates

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

As I 'C' It

Times have changed dramatically from when the “four p’s” of product, price, place and promotion dominated marketing strategy. Now, this is “How I ‘C’ It” – Content, Community, Channels, Commerce and Collaboration are the pillars on which to create an effective course of action to target today’s affluent consumers.

The ‘Consumer Age’
Our social and business climates have changed in immeasurable ways during the last decade, and the pace of transformation is best reflected in this quote from author Thomas Friedman:

“When I wrote The World Is Flat: A Brief History Of The 21st Century, Facebook didn’t exist. Or for most people it didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound. The ‘Cloud’ was in the sky. 4G was a parking place. LinkedIn was a prison. Applications were something you sent to college. And, for most people, Skype was a typo.

That all happened in the last seven years. And, what it has done is taken the world from connected to hyper-connected – and that has been a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.”

In the ‘consumer age,’ today’s luxury travelers are intelligent and well-researched, possess distinct expectation, and face diverse influencers. This consumer psyche has resulted in dramatic shifts in marketing strategy amid the constant evolution of the digital and social landscapes. Among the changes, one core point emerges as stronger than ever before – engagement is the cornerstone. It drives relationships, and that ultimately drives sales and profits.

Content Is King
Vivid language and inspiring images create brilliant dreams across multiple touch points that affluents feel compelled to experience in reality. There is the vacation narrative that a skilled travel advisor can convey to clients, and the one they might encounter on their own through an agency website, social media platforms or customized communications to a consumer.

For success in developing content, I suggest it always be personalized, relevant and fresh; include enticing visuals through colorful photography and appealing videos; feature local destination insight; and have interactive elements to encourage worthwhile engagement. Rich content tempts consumers to venture on thrilling global journeys, and travel advisors who embrace this will likely be some of the most successful in building their business.

Community Counts
The proliferation of social communities is growing by leaps and bounds. They can be somewhat unknown (and scary) influencers but the fact remains they are ever-present and luxury consumers actively use them. Through online social communities, consumers share their passions, forge instant and strong bonds, and reflect on experiences – largely in real time. Consumers often create their own narratives to share with friends, family and their ‘social channel’ followers.

There is no question that social media is impacting the funnel of information and purchasing decisions. Consider this quote from an article by Andy Kessler in The Wall Street Journal article “When Will Social Media Elect A President?” (February 29, 2012): “Social networks, like real life, are driven by influencers – not necessarily those with the most friends or followers, but those whose thoughts, ideas and opinions have the biggest influence.”

Channels & Commerce
According to the PhoCusWright, Inc. 2011 Travel Agency Landscape Survey, “Travel agents sold $90 billion in 2010 and are projected to sell $100 billion in 2013.” To me, that suggests the power and viability of the travel agent channel! The vital role of travel agents has also been featured in the media recently including The New York Times, The Today Show and CNN.

And, at the recent Virtuoso International Symposium (where I was privileged to moderate the business session), suppliers echoed the sentiment that advisors yield the highest Average Daily Rate (ADR) – and they do so significantly. According to Susan Helstab, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, clients who book through Virtuoso advisors average a 75 percent higher ADR than the total of all other channels and are Four Seasons’ most valuable customers. An impressive statement on the travel agency channel yielding exceptional commerce, indeed!

There is no turning back – consumers are tapping into their wealth of resources and seeking out information via diverse channels (known and unknown). Agents play a vital role in helping consumers sift through the purchase options and add value as necessary to a customized and curated vacation experience.

Collaboration Through Conversation
I urge travel agents to take advantage of the opportunity ahead of them to become true advisors to their clients. Effective collaboration requires insightful and relevant conversation. Yes, today’s consumers feel more empowered about their travel options because of the amount of information easily available to them but travel agents are curators of incredible memories, experts with in-depth access, and as I once referred to them, ‘editors of travel.’

In Closing
Our world today is one of multiple distribution channels and never-ending social media, creating huge challenges for marketers, suppliers and travel agents as we all try to grow our businesses. I still believe the ‘human element’ of relationships is vital despite technology – it’s us working positively within the new landscape, and embracing social media (not fighting it), that can make a difference.

As marketers, we are used to directly relating a communications vehicle to ROI to determine if the strategy was worthwhile. These days, it is a disservice not to broaden our perspective. Social media expert Porter Gale, who spoke recently at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit, urged attendees to look at more than direct sales attributed to social media because the ‘social’ side of things can be a powerful secondary influencer that isn’t tracked – and to some degree, investing in social media is investing in future targets (similar to what Susan Helstab said above). Those looking for a more direct spend-ROI correlation should look to targeted e-mail communication. Additionally, Porter made a great point about how doing cool digital media stunts can yield significant traditional media placements. It goes back to the idea behind viral marketing – if the concept itself is good, then the word will spread.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment