This is the first in a new series of conversations between respected bloggers from a range of fields and experts from Adobe. These unique encounters will offer insight into how end consumers feel about digital marketing, including how and when targeting is effective, what makes for an appealing campaign, and how marketing affects whether these all-important influencers spread the word about specific products and platforms.
Our featured blogger for this quarter is Abi King. In 2007, after five and a half years as a hospital doctor, Abi decided to follow her dream of becoming a writer, and Inside the Travel Lab was born. This luxury travel blog is described as “one of the best travel blogs in the world” by National Geographic Traveller and Lonely Planet. She’s an award-winning journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveller, Lonely Planet, the BBC, Red, CNN and more. Adobe’s Axel Schaefer is an experienced global marketing executive with a consulting, agency and corporate background, and a special interest in CRM, people management and multi-cultural work-experiences. Abi and Axel, who’s based in Germany, spoke by telephone earlier this month.
Abi: Hi Axel, thanks for making time for me today.
Axel: My pleasure. It’s good to step away from the data and get back to basics—the people actually behind the facts and figures. Let’s jump in. What’s your first question?
Abi: I book a lot of flights, hotels, and train tickets. How much do these travel companies know about me, and should I be worried about that?
Axel: We’ve got something in common. I hope your travels are more relaxing than mine, as I board a plane roughly every other week, for work.
There are two ways of looking at this issue. One way is your customer history—whatever information you share, they know. If you take part in a loyalty program, for example, then they are getting much more insight into what you are doing, and also know that you are more open to sharing information with them.
As travel is a big part of my job, I can return to companies I regularly engage with that use information I give them as a loyal customer taking part in their programmes. Or, if I don’t get the experience that I want, I may use something, like an app, that will provide it.
Abi: That might lead onto my second question, about how data insights can help improve consumers’ experience. But before we move on to that, are any travel companies gathering data in less obvious ways?
Axel: As soon as you land on a company’s website they have the chance to personalise an experience for you by using the information you’ve left, such as which flights you looked at, or which connections, and which hotel. They may come back and offer you a special deal or tell you the price has dropped. If they know who you are they may do that proactively by email. If they don’t know who you are they could still, based on a cookie you left on their website, welcome you the next time you visit. As soon as you type in your destination they could change the whole look of the site to display backgrounds from your destination, hotels, or sightseeing tours offered there.
Abi: Are there are any other ways that data could be used to improve the consumer experience?
Axel: I always recommend that companies look at their customers not only as data points, but as real people. I’m a business traveller, and at the same time I like family vacations. It’s about understanding who I am beyond the fact that I’m flying seventy times a year. If my data is shared with other brands, the advantage to me, as a consumer, is that I will get more convenient and targeted offers because the data set is enriched. Of course, these are sensitive and complicated issues, but looking at customers as a whole creates a better experience for them.
Abi: But what about the wow factor? How do you think companies can use customer data to inspire?
Axel: There’s always big value in getting something unexpected. You can do that by making a match using what you know about customers—such as the destinations they’ve been researching for months—and offering them a great deal. Or, you can look at predictive capabilities from a data angle, finding the next thing people may be interested in experiencing. What is the next trend, what cities are booming?
Abi: I think you’ve made a very good case for data’s usefulness. Now, I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I sometimes notice that it can be a little bit creepy if you have looked at something and then, weeks later, see the same advert following you around. Do you think there is such thing as too much targeting? Where would you draw the line?
Axel: It is about finding the right frequency and the right depth. You also need to think about multiple step opt in or opt out. We need to help the customer define the correct level of personalisation. As long as targeting adds value to them, personally, people don’t feel that it’s creepy. When we don’t get any additional benefit out of it, then we feel it’s creepy. It’s a waste of money for companies, as well, because their audience is no longer seeing something relevant.
We’ve done a lot of work with Heathrow Airport recently. Their app takes over from airline apps, and holds your hand until you fly. It leads you through the airport, and presents offers for coffee shops and duty-free. Heathrow has taken a proactive approach to helping people and adding value to their experience. This is a good example of how, on the one hand, they’re collecting customer data, but on the other hand, providing something really helpful and valuable.
Abi: It would appeal to me, as a frequent traveller. Another thing I notice is a big generational divide in terms of how happy we are sharing data. My parents’ generation is quite nervous about entering an email address, or banking online, whereas my younger brother, who lives online, feels that there is no reason for privacy unless you have something to hide. Do you think in the future we will share a lot more information online? Or do you think there is going to be a backlash about the amount people are sharing?
Axel: I think companies will have to be very transparent about how they’re using our data. As you’re probably aware, the ways of protecting your data are getting stronger. I do think that there are clear signs on the horizon that people working with customer data need to respect each individual customer, while also thinking about how they can create additional value. The two things need to come together to maintain a company’s status as a preferred brand. People will expect more from you than they did in the past.
From your perspective, Abi, are you more open to suggestions when they’re personalised, or do you want to dig through things and find your own deal?
Abi: I think companies need to be clever when they personalise things, and not be in such a rush. If you’re booking a package trip, then it includes everything apart from transfers. But if you’re putting together a trip yourself, most people do that in different stages.
Axel: Is your tolerance to personalisation different if you just land on a site, versus visiting a company you’ve booked with before?
Abi: I think if you have a logged-in account or you’ve downloaded an app, it’s probably agreed in your head you’re giving consent. You want it personal and it’s probably irritating if it isn’t. Whereas, yes, if you’ve just been searching it can seem intrusive.
Axel: If I understand you correctly, the more involved you are with a brand or a company the less you worry about personalisation or advertising being an issue.
Axel: How much are companies leveraging the power of blogs? How often or how deeply are you approached for that purpose?
Abi: Companies approach us, or approach me, several times a day, probably several times an hour. As passionate as I am about travelling, sometimes I dread the sight of my In-basket, as the emails pile up. It’s part of the job, but I’d always rather be swimming with crocodiles or gliding over the desert in a hot air balloon than answering emails. If you had a deal that offered a significant discount, like 50 percent off, I’d definitely use that on my social channels, but I don’t have the kind of blog that runs offers on the site itself.
Axel: I have been with Adobe for 5 years. I’m part of the digital product and industry marketing team. We look at trends, at solutions, and at customers. We also come at it from a product perspective where we can be more prescriptive. Generally, companies need to act more carefully, be more relevant with their data and look at it from a holistic customer angle.
It’s been great talking to you, Abi, and hearing about the elements of digital marketing and data use that strike you as “creepy,” and those you’re finding useful. It’s valuable insight to have.
Abi: And thank you, Axel. I’ve learned a lot today.