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How travel brands are putting the customer front and center, too

Marketers have realized that the customer is the center of the conversation, and if they haven’t, it’s time they got on board. And it’s not just retail marketers that are putting the customer first — travel brands are too. The digital landscape is changing how companies approach the customer journey and how they cast their messages to resonate with customers. Here, Gene Quinn, CEO and co-founder at Tnooz, talks about the best ways that travel marketers can use technology to forge more meaningful connections with customers.

Q: How would you define a travel brand that is dedicated to a digital marketing strategy?

A: Folks who are all in are prepared to invest in the components of digital marketing, digital media and digital delivery of services at the core of service offerings, as opposed to inconveniences or ancillary adjuncts to the way travel used to be marketed. Things like long-term purchasing contracts that corporate buyers have with hotel brands are put at risk when there’s a HotelTonight or other instant-deal service, that allows a person to buy a hotel room on the third day of a trip without regard for a long-term contract with a hotel. Now the business traveler or the consumer has more purchasing capability and management of their own finances in the palm of their hand through a smartphone than they did previously with a printed itinerary and paper ticket that was a non-changeable script. Now it changes day by day because the buyer and decider is the end user. That’s what the flattening digital travel economy has done, in the same way that retailers like Amazon have changed the brick-and-mortar retail market.

Q: Sometimes the human, emotional element can be lost through technology and removing face-to-face interaction. How can travel marketers strike a balance between using technology while creating a customer connection?

A: It’s entirely possible to relate to customers in a digital relationship in pretty much the same way they’ve been related to in an analog relationship. For connecting with the wanderlust traveler, there’s not a lot of difference between the emotional connection drawn from a good magazine article in "National Geographic" and a really good story with great visuals and video support posted on a blog. How much more emotional was a magazine than a digital website? It’s not like you had someone at your side explaining why you should go to the Himalayas. You were looking at a magazine and dreaming about it, the same way you look at it on the Web and dream about it.

The biggest difference between the old analog way of connecting with travelers through more filtered and focused media is this phenomenon of user-generated content. If you look at videos and photos that are meant to connect with and inspire travelers, a lot is being done among travelers themselves without the interference of travel brands. The travel brands have to cut through the clutter of user-generated content because Twitter doesn’t distinguish between “I stubbed my toe on my way to the bathroom in my hotel room” and an absolutely gorgeous Twitter picture of the Grand Canyon from a professional photographer staying in a hotel room a floor above where the person stubbed their toe. That’s where the conversation is, how do we sort through all of that.

Q: Do you think words are more effective at connecting to a customer than photos or videos, or vice versa?

A: I don’t think one is best. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One customer is going to be a little different than another customer. There’s nothing better than a magnificent photo; there’s nothing better than a magnificent story told in context; and there’s nothing more emotional than those two things combined in a motion video to tell a heartfelt story. One great example of this is Expedia's "Find Yours" television and YouTube campaign, in which they personalized different stories of individuals. From my observations, it was quite effective in zeroing in on authentic stories of folks who are actually on the trip of a lifetime or an emotional journey whether it’s a wedding or family vacation. Those types of stories work — it doesn’t matter whether they take the form of words, photos, videos or a combination.

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