25 Oct Travel, brand values and price
Earlier this year I sat on an expert panel looking at travel brands and how they can maintain their brand values in a marketplace where consumers are increasingly swayed by price. You can read the full write up in Travolution Magazine.
Expert is a dangerous word, but I was certainly in good company. Facilitated and hosted by Jeremy Head of iCrossing the brands represented included Travelzoo, Villa Plus, Voyage Privé, Monarch Group, Expedia, Lowcost Travel Group and Tourism Australia.
Since the glory days of the High Street Travel Agent the way we research, plan and book travel has changed beyond all recognition. That started with huge advances in technology that drove economies of scale where a travel brand could serve lots of people at the same time. In many respects that created an environment where customer service may well have taken a back seat and price comparison became king. Interestingly though, the rise of the social web has given customers a voice and a vehicle for venting their frustrations. The balance of power has changed. The customer now plays a critical role in shaping the dialogue with travel brands and ultimately their reputation.
What is clear, however, is that the strength of your brand is ultimately linked to the strength of the experience you provide and how closely that fulfills the brand promise you create. You might win a single booking on the strength of price but great service will win you multiple bookings and all important customer loyalty. Absolutely. Unsurprisingly, Ryan Air was held up as a case in point but that doesn’t mean there is a clearly identifiable segment of the market that will fly easyJet unless there is no other alternative. Clearly it’s a balance and it is not a case of one size fits all.
Developing sub brands and offering customers the opportunity to trade up to the ‘finest’ range is one way of dealing with that. Interestingly, the role of content creation came up. Creating content that facilitates getting the right ideas in front of the customer and helping them choose the right holiday is another way to add value. Content that is, most importantly, useful and engaging but also findable and sharable becomes much more important in a post Panda and Penguin world. That requires commitment and investment.
We talked about user-generated content, its role alongside brand created content and how important understanding your customers is if you are going to engage with them successfully. One of the most valuable things you can do is engage with your customers at a personal level and get to grips with what your customers feel and think about your brand. I have always been amazed at how few brands actually do that when the opportunity is clear. Increasingly the relationship between a brand and its customers is becoming one of partnership. Monarch asking their passengers to try out some new seats if they have some spare time after checking in is a great example. Interesting too that most of the bigger brands present felt that TV and brand advertising has its place and the clear opportunity presented by paid media is to amplify and scale your earned and owned media efforts.
So, it is likely that the ever present need to deliver a price promise is not going to go away but it would appear that travel brands understand the need to deliver the right brand promise too. There was much debate around exactly how to do that but the themes rehearsed here do appear to be part of the solution. Deliver on experience. Understand and engage with your customers. Use owned, earned and paid media in an integrated way.