How Omni-Channel Marketing Can Help Travel Brands Fly Farther, Faster

Are marketers truly taking advantage of omni-channel strategies? Columnist Josh Manion discusses the opportunities and challenges of reaching consumers across platforms in the travel industry.

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Is it truly possible that US retailers miss the chance to bring in 10 percent more revenue because they are fumbling omni-channel marketing efforts? For a multimillion-dollar retailer, that translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars left on the table. But for a billion-dollar retailer, it’s a hefty $100 million. That’s a huge number, clearly telling us that omni-channel marketing hasn’t been successful for many so far.

While new martech innovation is improving results in that area, it’s critical to ask what stands in the way of true omni-channel marketing. And who’s doing it right?

An Experian Data study offers a clue. Researchers discovered that fewer than 25 percent of companies reported they have the capabilities to create a single view of the customer. Fragmented data across a siloed digital ecosystem continues to foil efforts to market to people across channels in a timely and consistent manner.

And, in fact, the CMO Council has reported that data fragmentation is the reason that fully half of brands surveyed lack insight into customer retention and lifetime value of customers. That’s not surprising given the amount of data generated across the digital ecosystem.

The average American spends an incredible 11 hours per day with electronic media, according to Nielson’s Total Audience Report. That’s broadly TV, radio, internet, mobile, gaming and other multimedia devices.

Data collection and integration across all these disparate channels and devices is thus a must-have, straight out of the gate.

Omni-Channel Opportunities And Challenges

The travel industry offers a particularly clear lens through which to see both the challenges and opportunities of omni-channel marketing. First, there’s scale and complexity.

TripAdvisor (Disclosure: client), for example, is the world’s largest travel site, with 375 million unique monthly visitors checking out more than 5.2 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions.

Many customers routinely use multiple channels to do research and make travel choices. A Facebook and Deloitte survey of more than 10,000 leisure travelers, for example, shows it’s an industry in which consumers are particularly attuned to social media.

This study found that social media is second only to friends and family as a source of travel ideas. Sixty-eight percent said travel reviews give them the confidence to book.

Given that profile, how does a global company touch customers at the right time with the right offers across the best platforms, given the tendency for data to be fragmented and siloed across online and offline sources, and from one digital platform to the next?

Leisure and tourism company TUI Group (Disclosure: client) offers some insight. TUI Group’s travel services span tour operator brands, travel agencies, hotels and resorts, with six TUI-owned airlines and a fleet of cruise ships for seaborne holidays under the company’s core UK brands, Thomson and First Choice.

Customers interact with travel products over multiple visits and sessions. Purchase cycles may involve many months or even multiple years.

And when the traveler books, he or she may have looked at dozens of packages, destinations, hotels and resorts, in varying combinations. A single customer may have millions of unique combinations to consider when choosing a holiday.

How does the marketing team keep track of customers as they browse travel products and packages across platforms and brand portfolios in a long sales cycle? How can you ensure that marketing advertising and offers are contextually relevant, given that a single traveler may purchase in different circumstances, for a family holiday, business travel or a couples getaway?

Capturing and integrating the data is crucial, as is the ability to remember a unique individual across time and through every interaction so that the brand can respond in context.

Brand “memory” is embedded in data. For any brand, and certainly for a company like TUI Group, it’s the critical resource in customer acquisition, retention and loyalty. Let’s take a closer look.

How To Implement Effective Omni-Channel Marketing

• Go Beyond Data Silos. This is the way a brand can avoid “short-term memory loss” when it engages a consumer over a lengthy sales cycle.

In the case of TUI Group, for example, the company has built a sophisticated data collection system based on advanced tag management with a persistent data layer that ensures data quality and consistency, regardless of the varied ways it is collected over the company’s many brands and platforms.

The omni-channel customer profiles in the data layer arm TUI with a more complete picture of travelers to better deliver the right experience and best offers for each customer.

• Leverage First-Party Data. The ad exchanges, ad networks and data management platforms evolving to support programmatic media buying offer a powerful way to market cross-platform. But first-party data generated on a brand’s owned platforms are key, because they reveal consumer intent and preferences.

For example, TUI Group reports using first-party data generated by visits and other customer interactions to support programmatic ad buying with “dynamic retargeting” serving product advertising relevant to the consumer.

Programmatic media buying makes it possible to leverage the strength of internet advertising, the ability to target buyers on the channels they frequent and prefer. The end game is advertising that is contextual.

After all, you don’t want to market a family vacation with the kids to an engaged couple deciding where to go on their honeymoon.

• Market Across The Brand Portfolio. Many global companies manage multiple brands, and that makes the practice of uniting data at the level of the unique individual more challenging.

Continuing with the TUI Group example, the company unifies first-party data to consolidate that information anonymously against a unique ID. The process enables the TUI Group to see how brands interact with each other and the role they play in the customer journey.

Data fragmentation has been a huge and persistent obstacle to effective omni-channel marketing. Martech innovation has been enabling marketers to unify all of this cross-channel, cross-platform data, and in the process, gain a single view of the customer as he or she moves about in daily life.

While not always simple, this is the first step to meaningful engagement with consumers. It will not only deliver short-term ROI but also engender long-term trust and brand loyalty.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Josh Manion
Josh Manion currently is the CEO of Vault JS, a company focused on securing 3rd party technologies for the enterprise. Prior to Vault JS, Josh was the Founder and CEO of Ensighten a tag management technology. Prior to Ensighten, he served for seven years as the CEO of Stratigent, a web analytics and marketing optimization consultancy. Josh has played chess professionally and is currently ranked among the top 60 players in the United States. He holds a degree in Management Science with a focus on Information Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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