An App Isn’t a Mobile Strategy

I don’t want to burst anybody’s bubble, but just because you’ve created an iphone app for your brand doesn’t mean you can tick off that box on your to do list which says ‘mobile strategy’.


Firstly, Apple’s iOS is just one platform for apps, albeit the dominant one at present in terms of volume of downloads. But Google’s Android platform powers a number of the top smartphones and is catching up fast.


Also, there are some rather sobering stats when it comes to apps that I’d like to share with you:


  • A recent study conducted by Deloitte found that 80% of apps created by brands had less than 1,000 downloads.


  • Of the 27% of mobile phone owners who own a smartphone in the UK (stats from Ofcom), just under 50% have downloaded an app (so far so good) but only 1 in 5 do so on a regular basis. So just over 5% of the mobile phone owning public are regular app downloaders, and they’re most likely to be young and male – not much use if your target market is older and female.


Now my point is not to say that creating an app is a waste of time – there are lots of brands that have created great apps that have enhanced their brand equity and helped them to build a highly involving one-to-one communication channel with their customers. But there are also plenty of poorly conceived, or poorly executed, or poorly promoted apps (or all 3) lying neglected in Apple’s AppStore. An app is a communication tool, not a strategy.


My advice is to work out what you’re trying to achieve first and then work out what tools you need to achieve it.  To use a DIY analogy, you wouldn’t pick up a hammer and say, ‘What can I build with this?’ You’d start off by saying, ‘ I need a cupboard, what do I need to build it?’


So start with a goal and an understanding of who your customers are and what they want from your brand and then work out how mobile can help you achieve it. That’s a mobile strategy.


For example:


How can mobile help me to increase the number of enquiries I get?


Have you looked into mobile display advertising?  Would this effectively reach your target audience? It’s new and novel, and formats are page dominant, so it’s impact is higher than traditional online display.


What about a mobile ‘offer’ site to support offline campaigns?  People often can’t be bothered to turn on their PC when they’re leafing through a newspaper or magazine or see an add on TV, but they could well check out your offers on their smartphone, which is likely to be on and to hand. A QR code will increase the chance of response.


How can mobile get more people to come to my shop(s)?

How about this rather neat way of turning your shop address on a website into a text (with a link to a map) that will help a consumer to find you?


What about using paid-for mobile search to create a highly relevant ad for people searching for your brand on the move, linked to a mobile optimised landing page with a location map for your nearest store and the latest offers available?


How can I use mobile to improve my customer service?


How about texting your customers with useful numbers (their hotel number, a number to call if they have any problems, their 24 medical assistance number etc) just before they leave the UK so they’ve got them conveniently stored it they need them when they’re away?


How about a courtesy ‘just wanted to see how your holiday was going’ text a few days into their break or a ‘welcome back, how did it go?’ text when they return?


What about a number people can text with any comments they might have about your hotel to help you improve your service in the future?


Or perhaps a mobile website which allows people to book hotel services such as restaurants, spas and room service from their mobile phone?


Wow – I don’t believe it, I’ve managed to come up with 8 mobile ideas and not mentioned the word ‘app’ once. And half of those ideas relate to text, a technology that virtually everyone uses and you don’t even need a smartphone for.


Mobile is an area you can’t afford to ignore – smartphones are being rapidly adopted and within a couple of years over half the population will own one.  And smartphone owners use their phones more often and to do more.


You need to formulate your strategy now, and that strategy may include a well-conceived, well-designed and well-promoted app. But make sure you look at all the benefits that mobile can bring to your business because if you competitors prove to be more ‘mobile’ than you, believe me you’ll regret it.

What To Do About Abandoned Shopping Baskets (and Leaky Buckets…)

Here’s a bit of role play for you – imagine you run a convenience store. One of your customers fills their basket and walks up to the till. You run the items through the till and tell them how much it’s going to costs. But instead of getting their credit card out, they just walk out of the shop and leave their shopping behind. Now tell me – wouldn’t you be a little curious as to why that customer hadn’t paid for the items they’d spent so much time loading up their basket with? Wouldn’t you at least be tempted to ask them why they’d decided not to buy after all?


