Travel brands love a good trend projection, but is chasing trends the best business strategy? According to Koddi president and co-founder Nicholas Ward, the devil is in the data.
As the new year approaches, most travel brands will start looking ahead to trend projections and industry predictions. But even though it’s tempting to tap into global event calendars or read up on cultural buzz, following the word of travel magazines and publishers is a hit-or-miss strategy. Those big trends, spanning the whole industry and the entire globe, can’t possibly be powerful for every single travel advertiser out there. So, how can travel brands of all sizes make the most of big trends specifically for their businesses?
SkiftX spoke to Nicholas Ward, Koddi president and co-founder, about the importance of relevance and why codifying big trends with business data is the key to smarter advertising.
SkiftX: What global events and trends do you have your eye on for 2019?
Nicholas Ward: When we’re thinking about trends and events, I always hesitate to be too prescriptive. Focusing on larger trends and global events is popular, but it’s a reactive approach that doesn’t yield the best results for travel brands. Capitalizing on technology and codifying those trends with data makes a big difference here. Advertisers need to think more about how they can make the most of these events by focusing on the relevance to their business and to their audience.
For example, we can expect to see a spike in travel and bookings to Minneapolis in August 2019, when the Summer X Games are scheduled to take place. But hoteliers in the region are probably interested in growing their businesses beyond just next August. Travel marketers are typically aware of the larger travel trends within a quarter of a year, but capitalizing on micro-trends is more challenging. That’s where business intelligence and a scientific approach to trends make a difference, with data points drilling into elements like audience, geography, and relevance.
SkiftX: How can brands prepare for the inherent unpredictability of travel trends and events?
Ward: Over the last few months we’ve seen a lot of advertisers solidifying their 2019 budgets. While planning is great, what scares me is that nobody can predict the future. We know what the big events are going to be throughout 2019, but how are users going to respond? How is the economy going to play into that? We’re relying on perfect predictions, which is not realistic. That’s why we encourage advertisers to build flexible budgets into their systems so they are prepared to respond to opportunities as they arise.
It’s also important to have your mitigation planning ready and to think through what’s going to impact business over the course of the next year. Doing that little bit of scenario planning goes a tremendously long way because scrambling to try to put something together on the fly doesn’t allow you to execute with efficiency.
In addition to the business aspect, the customer experience aspect is really important. Inclement weather is a good example of that. If there’s a hurricane coming in, you don’t want to advertise a hotel in the area –– that’s not a good match. But what is the right thing to do? Do we want to put ourselves out there and try to support potential customers, creating the opportunity for a meaningful experience even if there is some risk involved? Or, is shutting things down the right approach for us to take? It’s really hard to have conversations and to make good decisions in the moment, so you have to have strategies and playbooks that are ready to go.
During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, we saw a few inspiring examples from client playbooks that enabled them to help people impacted by the storm. Efforts included offering vacant rooms to families who had lost their homes, discounting rooms for emergency responders, waiving cancellation fees, and starting donation drives.
SkiftX: Should advertisers pay attention to travel trends at all, then?
Ward: It’s one thing to pay attention to the trend, but it’s also not a one-size-fits-all industry. In the marketing space we play in, there are so many levers to consider. And as an advertiser, you don’t want to chase down what a travel magazine is saying is an important trend. You want to see what is happening and then assess how it’s relevant to your business.
Taking a scientific approach allows us to tie anecdotal trends to actual buying behavior. When are customers making that purchase decision? When they do buy, is it on a desktop or mobile? Are they buying direct or through a third party? Sometimes, the buying behavior doesn’t align with what you would expect, and we get to learn a lot about travelers through the types of decisions that they make. We can then use that information to extract where it’s important for us to be as advertisers, and when it’s most valuable for us to deliver content that will be relevant to customers based on their buying patterns.
SkiftX: How should brands be assessing and understanding relevance?
Ward: It really starts with working to understand who the audience is and then tying that back to the business. That’s how we can really start to influence bookings and revenue outcomes at a greater scale. Who is the type of traveler that you are going after? What types of events are going to drive activity for them? It may not be something as exciting as the Superbowl. Instead, that dog show down the road might be a lot more relevant to your business. The relevance factor is key.
Digital anonymizes users in a lot of ways, and travel is very experiential, important, and personal. The first step is to understand what users are engaged and interested in. Step two is then to identify the trends that we are going to connect to those individual users. For example, if a hotelier wants to grow a specific customer segment, then certain trends, events, or even locations will become more or less important based on the makeup of that segment. You and I may be looking at the same hotel, but we’re probably thinking different things. At the end of the day, all of this data plays into our ability to do smarter marketing.
Koddi goes beyond big trends and global events, working with customers to focus on the new capabilities made possible through technology. Enabling travel brands to capitalize on the micro-trends that can really grow their business is challenging, and that’s where Koddi’s proprietary business intelligence and data platform can help. To work with Koddi on introducing smarter marketing for your travel business, click here.