Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dear Travel Industry - Impact of Internet and Social Media on Travel Purchase Decisions

I have decided to step up and make "Dear Travel Industry" a weekly feature on my blog. The more I dive into the industry, the more great information I find about trends that I think people in the industry should be aware of. My goal is to distill what I'm reading into something that can be digested by the average industry participant.

I just read a summary of the third annual Consumer Technology Survey over at PhoCusWright. Although there is only a summary of the results, I think there is some insight that is worth discussing. Here is my commentary:

Mobile isn't here yet, but it is coming
The report indicates that most travelers are not yet using their mobile phones to surf travel related sites. However I think that travel industry webmasters and marketers need to take note that it won't be long. 2010 will be the year that smartphones like the iPhone move out of the hands of geeky early adopters and end up in the hands of the average traveler.

Based on my experience so far, travel industry websites are starting to appear extremely dated and therefore do not display correctly in mobile browsers. I can tell that most were built in 2000 or 2001 and haven't really been updated.

At the same time, most email newsletters or promotional email messages I am receiving do not display correctly on my iPhone email client. While I am on the subject of travel industry email marketing, I should also point out that many of the emails I get are also being coded for older web email clients and don't display correctly. Many are too image heavy and most end up in my junk folder.

Key Takeaway: It's time for the travel industry to review their web and email standards and put a project on their calendars to update them. Make sure everything you produce is tested across browsers and platforms, including mobile, for display and usability.

Travel Reviews Matter
The report indicates that reviews on travel industry websites, particularly those on on online travel agency sites.

I think if you are a travel agency, and even if you don't book trips through your website exclusively, you should be doing your best to cultivate feedback and reviews from your clients. I have lots of quoted reviews on travel websites but I think that the industry can do one better and encourage customers to share more than a paragraph about their experience.

Perhaps travel companies can be encouraging clients to share photos and videos of their trip. Youtube is perfect for helping them do this. Videos can be uploaded easily and shared directly into a website. Make your website more social while you're at it and create places for visitors to interact and discuss trips. Tools are easy to find that would let include Tweets about destinations and your business. Let people see that you are being discussed!

Key Takeaway: Actively cultivate and encourage your customers to share their experiences. Update your website to encourage active sharing by making it easier for customers to leave comments and reviews while allowing them to share memories. I would recommend that the travel industry take a look around at what is being done in other areas like real-estate and consumer technology and co-opt what they are doing in these regards and learn from them. It has never been easier, or cheaper, to step up your game!

There are certainly more discussed in the report itself and I would strongly encourage you to visit the PhoCusWright site and explore as you never know what you will find.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Olympics - What I'm Watching

Today is the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Olympics and there are a number of things I will be watching for during this Olympics. Here they are:

1) Canada Winning Gold: Canada has never won gold on Canadian soil. I think that it will happen in Vancouver and I do think that there is a strong chance it will happen this weekend. The men's downhill could yield a surprise gold. Robbie Dixon was 2nd in training and Manuel Osborne-Paradis was 6th.

2) Weather: I think that the media is blowing issue of snow out of proportion. It's an easy story to report on when the hills look green but if you think about it, VANOC was prepared for this and there was no reason for them to begin moving snow onto Cypress until only a few days before the training for the events to be held there (freestyle events, snowboarding) started. What I am watching for is visibility. Rain and fog and potentially even too much snow. I have skied at Whistler many times over the last 15 years and I can only remember a few times where we didn't have problems with visibility.

3) Shaun White: Perhaps one of the most electrifying athletes in the entire winter games. This U.S. snowboard halfpipe competitor has been perfecting tricks at a top secret halfpipe in Colorado only accessible using a helicopter. His event at 4pmEST on February 17th.

4) Protest Activity: Having recently moved back East from Vancouver, I can say that there was a growing anti-Olympic movement in Vancouver. Vancouver is a city with fairly extreme poverty on the lower east side. Housing is largely unaffordable in the city (it was recently found to be the most unaffordable city in Canada and 15th of the world) and so there are issues people feel need to be addressed over having the Olympics. I also know that Vancouver is a city with bad traffic and only a few key access routes... if those were to be shut down, it could be extremely difficult for people to get around the city. I have all the faith in the security team and if these games come off without a hitch, it will be a testament to their huge efforts.

5) Hockey: Both the men's and women's teams will have to play perfectly to get to the gold medal games and I have every faith they can. However I should mention that the U.S. teams will be challenging and on the men's side, watch out for the Russians, Swedes and Finns. I heard last night that six different teams have been in the men's gold medal game in the last 3 Olympics... so it's up for grabs!

Anyways, I hope everyone takes some time to enjoy the events. I will be watching the opening tonight and the downhill tomorrow for sure.

Best of luck to Ottawa's Ryan Semple who competes in the men's super-combined on the 16th!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dear Travel Industry - Affiliate Marketing

I have spent the better part of the last two months thinking about, talking to and listening to the travel industry. During that time I have learned a lot about something I love to do (travel) but never really had direct experience with (selling travel). Talking to travel industry professionals is one of the best parts of my day because I envy them so much. You are not so much selling a trip as you are selling memories. A vacations ends but the memories go on forever. I love sharing the memories of my trips and I would love to be able to help people by doing the same myself.

