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Tactics Be Damned! Strategic Multichannel Travel is the Sweet Spot

Multichannel travel isn’t something new. But it’s also not something that marketers can magically whip up overnight. It has a lot of moving parts that must be operated with precision, systemization and a willingness to accept that the marketing tactics you thought were ‘pioneering’ aren’t making the grade. Thanks to technology, most consumers’ travel stories don’t begin and end in a single day, nor does the whole experience happen on one single device. It’s happening over the course of dozens of days and several weeks, where the “always on, always connected” traveler uses a combination of travel websites, mobile sites and apps to get inspired, browse casually, bargain hunt aggressively, book the best deal and then use all of these devices simultaneously to make their real-time trip or vacation that much more convenient and enjoyable.

As we found in our latest multichannel travel research, desktop websites are still the dominant channel for booking online travel (83 percent). But what is more interesting is the mobile channel’s slow and steady rise as the device of choice for booking travel plans, with 12 percent using smartphones and 5 percent using tablets to do so. With all of these moving parts, it’s not surprising that a recent Fast Company article likened the modern-day travel experience to “a rabbit hole inside which everything seems to get bigger or smaller, depending on which choice you make…“Even if some of these web services are wonderful, the sheer volume and duration has a cumulative, usually deleterious, impact on the start of your travel experience.”

If I were the CMO of meta search engines like Kayak, Hipmunk or TripAdvisor, I wouldn’t want my audience attributing the travel search experience as “deleterious” and “exhausting.” So how can today’s new breed of travel marketers be proactive and take control of their customer experience across every channel? Since not everyone is a ‘pro,’ I have outlined four steps to help travel marketers gradually and effectively hit the sweet spot of strategic multichannel travel – and continue to evolve and grow from there.

Step #1: Map your starting position and build a timeline to reach your desired destination

Systems and processes are a necessity in society. Without them, people run in thousands of directions, colliding into each other and causing more harm than good. The same goes for travel brands and the marketers charged with leading digital innovation and improvements – whether you’re an OTA (online travel agency), a meta search engine, an international hotel group or a national airline. But what kinds of processes and systems would be most effective?

This is where we strongly caution travel marketers against being swept away by the excitement of digital’s long-reaching capabilities. Map out (literally) where your current digital strategy currently lies. Compare that to the current marketplace trends, as well as ecommerce and mcommerce spending predictions. That is where you want to go. Then comes the part where you have an honest conversation with yourself, your team and your senior executives about where you need to go.

What does a multichannel travel experience really mean to your customers (not you)? Do you even have a defined multichannel strategy? Do you know which teams and individuals across your organization own what piece of that strategy? Have you set up realistic deliverables and deadlines for each milestone? Have you collaborated with multiple internal stakeholders to identify the right metrics that will guide you in this process? You need to be able to answer all of these types of questions (even if you don’t like the answers) and lay out a clear roadmap before you dive head-first into the multichannel travel pool.

Step #2: Form a steering committee

Now that you’ve completed what we like to call the “discovery zone” of customer experience optimization, it’s time to form a steering committee. This committee will act as your working group to bounce ideas off each other, evaluate the merits of ideas, challenge the norms and create a plan that will benefit the entire business (not just one department). This should be a no-judgment zone where people can be candid about their opinions and find ways to work together creatively. While the exact functions of this committee should always evolve and adapt to each travel brand’s mission and corporate culture, your steering committee’s objectives should include:

  • Be held accountable for the overall success of the multichannel travel strategy
  • Align the multichannel travel strategy directly to the comprehensive business goals of your company and across every marketing channel
  • Set realistic expectations, identify and prioritize the delivery of results on a phased approach, assign owners, require deadlines and identify processes to solve problems that may occur.
  • Get clarity from senior stakeholders on all resources available, your minimum and maximum budget allocations, contributing team members (and their realistic availability). When we say clarity, this means hard numbers that will keep you in check along the way.
  • Create guidelines and processes for all communication to external stakeholders and senior management.

Step #3: Strategize and execute

This is where we highly recommend forming a customer experience optimization “team.” Even if it’s not in your designated title, it should be a team that anyone in the business can immediately identify as being responsible for achieving your desired outcomes. This team needs to have more than a basic understanding of multichannel marketing. They should understand who your entire audience is – from first-time visitors to high-value customers. Once your CXO team is in place, they should be responsible for:

  • Obtaining buy-in from the executive level
  • Assigning business owners for every single objective and milestone outlined
  • Analyze all data and identify what’s working, what doesn’t and additional room for improvement

Step #4: Evolve into the “dandelion” model

Finally, travel brands across all categories need to evolve into a ‘Hub and Spoke’ model. This model, which is best visualized as a dandelion, sets up the overarching objective as the “nucleus” of the strategy. Subsequently, each thistle acts as the many and varied supporting elements that collectively will produce the larger business objective. It will require careful planning, precise execution and cross-checking every step of the way. This is where it’s important for the product, brand, technology, marketing and analytics teams to all be involved in the process. What you’ll soon find out is that hard work, focus and strategy pay big dividends.

  • Transparency across organization and cross-functional teams
  • Definition and preservation of a test-and-learn corporate culture
  • Promotion of ideas and engagement between teams
  • Distributed ownership and greater opportunities for leadership
  • Clarity on digital objectives across entire business
  • Build-out of a strong, well-balanced customer experience team
  • Holistic problem-solving approach to all obstacles encountered

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