Of course you would. But ask yourself, are you extending the same curiosity to those who abandon their shopping baskets at the payment stage of their online shopping with you?  If they’re at the stage where you’ve captured their email address, it’s simple to follow them up and ask why they didn’t follow through.  You’ll get some insights but you’ll also get a whole lot of extra business that you wouldn’t have got otherwise.


I call this ‘event-triggered’ communications. For me, it’s the ultimate in customer-centric direct marketing – communications that respond to your customer actions rather than being driven by your own internal timings and requirements (i.e. ‘sales aren’t going so well, let’s blast the email database with offers.’)
At Black Tomato, we followed up all quotes that hadn’t converted into business. We did it with an email that linked to a short survey. We called it our ‘Not This Time’ survey.  OK, so not everyone filled in the survey but those that did gave us a lot of insight into why we’d missed out on that business.  And it won us business too, as customers who we thought had booked elsewhere got back into contact with us.


I’d encourage you to plot your customers’ journey through the booking process, look at each stage where you could lose prospective customers and look to at communications to stem those losses. 


It’s a bit like filling a bucket that’s got holes in it with water – your marketing spend is the tap and the prospects are the water.  To stop all your water running out, you’re going to need to plug as many of those holes as you can.


Do you follow up people that request or download a brochure from you?  Do you follow up everyone that enquires with you – whether that be by phone, email or social media? What about people who click on email content, especially those who haven’t clicked in a while – sounds like they’re interested to me? Are you responding to that interest?


 The key is timing.  Let the customer’s timing be your guide, not yours.  So if a customer’s clicked on some email content and had  a look round your site, send them a tailored follow up a day or 2 later. Don’t think they’ll get scooped up in your next weekly email – they might have booked elsewhere by then.


Getting a customer to enquire is an expensive business. If you’re going to maximise the RoI of your marketing budget, you need to make sure you’re spending incrementally to maximise the conversion of those.  Otherwise your marketing efforts are going to be littered with abandoned shopping baskets and leaky buckets – and they’re not of much use to anyone.

Before You Can Market Something, You Need to Know What You’re Marketing

I was talking with an internet consultant contact of mine the other day – chatting about how he helps businesses with their online client acquisition strategies. In the midst of our conversation he said something very interesting – something that resonated with my own experience:


‘Before I even get into the online strategy I spend a lot of time working with clients identifying what they actually sell. You’ll be surprised how many don’t know…’


Now clearly you’ll be assuming that this guy must work entirely with morons. How on earth can they not know what they’re selling?


Well of course they know what they’re selling – at least on a functional level – in our case, holidays, airline seats, hotel rooms, destinations etc. But they don’t understand what they’re really selling – what their unique proposition to the market is. Why people are buying from them.  That’s where people like me and him come in.


Let’s take holidays or weekend breaks – as that’s the market we’re in. One thing consumers have these days is a wealth of choice – of places to go, hotels to stay in, airlines to fly, or people to organise it through. So why should they choose your destination, hotel, airline or tour operator? What makes you unique?


If you can’t sum answer that question in a succinct sentence or 2, you’re in trouble because if you can’t do it, you can bet your potential customers can’t do it either.


Let’s take an example – SouthWest Airlines in the US, the airline that Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair is modelled on. Their proposition? The low cost airline.


OK, that doesn’t seem so profound. It doesn’t need to be, it just needs to be directional for everyone that works there. The (as in the one and only, the lowest cost) low cost airline as a proposition tells staff in no uncertain terms that costs must be stripped out wherever possible. Everything must be done for less than other airlines pay.


Ever wonder why Michael O’Leary keeps coming out with outrageous pronouncements about what they’re going to charge for next – toilets, fat people etc? Well, first of all, the press laps it up and it’s good for PR. Secondly, he’s sending a signal to the travelling public and his staff that he’ll leave no stone unturned to make the basic ticket cheaper. If that means charging people for toilet trips and love handles so the normal cast-iron bladdered and svelte travelling public can fly for less, then so be it. Both Ryanair and Southwest Airlines are relentless in living and communicating their propositions – we might not like them, but we expect them to be the cheapest (even when sometimes they’re not.)


I should explain that a proposition isn’t a strapline – you don’t have to use it in your advertising (although you can if you want to). It’s succinct way of summing up what makes your organisation or place unique. But if you company lives it, and communicates it, then customers will see and experience something consistent. They’ll understand what you’re about and they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to buy into that concept. If they don’t know what you’re about, they’re not going to value what you sell.


