Everybody is talking about contextual marketing, but really, what is it and how will it benefit our travel customers’ experience?
In the madmen days of advertising, you would reach a customer through billboards or television ads placed at very strategic locations or times. Outdoor billboards near snow-laden airports featuring warm, sunny climate destinations. Television ads for airlines running on the evening news, touting easy flights for business executives. When was the last time you saw one of those?
The marketing industry has come a long way and digital marketing has completely changed how we reach our target audience. Contextual Marketing means discovering the context in which specific audiences were to be found. It is about the digital fingerprint, looking at what a customer has done, what they are currently doing, and predicting what they may do in the future based on their habits and trends. In the past that meant taking advantage of situations like freezing cold northerners who drive by boards near airports as they head to and from work or business executives who travel that watch the stock market reports during the evening news.
The fundamental concept of contextual marketing – reaching audiences when they are in a specific time and place or frame of mind for considering your product or service — is still very valid. The difference is that the information we now have to support contextual marketing is more personalized and enriched with more details.
Equally important, the channels for reaching travellers are now highly individualized and personalized thanks to the ubiquitous tiny screens that are ever present in our lives. Instead of reaching that winter sun-seeker on his or her way to the airport, you can beam them an email directly to their laptop or tablet. The timing has become fine-tuned as well. For example, you know they’re in a look-to-book frame of mind if you send a remarketing email within six hours of a fare or destination search on your website.
There are many data drivers for today’s successful contextual marketing.
When blended, these drivers create hyper-personalized offers and content timed to reach highly receptive audiences at exactly the right moment. These drivers can include:
• Historic behaviour
• Real-time information
For example, let’s take Margie Foley. An online travel agency has her in its database as a female, aged 36, who lives outside of Hartford, Connecticut. In the past she has travelled to Fort Lauderdale in early March, midweek, leaving at 7am, returning the following Monday at 4pm. Now add her device information – her email and cell phone number. Then, (here’s where it gets really fun) pull in some third party weather data.
The OTA uses a sophisticated travel marketing platform that includes a recommendation engine that creates contextual marketing offers on the fly. So, on a snowy morning in January, Margie is headed out the door on her way to work. The recommendation engine pulls together an offer for a great deal to Fort Lauderdale, including a discount for an extra night’s stay at her favourite hotel. Timed to reach her during her lunch hour – while the morning’s nightmare commute is still on her mind and the snow continues to pile up outside her office window — the offer entices her into a temporary reverie with a picture of a Fort Lauderdale beach at sunset. The discount encourages her to book now so she’ll have two months of looking forward to her vacation – surely a powerful tactic to get her through the New England winter.
Now, multiply Margie’s offer by the 2,000 other New Englanders in the OTA’s database that share a similar travel history and who are also staring at the falling snow. Divide by the fractional cost of beaming them an email and the efficiency of contextual marketing (cost divided by booking rate equals ROI) becomes very clear indeed.
But perhaps the most compelling thought is that contextual marketing is in its infancy.
As travel marketers become more sophisticated and begin applying what I call personal interest data, the recommendation engines will be able to layer in additional personalization that will really drive contextual marketing to a whole new level and really make it so that every connection is 1:1.
Margie, it turns out, is a rabid Red Sox fan and her name is in the team’s ticketing database. Imagine the team clinches the American League pennant. The next day, while visions of victory dance in her head, she receives a contextual marketing offer that includes a World Series package pulled together on the fly. Go Sox. Go Margie.
This 1:1 marketing is what our customers are coming to expect. There is a move away from generic advertising, which can be seen in the latest iOS release that has the ability to block ads. We now need to start looking at ways to interact and provide extremely relevant information and offers to our customers.