That said, I think that professionals in the travel industry often think of their roles very narrowly in that they think they only sell airfare, hotels and other items directly related to a trip. They often forget about anything other than insurance and I think they are missing out because there are huge opportunities for them in the field of affiliate marketing.

Based on my recent experience with travel and my previous experience in emarketing, I can confidently say that affiliate marketing is another area (along with niche marketing) that gets almost no love from marketers. Every single day, people are making huge sums on affiliate marketing. Marketing Sherpa estimated that in 2006, affiliates earned a total of US$6.5 billion in commissions from affiliate marketing. Yes, I said billion....

Affiliate marketing can be fairly simply, thanks in large part to the advent of affiliate marketing platformss like Commission Junction. These platforms provide an easy way for affiliates (or publishers as they are called because they have the audience) to meet with advertisers (who are the ones with the goods for sale), share content and most importantly, get paid.

If you have a popular site, all that you need to do is sign up, get the ads and includes the appropriate links behind him. Cookies are set on clicks that identify you to advertisers store and purchase details are sent back to the platform. You are paid out each month and life goes on.

One of the most prolific affiliate marketers and somebody I was at one time shocked to meet lived in the same city as I did was John Chow. He became famous as the guy making over 30k a month through affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is a great way to additional revenue from an audience you already have. Risk is reduced because you only make commission on what is sold. For publishers and advertisers, the up-front investment is rather low.

If you are a travel professional and would like to know more about affiliate marketing, you can contact me.

Alternatively, I can also point you to somebody well versed in these matters. Andy Hayes at Travel Online Partners. (site seems down now though).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Have The Rules Really Changed?

Joe Jaffe has written a new book called "Flip The Funnel". I haven't read it yet and probably will at some point but I just spent some time going over a great blog post with some video that talks about the concepts behind the book.

He says he came to the idea for the book by wondering if the rules of marketing have changed. Instead of spending more of our time and energy (read: money) finding new customers, what if we were spending that time and energy (money) on our existing customers. What if flipped the funner from one of reaching out to as many as we can to one of engaging customers and bringing them closer to us, our company and other customers.

First, I am not sure that this debate is really new. I took a relationship marketing course during my MBA and we heard some interesting statistics during our first class. I suppose that I can't share the slide deck I am pulling this from but some stuff is sourced from The American Customer Satisfaction Index.

In short, the data was designed to show that customer service matters, not only to your customers but to your bottom line. An example was a great study in the March 2007 Harvard Business Review that highlighted that companies with above average customer satisfaction scores, destroyed the S&P 500.

So, can we all agree that this stuff matters? Good.

Recently, I was thinking about why people don't always think this is true. And why we see mediocre products, services and companies in the market place. The answer I came up with is this:

We don't give a sh*t.

I believe that our society and culture, especially when it comes to business is focused inwards and not outwards. On the whole, we care more about growing our business, doing our jobs, getting home for dinner and getting that quarterly bonus that we do about providing real value to the marketplace. So we don't give a sh*t about creating real value for others. This is why you will often work in offices full of people that care nothing about doing actual work or pushing things forward.

This might seem a bit odd, but I was thinking about personal care products. Take soaps and shampoos. I find that so often, this stuff is packed full of things to make us THINK it is good for us. We have soaps with crazy perfumes and scents tested in labs for our ability to THINK it is doing any good for us. I am not a soap expert, but aren't simple soaps without all of that junk in them simply better for us? I see ads for soap products that have ribbons of gold in them. RIBBONS OF GOLD. Please. Make it actual gold and then maybe we'll talk. I have this crazy body wash right now that has these moisture beads in it and has some kind of mint stuff in it so that you are supposed to feel cleaner when you use it. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure you don't need all that crap to feel clean. Isn't that how you feel after you take a shower? Bottle that and sell it to me? Oh wait, you can't.

I was also thinking about food products. We are sold products packed full of sodium yet have labels about being low-fat or healthy. We have foods that never have fat or use trans-fats marketed as being "trans-fat free". We have people eating "light" foods that clog their arteries and contribute to their poor health. The reality is that healthy food isn't complicated or difficult. It's simple... take some veggies and some meat and you're good to go. For food marketers, it's not about what is actually good or better for us... but what is going to sell, increase the bottom line and grow our pocket books.

And is this making us happier? Seems like there is lots of evidence to suggest that we aren't. Andrew Oswald and David Blanchflower published research in 2002 that looked at US and Britain and concluded that people in the US were not getting happier over time.

Anyways, enough of the ranting but what it comes down to is that we have been sold products for years that were designed to make us think they worked, were good for us and would make us happy. Perhaps we have reached that place Joe Jaffe is talking about. Perhaps marketing has used these tactics so often and so widely that they are no longer effective. I had a previous post that spoke about how 1/3 of survey respondents felt a disconnect with tech marketers and 39% percent felt manufacturers fell in love with what they make. I also read a discussion yesterday about how the TTC is fed up of trying to defend its shoddy customer service.

