Recent research into the marketing activities of US and UK airlines and hotels found that the majority of brands have a mobile app. That's no surprise, really, because technology has evolved and nearly every consumer brand understands how critical mobile is - or do they, asks Katharine Hulls, VP marketing for Celebrus Technologies, who here examines how effective airlines and hotels are at providing their customers with a mobile-optimised website and app.
In a world where "there's an app for that", we were particularly keen to understand how travel companies are dealing with some of the key elements of mobile marketing. The desk-based research was carried out on 11 US airlines and nine UK airlines, including a mix of national, regional and budget airlines in both groups, as well as 13 UK and US hotel chains, including some of the largest chains in both countries.
Being one of the more forward-thinking, technology driven verticals, and bearing in mind the mobile nature of travel itself, it was expected that the mobile strategies of these companies would be well established and effective.
As expected the majority of airlines from both countries did offer customers a mobile app and had device responsive websites. Whilst there was one regional UK airline and one US airline that didn't have an app, the results on the whole were positive and came as little surprise. It was also encouraging to see that every airline offering an app had both iOS and Android compatible versions. However, in switching our focus to US and UK hotels, we saw quite a different picture.
UK hotels lag behind
The UK hotels proved by far the least 'app-friendly', with only two out of the 13 hotel chains offering an app, compared to the US where seven out of 13 had an app. The US hotel apps were also generally easier to find within the app store. Using the search function both the US airline and hotel apps were found straight away, whilst a more in-depth hunt was needed for all of the UK ones. Generally it was felt that the US apps were promoted more overtly than the UK apps. Clear promotion on the home page and other key areas of the brand's website, made it easier to find the app.
However, when the apps were located the quality across the board was very good and included all the key information and functionality that a customer would expect. For example, the airlines allow you to make and manage your booking, select your seats and check-in ahead of your flight, whilst the hotel apps provide details of the nearest hotel to your location, give details of the hotel and facilities offered together with the ability to make and manage your booking.
With consumers using a multitude of devices in their digital interactions, we were keen for our research to examine how much recognition there was when switching between devices. For the two airlines that enabled us to email quotes to ourselves, (a useful feature), there was little website personalisation when clicking through from the email on a different device than the one used to visit the site previously.
However, when re-entering the site from the same device used before, the levels of personalisation were positive: five of the nine UK airlines remembered key details from a previous visit, with eight of the 13 UK hotels also pre-entering dates and locations that were searched for previously.
It is surprising that there is not more recognition of individual between devices when clicking on email links as the data and technology exists to do this easily. This is potentially losing brands customers. With the huge surge in smartphone usage over recent years and the very mobile essence of travel, brands need to get their multichannel, multi device data and strategy right in order to tap into the all-important Single Customer View and enhance the customer experience.
On the whole, the availability and sophistication of the mobile apps offered by these key leisure and travel brands is very good. Also, the mobile optimisation of these websites is very encouraging and shows that the majority of brands understand the opportunities that exist when interacting with customers that are on-the-go.
"However, while we can praise brands for their mobile optimisation, their inability to personalise communications when accessed from different devices shows that there is room for improvement," concluded Hulls. "Brands still need to move away from aggregate data and ensure they are optimising every channel possible to engage with their customers as individuals. Not tapping into the bigger picture and only utilising a small proportion of known user behaviour will cause brands to lose out. Consumers are 24/7 and use a range of devices dependent on where they are and what they are doing at the time."
Consequently, brands need to offer consumers ways to identify themselves and continue to recognise them personally each time they access the site from their mobile, laptop or tablet, creating a seamless, personalised customer experience that is conducive to purchasing. And businesses failing to do this will end up paying the ultimate price.