Your proposition might be based on a functional benefit, like costs, or an emotional one, like fun, romance or security. Perhaps your company knows it’s destination like nobody else does, is the leading specialist in a certain type of travel, is the best place to pursue a particular activity or has staff that are obsessed with great service. Or a unique combination of those things.


Whatever your proposition is, it needs to:


• Differentiating, a reason people would choose you and nobody else,
• Appealing to enough people to meet your business objectives,
• Actionable, so your team can live it and communicate it and
• Credible, because otherwise you’ll get rumbled and in the social media age, you’ll probably get rumbled in a very public way


And if you’re racking your brains and you really can’t think what it is – and plenty of organisations, including big ones, spend time wrestling with this dilemma – you can come and talk to someone like me.

Are You a Travel Marketer or Simply a Travel Promotion-er?

An old boss of mine once said to me, ‘Our job is to get the phones ringing’.


Granted, this was in the days before the internet but it does really seem to be a pretty limited ambition for a marketer, and it’s not a mantra I’ve pursued throughout my career.


Sitting in my CIM Diploma classes, I seem to remember there being 7 P’s in the service marketing mix (Product, Place, Price, Promotion, People, Process, Physical Evidence – I’m quite impressed I can still remember them!) so why should we only be interested in one – Promotion?  It is a ‘marketing’ mix after all and we are marketers, not promotion-ers.


Worse still, if we hunker down in our promotion silo, we’re really onto a hiding for nothing. In the world of user review sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter et al you can’t throw a promotional veil over a substandard offering. It just doesn’t work anymore. So if you’re doing your job properly, you’ve got to get involved in those other ‘Ps’ so that the message your delivering is consistent with what you’re offering.


I’m not advocating megalomania here – you don’t have to control those other 6 Ps – but you do have to influence them.  The best way any marketer can do that is lead a process to define the brand vision and values and then undertake an exercise to roll out those values across the company. The aim is to ensure everyone understands and internalises those values, and identifies ways in which they can deliver their part of the mix in a manner consistent with them.


Whilst we’re in a more holistic mood, it struck me that perhaps we need to look at the marketing budget in a different way too.  Of course, we fight tooth and nail to maintain every penny of our budgets but if the core aim of marketing budgets is to bring in customers, then perhaps we should be prepared for parts of budget to be re-allocated to other Ps.


For example, is a CRM budget best spent mailing people on a frequent basis, 95% of whom aren’t interested in your message at the time you’re delivering it, or would it make sense for elements of that budget to be spent on surprise gifts for top clients.  The latter would be a better way of achieving the goal of a CRM budget – customer retention – with the added benefit of positive word of mouth.


Let’s be honest – our role as marketers is to maximise the profits of the company for the minimum investment. We need to think more holistically about the levers we pull to make that happen.

How Seriously Should Travel Marketers Take Google+?

Since Google launched its social sharing service Google+ 7 months ago, it’s remained at the bottom of the priority list for travel and tourism marketers – a poor third behind Facebook and Twitter. Even when Google launched brand pages to emulate those on Facebook, there was hardly a stampede of travel and tourism brands to set them up. But all of that has changed.


That’s because Google has announced the release of ‘Search Plus Your World’  – the integration of ‘public’ search results and private search results from the user’s social network.  And the user’s network is defined solely as their connections on Google+.


So now, if you’re a Google+ member and you search whilst logged into Google, you’ll see not only the usual results you’d expect to see from the public web but also content you’ve shared on Google+ and content your connections have made public or shared with you (see below).



Not only that but Google will also recommend ‘People & Pages’ results in a box on the right hand side of the main results page for certain searches – basically people and companies on Google+ that Google believes are authorities on the subjects you’ve search for (although the eg Google provides is a search for ‘music’ which returns Britney Spears as a recommended profile – debateable…).  This is a way of encouraging users to build out their Google+ connections but, as these results will also sometimes be delivered to those who aren’t logged into Google, it’s a chance to attract more subscribers too.