I think Joe Jaffe is really onto something here but I think that it doesn't have to be very complicated. The thought that I kept coming back to is this: If you are going to make something, make the best possible version of it or don't make it at all. If you're going to serve customers, serve them the best you can or don't do it at all.

We've all had those experiences. I've even written about being in stores where I can tell that nobody cares. I just wonder if we've gone too far in the other direction to ever fix the hole that we have dug for ourselves.

So I would like to propose a motto for us all to use in the next decade: Do It Better.

Do it better than you did the day before. Do it better than you did last year. Do it better than your company did it ever before. I bet that if we do this, little by little, day by day, we might actually get somewhere.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sales vs. Marketing

Now that I am getting experience in sales, I started to think about the difference between sales and marketing the other day. Here's what I came up with.

They are both the same thing because your ultimate goal is to create revenue for your company.

Where they differ is that I believe sales is more tip of the knife, so to speak, because you're trying to close on an one on one basis, often in person or on the phone.

Marketing is only slightly less one to one.

But in almost every other aspect they are pretty much the same thing. You have to select a target market, generate leads, develop those leads and then close on opportunities.

One thing I am really enjoying about sales is that it is very motivational... and by motivational, I mean personal motivation is KEY. With sales, you have to get up every single day and get after it. In marketing, you have to do the same but if you are good at marketing, you can set up programs and tactics that require only periodic attention.

Sales is day in, day out. And that's also why I say it is more tip of the knife. In sales, you can tell how you're doing pretty easily... in marketing, you have to wait for results to come back. It's like fishing, you cast a lure out there and see what you get. In sales, it's like fishing with your bare hands. You get a fish or you don't.

Business Development is also something I have been thinking about recently and I'll post about that soon enough...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Comment - What People Want in Tech

Read something in eMarketer about what people look for in tech. Can be seen here.

What I found interesting about this first table above is that only 63% of people felt shopping was made better. Given the attention people give to how technology is going to "revolutionize" shopping experiences, I think this is quite alarming.

There is also an interesting table above here that shows what features people look for in technology and what is interesting about this is that design ranks so low at only 66%. When I read this, the first thing that I think about is Apple, with all their pretty devices.... and I am not sure if this makes any sense. I have a feeling this is because I think the people are perhaps reluctant to admit they are suckers for nice looking technology.

Now I get that they make great devices from a function standpoint but still... design... that low?

Regardless, I think the most important part of the article is this:

Growing comfort with technology has come hand in hand with an increase in respondents who believe tech companies understand their needs (37%). Still, a majority of consumers said companies make what they think will sell, and 39% thought manufacturers simply fell in love with their own ideas.

One-third of respondents reported a substantial disconnect with tech marketers, saying companies had no idea what their lives were like or what they would use. Notably, women were 7 percentage points more likely to say so than men.

This says to me that perhaps some companies aren't targeting their marketing properly because I do see that not every piece of technology is for every single person out there.

On the flipside, I think that marketers do have a tendency to fall in love with their own products... and while I think it is necessary to believe in what you are marketing, I think that this is also because not enough companies start by developing great products.... they develop mediocre products and market them as the next best thing... perfume on a pig, if you will.

Movie Review - Up In The Air

The Oscar nominees were announced today. In case you missed it, the list is here.

As I do ever year, I do my best to see as many of the movies that are nominated as possible because I find that it makes watching the telecast all the more interesting. With that in mind, I got a jump on things last night and saw Up In The Air.

The movie is the story of a frequent flyer (George Clooney) who fires people for a living. He prefers the comforts of spending his life on the road but runs into issues when his firm begins to consider cutting back his time in the air. I won't say much more because I have to admit that what I enjoyed about this movie was not knowing where it was going to go.

First things first: I loved the way this movie was written. I loved the story, the characters and how it displays the craziness of business travel. I think that when you're young you think business travel is going to be fun and glamorous. Then, sometime during your second business trip, you realize that not only is it unglamorous but there is really nothing fun about it. This movie really works hard to show that.

I also liked that the movie was a very poignant snapshot of our current economic times... George Clooney is essentially a harbinger of doom during one of the worst economic times in history. There are lots of scenes with montages of people who are being let go and I believe those are real people, not actors.

There are lots of side stories that I also enjoyed in the story and one of them is that George Clooney's company brings in a young Cornell MBA grad and she attempts to revamp operations. Having been through the process of getting an MBA, I can identify with her character and some of the problems she runs into. Although I never graduated at the top of my class and I never went to Cornell. But my brother did!

Anyways, after about 45 minutes I knew George Clooney was going to get a nomination. His performance is both powerful and touching and it must have been a joy to play that character.

I guess it goes without saying but I highly recommend you spend the time to watch both this and The Hurt Locker ASAP. I am starting to hear lots of talk about The Hurt Locker for best picture...