This is a viewpoint from Matt Barker, founder of I&I Travel Media.
The content marketing craze that developed over the last few years has been a fascinating phenomenon to watch. As the zeitgeist took root marketers retooled en masse and turned to new – largely unproven – approaches to acquiring customers.
While a few smart people questioned the direction of travel, the idea – driven by the ponzi scheme of content marketers promoting content marketing – that brands must “become publishers” was widely accepted.
These days virtually every online travel business is doing content marketing in one form or another; diligently blogging, emailing, Tweeting and Instagramming just like all the ‘thought leaders’ and conference seminars told us to.
But how many of us know if it’s working? Is it actually paying for itself, or are we just throwing content out into the void and hoping something comes back?
The spray and pray approach might work in other consumer industries, but travel marketing is a unique challenge.
Regardless of how influential a blogger claims to be, no one ever chances upon a sponsored tweet and decides to drop $6k on a small boat Galapagos cruise.
According to Expedia, travellers can make up to 161 visits to travel sites in the 45 days prior to making a booking. Think about the months, years and decades of dreaming and planning that lead up to that point.
If we’re going to persist with content marketing, we need to recognise that “content” itself is not a viable marketing activity and that the metrics of content marketing are not useful KPIs.
Followers, impressions, shares and retweets are all meaningless concepts when it comes to attributing bottom-line return on investment.
So how do we turn “content” from a buzzword into a legitimate marketing activity for tourism businesses?
Invert your approach
One of the most damaging aspects of mainstream content marketing has been the trend for quantity over quality, with businesses prioritising sheer volume over purpose or value.
This leads to an obsession over the ‘optimal number of blog posts per month’ without first establishing who the content is for, and what we expect it to achieve.
Who is the content aimed at? What stage of the purchase decision are they in? How will your content help them? How will it bring them a step closer towards making a booking with your business?
Thinking in these terms lets us get away from the volume-driven mindset. Instead of churning out x number of desk-researched blog articles per month, think about creating a quality evergreen content asset that helps answer the specific questions that people ask before purchasing your product.
Case in point: this downloadable travel guide from Roundtheworldflights.com/Horizon Guides offers a neat way to package up all the consideration-phase questions that people might have prior to booking a trip, and generate qualified prospects at the top of the funnel.
There’s no need to churn out new content on an ongoing basis – one professionally-produced ebook behind an email capture form is worth all the ‘top 10’ listicles in the world combined.
“If you build it they will come” said no content marketer, ever. Longtail SEO can bring decent numbers of browsing traffic but that takes dedication to build up over many years.
New content needs to be promoted to your target audience and, unless you’re chasing the viral dragon, that usually means pay-to-play. You can amplify and share content via email, social and display ads, content promotion tools like Outbrain, or partnerships with relevant bloggers.
Lightfoot does a good job of this with their ‘Travel by Lightfoot’ email magazine. The focus here isn’t on selling trips, but simply sharing content and keeping the audience warm for a future booking.
Set realistic objectives
Investing in content can generate a return, but only when it’s used strategically in support of existing marketing channels. As with all marketing we need to start by setting realistic objectives that can be measured and used to attribute a return.
“Sell more trips” isn’t a useful objective. Even good content can’t magically circumvent the purchase decision. You won’t jump from ‘ebook download’ to ‘booking’ in one step.
But “reduce Adwords CPA” certainly is a realistic goal. As is “increase email leads” or “improve lead quality/close rates” and so on…
There are any number of ways you can use content to influence a bottom-line metric with an existing channel, but you need to decide on the goal first and then build the content strategy to match.
Tracking and attribution is the key to making all the above possible. If your links are tagged and your conversions and goal values are configured, Google Analytics will offer you a wealth of insight on what’s happening all the way through the marketing funnel.
Multi-channel funnel reports are your biggest ally here. Segment out the activity that is bringing traffic at the top of the funnel and see how it’s having a knock-on effect further down the line. With proper attribution you can start to put a $ amount to it all and unpick your content marketing ROI once and for all.
In this example we can segment out the conversions that were ‘assisted’ by an ebook download, and attribute their $ contribution to conversions further down the funnel. It’s not perfectly accurate but, provided you’ve got the correct configuration, you can estimate ROI from content marketing with a reasonable degree of confidence.
No one said it’s easy, but it’s certainly better than chucking spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.
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