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Everything You Missed at Digital Travel Summit 2015

Last week, I attended WBR's Digital Travel Summit in Henderson, Nevada. In the palm tree studded District, my teammates and I settled in and prepared our booth for the intimate conference the Sunday before kickoff.

The two main session days were organized by stages in the customer journey. The first, "Dreaming, Planning & Booking,” the next "Preparation, The Guest Experience & Building Guest Loyalty.” While I was not able to attend every session, the following is a summary of the four-standout topics of the conference and the presentations that addressed them.

Ancillary Sales

While a less appetizing topic than a perfectly personalized guest experience, ancillary product sales for example airlines booking hotel stays or hoteliers offering car rentals, as dissected by Bob Dufour, President of Fusion in his presentation, advance an absolutely indispensable opportunity.

It was great to see his clear-cut illustration of why ancillary is important in digital marketing; I jotted it down to share it here:

Importance of Ancillary in Digital Marketing

  1. As sales move to digital…
  2. Price transparency increases…
  3. Price comparison is enabled…
  4. Price begins to dominate decisions
  5. Comparison sites accelerate price-centric model…
  6. Pricing pressure depresses core margins…
  7. Need for margin improvement increases…

The strategy alternative is: Ancillary excellence!

According to Mark Bloxham of James Villa Holidays, ancillaries are worth $31 billion to the airline industry.

We heard bits and pieces of additional brands’ ancillary strategies, like White Lodging’s custom pre-arrival emails with itinerary and upsell at various pre-journey stages and James Villa’s attempt to intersect products with customer needs and desires. Done right, ancillary is not a dirty word. In fact, a great customer experience necessitates the presentation of ancillary products and services, so long as they’re presented to the right people, at the right time.

Don’t send your business travelers hotel information for a one-day round trip flight. Don’t offer massage packages to a family of six (actually, they might need it!). However, when the DTS audience was asked whether they wanted to see an offer for discounted on-flight WiFi services on their next business trip, nearly every hand shot up. There’s one segment you can start personalizing for!

Personalization

It seems this industry may be doing a better job than most understanding and using the power of their data to undertake substantial targeting and personalization strategies.

Michael Bennett, Vice President of Marketing, Full Service & Lifestyle Division at White Lodging kicked off the personalization track by naming two types of personalization his brand is using to serve their customers. The first, exact-match targeting, pinpoints guests with 1st party data to reach high-ADR (average daily rate) customers as they browse. They take it one step further by using what Bennett called behavioral look-a-like targeting, which takes 3rd party data and builds an audience that represents guests identified as high ADR stayers who are likely to desire and/or benefit from a similar experience.

They have seen a 13% lift YoY for this ADR group, and while (interestingly enough) overall site traffic was down, they are seeing much more qualified users/traffic than previously. Bennett describes their strategy and its success as the difference between proactive and set-and-forget marketing. I couldn’t agree more.

Data

On day two, Jonathan Isernhagen, Director, Analytics & Insights at Wyndham Hotel Group gave an in-depth, technical presentations about using big data. He went over which profile data can be used to personalize including: website behavior, transaction data, customer visitors records, transaction summarized data, site data, site visit data, and email records. To make things a bit easier, Isernhagen offered the audience at DTS three takeaways which are worth including:

1. Adopt a customer-centric POV by subscribing to your own email distributions, understanding you customer’s goals and paths, and managing your customer relationships as a scarce resource.

2. Understand where you are on the Customer Experience Maturity Model and next actions to level up.

3. Learn what’s happening “behind the curtain” when using vendors and/or agencies to do the technical heavy lifting.

Data and personalization really aren’t separate themes, however, in a keynote entitled: "Using Customer Info to Delivery a Better Experience and Increase Value [Agency]” by John Padwick, VP, Travel Practice, and Matt Naeger, Executive VP, Digital Strategy, at Merkle the use of, data for advertising had its own special moment. We were shown how data and consumption patterns are used across the travel-planning curve (destination selection, shopping, booking, and sharing) to deliver more relevant experiences that allow brands to develop a conversation with prospects, and not just deliver ads.

So how do we deal with all this data for personalization? It’s what Merkle calls “Identity Management” – or managing the device, user ID and account location so that when you serve an ad you have an idea of who you’re serving it to! But it’s not the blind pursuit of personalized experiences that makes for great cx; it is understanding the level of personalization that is the best/most worthwhile on the audience side, according to Merkle.

Channels

Ah, yes. Channels.

Naturally a key focus of the event was how to serve customers across varying and sometimes disparate channels. A panel discussion including marketing experts from Fareportal Media Group, Marriott International, The Hotel Portal, The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows, and Whole Journeys were asked how you can serve the customer across channels without becoming an annoyance. One panelist jumped forward to say, “Ask them what they want.” A simple approach which often gets muddied in trying to prove, as marketers, that we already know what they want because we have their data (or simply because we’re so great at our jobs).

Then again, another panelist validly put, “Experience minus expectations equals value.” Therefore, there must be some balance of anticipating the customer needs and not just throwing everything at them to see what sticks. Marriott rolled out mobile check-in last year which presents another opportunity to engage with the customer, situating them perfectly to be either a “complete annoyance” or to serve their customers even better. It is, therefore, a question of being selective and analytical about what transactional messages should be paired with mobile check-in.

Ultimately, it came down to creating and paying close attention to a comprehensive view of prospective and current customer interactions across touch points, from the moment they begin research to two weeks or even a month after they’ve returned from their trip.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, of course. It takes the measured and analytical weaving of data, personalization, and contextual marketing to deliver each traveller the product, message, and experience they want. But as we saw at Digital Travel Summit this year, it’s being done. With the right digital marketing stack and a team that includes an open line of communication between marketers, analysts, and IT, delivering an optimized customer experience in 2015 is absolutely obtainable.

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