Engage, Inspire and Convert: Storytelling for the Travel and Leisure Industries
Now that more than 62 percent of web users turn to the Internet as a primary research tool, there is a greater need than ever before to regulate the online chatter regarding a brand’s reputation. What potential and current customers say and see about a brand online is absolutely crucial in longevity. If you want your brand to sustain a long and healthy relationship with customers, online reputation management is a necessity.
Think Beyond Reviews
One such expert, Eric Ingrand, vice president of Content Marketing at EnVeritas Group, noted that marketing innovation in the travel business—including use of content—stalled five to six years ago and has been “stuck” ever since. Ingrand pointed to the strong influence that online reviews have on consumers during the decision-making process as a major factor.
As with almost every other industry, power is now in the hands of the consumer, who has the ability to quickly read reviews, compare rates and fares, learn about amenities, and provide their own positive or negative feedback online. In this environment, many brands have fixated on garnering glowing reviews (or at least preventing bad ones) rather than creating narratives that shape their unique story/value proposition.
Engage Through Your Brand
The value of engaging beyond a consumer-generated review focus is demonstrated in information provided by the Thomas Cook Group (TCG). Its strategy was to improve on the travel industry’s average conversion rate (site visitors and the look-to-book ratio) of about 0.3 percent; they realized that compared to the average 3 percent conversion rate reported for e-commerce and retail sites in 2013 by Search Marketing Standard, the travel industry has a lot of catching up to do.
John Straw, TCG’s digital advising board chairman, pushed up the company’s conversion ratios by 147 percent by introducing its “Ask and Answer” initiative, which allows customers to submit questions concerning their vacations. Answers are provided by TCG staff members, including resort representatives. For those fluent in inbound marketing speak, these conversions represent the end of the sales funnel—which in the travel industry is quite long. According to MSN Travel, about 68 percent of travelers taking a four-hour trip research their journey by spending an average of 42 hours online poring over travel-related content. That’s a lot of time for travel brands to grab eyeballs; and since TCG has dramatically increased its conversion ratios with an elegantly simple interactive initiative, imagine what can be achieved for brands that tell their own story online.
Content is Key
Telling stories through creating captivating content helps build relationships with consumers, often reaching them long before they start to plan their trip. It gets them familiar with the brand or destination, making them more likely to keep it top-of-mind when they are ready to start planning. Successful storytelling could even influence user-generated reviews, as your narrative subtly shapes the expectations of travelers/guests.
Online video, blog posts and photos (both professional and user-submitted) are content marketing essentials. Video, in particular, delivers the visual engagement and inspiration that shows potential customers what your brand or destination is all about and establishes a strong brand identity when produced in the context of a narrative about the experience your brand provides. Video content also is inherently sharable. Experts estimate that links to 700 YouTube videos are published to Twitter every minute.
Blog posts can be most effective when written as a journal about one’s adventures, of which your brand is the center or starting point. Accompanied by photos, a blog can be a strong draw to potential customers, giving them a reason to return regularly to vicariously enjoy new experiences and eventually book a trip or a room. The use of photos on your website and across social media also promotes branding and user participation.
Know the Modern Traveler
At evōk, we’ve spent a lot of time identifying and understanding the travel consumer that content-based storytelling really resonates with—the digital traveler. They are hyper-connected and use two or more digital devices to research and book their vacations. Of typical digital travelers:
- Nine out of ten made travel reservations online last year
- They spend 30 percent more than the average traveler
- 84 percent say a positive web experience is important, or very important,
and they drive the demand for better web content from the travel industry
Of course, a strong integrated strategy is necessary to tell a brand story that’s communicated consistently across all channels, one that inspires your target audience to feel a sense of involvement and connection. Making the commitment to spend more time and resources implementing such a strategy and emphasizing the “creative” in content creation can help you write a new, more profitable chapter in your brand’s story.