How can travel brands differentiate themselves?

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 16, 2013

The travel industry has always been dynamic and data-intense, meaning that marketers are aware of the wealth of opportunities for loyalty marketing in this sector. But of particular interest is the commercial aviation industry which IATA says will handle over 3 billion passengers this year alone, according to Anees Merchant, associate principal of operations, sales & marketing for eClerx, who explains here how airlines can differentiate themselves.

Data management - a low cost, high return method - is increasingly the way for airlines to differentiate from their competitors. Drawing upon research from The Wise Marketer's top sixty lessons in loyalty marketing, here we explore how data measurement, capture and analysis can best be used for travel marketing.

The Wise Marketer's Loyalty Guide report noted that companies involved in loyalty marketing should measure everything they can, even if it is difficult. We have found that in the travel industry, companies are grappling to ensure that they are able to capture the vast amounts of data generated from numerous sources. Often the focus is to measure a general hypothesis. Popular examples include "What is the frequent route of travel for a particular frequent flyer?" and "What kind of delays do we see at a particular airport or gate?"

This however, does not allow companies to build a marketing programme for repeat customers who are not frequent flyers. To gather data on these flyers would be interesting, but since they are not part of the frequent flyer programme, this data is wasted. What companies overlook is that these customers register data at various interaction points, and marketers can track and utilize this data.

Airlines traditionally capture if tickets were booked through an agent, by the customer, or as part of a package and if the customer will be checking in any bags. The channel of booking is also captured (e.g. phone, airline website, third-party website). For web bookings, companies also capture the channel a customer came from, and where went after he made the purchase.

Companies can then choose to capture data like the time taken to check in at the ticket counter, or the number, weight, type and make of a customer's bags or the number of and type of carry-ons. Many companies store and analyse some of this data but they may not be capturing the last few data points.

Analysing such basic but difficult-to-capture information allows a company to identify the intrinsic customer behaviours that can be used in powerful marketing efforts.

For example, an organisation could generate a query on whether customers who are not part of a frequent flyer programme usually have more bags checked in upon their return. They do this by looking at the number of bags checked on both the arrival and departure flights. If, for instance, during departure from her home country a customer had one bag checked in, but on her return she had two bags checked in, then her trip was intended for pleasure and she is returning with gifts. Such information can be useful to define marketing programmes for customers traveling for pleasure.

If you tease the data enough, it will reveal important information. It is important to measure various dimensions of a topic to enable viewing from different lenses. It's also important to reiterate that social media metrics aren't necessarily about sales in the travel industry. As the industry boards the social media train, they should understand what they are trying to achieve from various social platforms. Driving social media initiatives based on awareness and acceptance of their brand by the consumer community is important.

There are three key areas where companies can use social media in the customer buying cycle: brand building, sales and customer engagement. Each of these dimensions depends upon each other, resulting in what may become a linear process. Although these can be executed in parallel, you cannot initiate sales without proper brand building and customer engagement strategies in place on a social platform.

Before consumers will begin to accept and interact with your brand on social media platforms, they must first see you as a reputed brand. If a brand is perceived as competitively weak on various social platforms, promotions on these platforms to drive sales will not yield positive results. Similarly, if a company's existing customers are not well engaged through various social platforms, they will not respond to a company's social media sales efforts. Before initiating sales efforts, companies must take into account brand management and then mature by adopting the other two dimensions, sales and customer engagement.

eClerx expects to see many industry changes in the coming years, particularly as the rate of data collection rises. Such data, although an asset to marketers, will also highlight the complexities that large data volumes and ensuing regulations may bring. From fashionable destinations and the consolidation of worldwide services from multiple suppliers, to mobile and multichannel proliferation, the travel and leisure sector has rarely been so competitive - or so challenging.

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