The travel industry has officially entered the era of “omnichannel” marketing, a time when every screen, every device, and every customer interaction is an opportunity to connect with travelers. In order to take advantage, travel organizations will need to rethink how they design, execute, and measure marketing campaigns.
Today, nearly everything in this ever-expanding omnichannel travel environment is a new opportunity to connect with customers. It’s not only social media and mobile devices that are expanding the landscape. The reality is that screens and customer touch points are showing up everywhere: in hotel rooms, on airplanes and at airports, on smart watches, and even on slot machines. Each of these emerging channels represents a “blank canvas” where travel brands can engage with travelers and help them along on their journey.
Yet too many travel businesses are not currently set up to support this evolution. Instead, they are stuck using legacy methods of building marketing campaigns around specific channels or devices. In fact, when a brand develops a channel-specific campaign without integrating it with other efforts, they miss the chance to create the type of holistic, seamless experiences that are essential to meet the expectations of today’s consumers.
To escape this trap, travel providers need to rethink how they design, execute and measure campaigns. Rather than asking “What is the right channel for our campaign?,” they should instead ask themselves, “What isn’t a channel for our campaign?” More than likely, the answer is very little.
All of this is to say that today’s travel customer experience can no longer be relegated to a single department or marketing channel. Marketers must rethink how their companies are structured to deliver the most seamless and delightful experiences possible.
But how should companies evolve to enable this customer-first experience and design the right cross-channel teams? As we’ll explore in the sections below, these two strategies must be in alignment to successfully deliver on today’s era of infinite customer touchpoints.
Become channel agnostic
The first step in the process of building a customer-first experience is to become channel agnostic. Travel companies’ marketing teams need to accept that their target audience is, as Adobe puts it, “interacting with your brand at all hours, in all places, with all their unique dimensions and traits, across multiple channels.” Travel organizations’ ability to adapt to this new mindset will be a critical determining factor in the performance of future marketing efforts. “Travel brands who begin this process see significant success,” confirmed Julie Hoffmann, head of industry strategy and marketing for travel at Adobe.
Becoming channel agnostic also means that brands must shift their focus to creating holistic campaigns rather than marketing designed for specific channels. This ensures that organizations are able to deliver meaningful experiences, regardless of where that interaction happens. A recent Gartner study found that integrating four or more digital channels outperforms single- or dual-channel campaigns by 300 percent.
Unfortunately, too many travel brands today remain fragmented in their approach, says Mohammad Gaber, global practice director of digital strategy for travel at Adobe.
“Travel companies need a new operating model that is much more horizontal,” he said. “It’s actually balancing the horizontal and the vertical that is much more customer-segment centric rather than channel centric.”
To become more customer centric, companies should aim to build a “single view” of customers that they can track across their journeys. There’s a variety of strategies that can help make this easier. Helping customers research their purchase decisions using multiple brand channels is one approach. Tailoring experiences to specific moments in the customer journey is another. Blending online and offline interactions seamlessly, using data to deliver results, can also help create a single customer view.
Achieving cross-channel integration may also soon get easier thanks to the increasingly powerful capabilities of artificial intelligence.
Who’s doing cross-channel campaigns well? Redtag.ca is one example. The Canadian online travel agency uses cross-channel data from Adobe Analytics to track its online, mobile, email, and call-center activity, using the data to identify opportunities to further improve the customer experience. One way Redtag does this is by integrating pre-click email metrics with website behavioral data to identify which vacation packages, activities, or offers resonate with specific customer segments.
Despite this success, travel executives acknowledge that there are still challenges. For instance, creating cross-channel campaigns is often an ordeal for B2B companies. While the sector tends to focus on the most important channels (like email and their websites) B2B marketers should look to start connecting those channels to other touch points, including offline data, content management systems, data platforms, web analytics and more.
In addition, data isn’t always shared seamlessly among travel partners, and it can be unclear who actually owns it. Still, tackling these roadblocks is necessary. As Miriam Moscovici, director of emerging technologies at BCD Travel, told Skift, “Sticking everything in one place, instead of making it available across many different channels, is the new goal.” By having a fuller picture, travel providers can ultimately build more unified campaigns.
Break down organizational silos
The other shift for marketers is to start thinking of themselves as “experience businesses,” or companies whose domain is now the entire customer journey. To do this, travel businesses will need to build integrated organizations, teams, and departments that can help eliminate gaps in the end experience for guests.
By now it’s somewhat cliché to simply suggest that organizations do this by “breaking down silos.” A more helpful approach is for each organization to start mapping out the customer journey, using that information to then identify potential areas of overlap or integration. “You don’t necessarily start by destroying silos — you eliminate the problems silos cause,” said Bruce Swann, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Campaign.
Looking for other strategies to get started? Collaborate to enact change. Adopt a shared set of goals, motivate externally and coordinate often. “We see the most success in brands that have taken the time to map a customer journey and brought with them the key stakeholders across the organization to collaborate around the same goal. It’s one team,” said Adobe’s Julie Hoffmann in her Adobe Summit Presentation on Digital Strategy 101.
It’s also important to get employees to understand the value of cross-functional collaboration so that they are open to the changes needed to break down silos. “Share the customer experience with them to help them build empathy. That will help them understand why the change is necessary, since it’s never easy to alter the way things run in an organization,” said Adobe’s Gaber.
“Ultimately, these organizations need to see incremental value to balance out the pain of the transformations,” he said.
The good news is that many travel brands are already on the path to rethinking their organization structure. 60 percent of respondents in Adobe’s Digital Transformation Report said they have a cross-functional team or centrally-integrated function around their digital transformation plans.
Marriott Hotels and Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, are two examples of travel organizations which have embraced the “experience business” era. Both brands consolidated their marketing strategies to improve customer experiences.
Talent remains a challenge on this front: 39 percent of respondents to the Adobe’s Digital Transformation Report said they struggle to find the technical talent needed to meet their digital objectives. But travel brands are starting to equip themselves with the right skills to improve marketing campaigns: More than 65 percent of executives said they were somewhat or quite confident they had the talent needed to deliver on their digital objectives.
It may seem daunting to rethink marketing strategy so that travel organizations reach customers across an infinite set of touch points, But it also presents unprecedented opportunity to provide consumers with an exceptional experience.
Being able to reach travelers through so many channels, and at so many points in their journeys, allows marketers to ensure that their brands are part of a trip experience that is satisfying, enjoying, and most importantly, memorable.