A recent piece of research by Expedia showed that travel content is widely consumed in the UK, with double digit growth year over year. We’ve now reached a tipping point where, in the UK at least, mobile engagement with travel content has surpassed desktop. Travel is a generally considered a time-consuming purchase, leading travel bookers to make hundreds of visits to travel sites in the weeks leading up to a purchase. Search engines, OTAs and airline sites were the most common starting point for a traveller deciding on their destination and engagement with travel content increases dramatically in the weeks leading up to a booking being made.
If we factor in other research that shows us that marketing teams are creating 10x the assets they had to in order to support increasing channels and that 76% of marketers have seen an increase in the need for more assets due to personalisation and that the booking process is just one part of the overall customer experience – where should travel brands even start with a content strategy? This was the question that I posed to various members of the travel industry at two roundtables at the recent Aviation Festival in London.
We began the conversation with a discussion of who owns the customer experience within the organisation, with one participant stating that there is a clear separation in the airline that they work for between the ownership of the online and offline experience. This is obvious when it comes to digital touch points like app and web, but less clear when it comes to digitally enabled touch points in the airport, like check in kiosks. An example of where this has caused issues, is in adoption of consistent iconography between the web and self-check-in process on the kiosks, with the participant seeing this as a stakeholder education challenge. The Global Head of Marketing for another airline sees the need for a change in the ownership model, with airlines starting to put the consumer first – this was echoed by another participant who stated that vendors in the travel sector often get caught up focusing on the operational aspects of the business, forgetting that the real focus should be on the needs of the customer.
This change in focus is being reflected in some interesting ways, as airlines start to work out the best places and ways to communicate with their customers — particularly important for some airlines, where up to 70% of their customers come indirectly to them through travel agents. The Program Development Lead for a European airline talked about how 50% of sales come through loyal customers, and those customers like to engage through the airline’s app. The app gives the airline more flexibility to produce and make changes to content and so in turn they push customers to the app as a preferred means of communication. Having multiple means of reaching customers also relies on having good quality data to understand customer preferences and enable a detailed view of the customer, enabling segmentation of messages by customer type and platform for example.
Data was a key area of the discussion, with one participant quoting Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who said that transparency comes through data. For an airport, it’s vital to capture as much data about passengers using their services as possible – one airport in the conversation indicated that they only have data on less than 2% of the passengers that pass through each year. A participant from the agency Acxiom said that they’ve been working on this challenge with airports like Heathrow. By using anonymised data they have been able to create a way for the airport to share it with other vendors, like on-site retailers, in order to better analyse customer behaviour. Indeed, they envisage a seamless customer experience based on the stream of data that a passenger gives off, enabling the airport to work with the airlines and retailers to provide an enhanced experience at every stage of the journey. The airlines at the table saw more challenges with this idea of data sharing, particularly where geographic considerations come in to play – in Germany for example where data use is much more heavily regulated than other countries. One airline participant said “it’s a currently a game between the airport and the airlines [around data ownership]” and another felt that they would “never tell the airport when a passenger is coming, but [we might] say what segment they are in”.
Brands also need a content platform – text, imagery and dynamic media – that can support the delivery of the experience wherever the customer is looking to engage. One participant spoke about the 18 month-long project that their airline had undertaken to source and centralise imagery, and how this was particularly important for them to take control of situations where, for example, sponsorship deals end, and management and restriction of use of associated imagery becomes a real problem.
Summing up, the discussion took in many aspects of how content can and should affect the customer experience. We saw that establishing ownership of the experience is critical as well as using data to understand what customers want and how to get content to them at each stage of the journey. Finally, travel brands have to change their thinking to move away from being purely operational to putting the customer first – I’ll leave the last word to one participant who said that brands “have to become design-centric, thinking about the entry points to the customer experience, where the airline [or travel brand] should be present and looking at new opportunities to use content to engage and delight the customer”.