Now search has been a personal experience for some time.  For example, my results are tailored based on my location and, if I’m signed into Google, the sites I’ve shown a preference for visiting. But if Google+ and ‘Search Plus Your World’ takes off then the whole concept of chasing positions on the SERPs (search engine results pages) becomes meaningless as there won’t be a standard SERP for any query.


Travel companies have been rather slow to jump onto the social media bandwagon – you just need to look at the fact that British Airways has just 196,000 fans on Facebook compared to the following of another iconic British brand, Burberry, at 10m+. But this change is certainly going to make travel marketers sit up and take notice because it inextricably links social media with something we all know is a proven business driver – search.


By creating a Google+ page – and British Airways already has – building a following and creating and sharing content optimised for search, a travel brand increases the chances that the content created, and its Google+ profile, will appear in the personalised search results of their Google+ connections and the friends of those connections. And by focusing that content on a specific authority topic, they also increase the chance their profile will appear on searches related to that topic in the ‘People and Pages’ box.


Hence, social media is directly driving search results, and we know search engine results lead to traffic and bookings. Suddenly, social media has business case.


Or does it?  There are 4 drawbacks to note before rushing headlong to turn your social media strategy upside down.


Firstly, although Google+ is growing fast (90m subscribers announced by Larry Page last week) we don’t know where they are, who they are or, more tellingly, how much and what they’re sharing. Reports I’ve read suggest that the average Google+ subscriber is biased male and techy. How much sharing of holiday content is actually going on?


Secondly, marketers need to be where their target market is and their target market is more likely to be on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, on Twitter. Not only are their numbers bigger – much bigger in Facebook’s case – but we don’t understand how Google+ subscribers are using the service. Has it become their primary social profile or just a ‘handy to have’ extra on top of Facebook which they’ve subscribed to because they’ve subscribed to other Google services such as Gmail? And how compelling will social search prove to users – so compelling that they stampede to sign up to Google+?


Thirdly, how effective will social search be? Will it really drive traffic. We all know that recommendations from friends and family play a large part in the holiday decison process but will this translate to recommendations delivered ‘impersonally’ via search results?


And finally, I’m not sure this is the last move in what could be a long game. I can imagine antitrust legislators looking carefully at Google’s move to promote just it’s own social service within search results. Google must know this so maybe this is just part of a process designed to force the hands of their rivals and get access to more social data from Facebook and Twitter to enhance their search results and spike any attempts for Bing/Facebook to enhance their own search offerings.


That said, I’m recommending to my clients that they set up a Google+ page sooner rather than later.  The unknowns can tip both ways and I’d rather be playing the game and watching the impact on my business from the inside rather than wondered what’s happening from the outside.


So I’d recommend you set up your Google+ page, integrate buttons across your other channels (website, email etc) to build a following (although don’t raise your expectations too high – think Twitter following rather than Facebook following in terms of numbers) and start posting. To save time, you may want to post the content you’re sharing on Facebook anyway, although to make the most of the channel you’d be better advised to modify your posts to include your key search terms.


Then just wait and see. Watch referral traffic or changes in traffic from various search terms your posts are optimised around and let that be the guide to how much time you dedicate to managing your profile.


The 3 ‘Bs’ of Good PPC Creative for Travel Brands

Like many travel marketers, you may be finding the world of paid for search increasingly frustrating as your cost per click escalates and your click thru rates decline.


The natural thing to do is to keep fiddling with your bid levels – trying to find the optimum level that will deliver you the maximum clicks at the minimum price.  But I’d suggest you’d be much better advised to take a long, hard look at your copy.


I know, I know – you’ve got hundreds of keywords and the thought of re-visiting it doesn’t fill you with any joy.  And there’s nothing more frustrating than writing the perfectly pitched line of copy only to find it’s 36 characters rather than 35.  But finding the optimum creative for your ads really is the leg up your campaign will need to stand out from the competition and start seeing the virtuous circle of improving click thru rates, declining cost per click and increasing conversions.


As B is a letter clearly very close to my heart, I’ve entitled my tips for the optimum travel PPC copy the 3 ‘Bs’. Here they are:


‘B’ Relevant


To be relevant, you need to understand your potential customers, the context they’re in when they entered that keyword and how your brand ‘fits in’.


