How optimising performance media can enhance the customer journey

This is a viewpoint from Johnny Francis, head of data science and advanced analytics at Forward3D.

A lot of marketing is based around impulse buying. You only have to walk down the street to see sale sign after sale sign enticing you buy that shirt that you really don’t need. From a business perspective we often place a higher value in registering an immediate sale rather than acquiring a long-term customer slowly, over time, across a variety of media formats.

Over the past few years holidays have become cheaper and more accessible but due to the relative expense and complicated nature of booking time off work etc. the travel industry doesn’t see a huge number of impulse buyers which can present a challenge for travel marketing.

Purchase behaviour between retail and travel can vary greatly and this is often reflected in the cookie windows used when analysing our performance activity. A 30-day lookback window is frequently used in retail; the assumption being that all the media seen in the 30 days prior to purchase influenced their decision to purchase, but nothing prior to that. Given what we know about purchases in travel, a much longer research phase is usually involved and so we may typically use a 90 or even 120-day window.

Understanding the customer journey and the choices made throughout is vital in any sector but when it can take several weeks before a customer makes a purchase, you also leave a lot of time for a customer to change their mind and book with a competitor.

This is where a varied performance marketing strategy comes into play, and by learning how to optimise campaigns across all channels travel retailers are far less likely to see customers go elsewhere and are offer an engaging customer experience that has a lasting impact.

Improving performance within travel marketing breaks down into three key areas: data, taking a multichannel approach and testing.

Data

Data is key when it comes to understanding the customer. Retailers in the travel industry often have the luxury of having access to millions of data points, giving us granular insight into how different demographics, personas, archetypes and cohorts might react to different media types and messaging/creatives across the various points in their path to purchase.

However, there are numerous other data sources to consider beyond those already in use that can offer deeper insight into the customer. Analysing log-level site analytics data helps us tie together on-site user behaviour information with different customer segmentations. In turn this allows us to strategically deliver the optimum message and format to groups of customers at the right point in their journey.

For a number of our travel clients, using aggregate site analytics data by itself can’t give the level of insight required for truly effective campaign planning. Utilising rich, log-level data with the correct tracking in place allows us to see when, where and with what class our customers are looking to travel. Breaking this information down by the various dimensions we have available grants us a greater view of customer interaction.

For example, we’ve built a number of tools for our clients using similar datasets to derive contextual insight such as: “for the Chinese market, high value segments are more likely to search on Tuesdays and book on Sundays” allowing channel teams to take advantage of this information. Likewise, understanding trends in customer behaviour such as an increase in flight searches to a specific destination over a certain date range allow us to react to that insight accordingly.

It’s easy to think of these different data sources in isolation, but it’s not until that data is used collectively that we really start to get a true idea of the customer journey and how they interact with the brand.

A multichannel approach

The customer journey in travel can be a varied one that features a number of online and offline touch points. With most customers using combinations of many of these understanding the relationships between them can be vital.

Whether you’re a local travel agent or a global flight operator, marketing teams are often broken down into separate groups, each with their own budgets and targets to meet. What brands sometimes forget is the bigger picture and the magic that can happen when channels compliment each other and teams work together. A top down multichannel approach can often give the customer a satisfying and more rounded user experience.

Work carried out with Virgin Holidays on a campaign centered around Instagram Stories to promote particular US holiday destinations showed how this deliver results. During the campaign the creatives complemented other online advertising that coincided, in order to keep customers engaged throughout various touch points. While the social team had their own targets, as did display but by working together both teams were able to see significant ROI, as well as a 10% lower cost per view and a 5x increase in video completion compared to previous Instagram video campaigns.

Test continuously

As with anything in business, strategies need to be tested and improved – performance marketing is no exception. Brands need to play around with data and different channels in order to learn what what best for their customers.

For example, for one popular airline, a statistical methodology to test the overall impact of pure brand PPC. From the results of this test the client was advised to switch off brand PPC, which had little impact because it was already such a well known brand and users simply entered the site via organic search instead. The budget from this campaign was then able to be spent elsewhere at an increased incremental ROAS.

In an industry that is inundated with data, has huge potential to draw customers in through store, social media and even telephone, the most important thing to remember is to constantly evaluate the process and make sure that the channels, and more importantly, the teams are working together to ensure maximum ROI and user experience.

Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

Related reading:

Travel marketing is messy (and getting messier)

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