Put yourselves in your customers shoes and think hard what they’ll want when they enter a specific keyword. Look at what your competitors are offering for that keyword and then craft an ad which is relevant for your customers, the specific keyword query and, just as importantly, for your brand.


This will mean keeping keywords per ad group to a minimum so you can craft relevant copy, and understanding what aspect of your brands message is appropriate at different times.


Let’s have a look at an example to illustrate the point – I’ve googled ‘luxury holidays to Morocco’. The top 3 paid search ads are below.


The Top 3 Paid Search Ads for 'Luxury Holidays in Morocco'

The Top 3 Paid Search Ads for 'Luxury Holidays in Morocco'

All ads tick the relevancy box on a keyword level – the key phrase I entered is reflected in the titles of all 3. For Cadogan, it’s also reflected in the body of the text.  However, Cadogan has missed a trick in reflecting the search term in it’s ‘display URL’. Something like ‘’ would have been more likely to convince searchers that a click would take them to a relevant landing page.


All ads tick the relevancy box when it comes to being relevant to the functional aspects of their brands. Cadogan emphasises ‘Stylish’ and ‘5*’ to filter out those looking for budget breaks (and presumably those looking for un-stylish holidays). Travel Republic focuses on discounts and Hip Morocco talks about its accommodation offering, both in terms of type and location.


But Travel Republic is my favourite because they’ve been true to the more ’emotive’ aspects of their brand as well – presenting their discount message in an engaging and eye-catching way which makes them leap out from the crowd.


‘B’ Current


PPC creatives are not set in stone – one of the great advantages of the medium is that change is so easy.


So marketers should leverage this to their advantage and change their creatives as and when relevant. And those moments of relevancy are when your brand’s circumstances change or when your customers’ circumstance change.


A Question on Many Travel Marketers' Lips

A Question on Many Travel Marketers' Lips

The most obvious change in your circumstances is the advent of promotions, discounts and offers. These should be integrated into ad copy but the kitchen sink shouldn’t be thrown at consumers.  Different key phrases work at different phases of the purchase cycle and unless discounts is core to your brand’s message, I’d be wary of introducing discount messages for terms that are very high volume, generic and clearly used by customers getting their research underway.


However, you must also be aware that your customer’s circumstances change too. Maybe the summer holidays are on the way and they’re looking to keep the kids entertained (Another Day Entertaining the Kids? Alton Towers Makes It Easy), or a they’re looking to escape a particularly dismal winter and are looking for the sun (Brrr! Another Freezing Day. 25 degrees in Spain is only £299).


Taking account of the probable circunstances of your customer with regard to their current context helps keep your ads fresh and relevant, and helps you to build an emotional connection with your customers as you demonstrate to them you understand their circumstances.


‘B’ Prepared to Test


To reach your optimum performance, you’re going to need to test, and test, and test some more.


If you’ve got one ad creative running per ad group that’s not enough – you should be aiming for 3 or 4. Google will naturally ‘settle’ on the one that is the most successful in terms of clicks but once it has, you need a new set of challengers up your sleeve.


If you’re stuggling to come up with enough alternatives – try the principle of multivariate testing.  Write 2 alternative headlines, 2 alternative first lines, 2 second lines and 2 display URLs. Then you already have a potential 16 creative versions you can try.


You should see your pay per click advertising as a constant experiment as you strive for the optimum ad copy to maximise conversions, as long as all of these experiments are consistent with your brand. And be careful how you’re measuring success – it’s easy to get seduced by high click thru rates but if none of that traffic is converting, your attracting too many people who aren’t interested in what you’re offering. Focus on conversions.


PPC really is a discipline where you get out what you put in, but the result can be remarkable. I’ve seen 50% improvements in the performance of my own campaigns when I’ve been prepared to put the hard yards in, and seen examples of even more dramatic improvements than this.


So take a deep breath, sit yourself down in a quiet corner, open up your Excel and get typing. And remember, although this isn’t the most exciting aspect of your role, things could be worse – you could be working in the Accounts Department.

Travel & Tourism Marketers – Time to Take Down Your Ivory Towers

I like to think of good marketing as ‘the mortar between the bricks’ of a strong organisation. Good marketers should bind everything together, making sure the customer experience is solid and consistent with the brand’s values from beginning to end.  That’s the only way to build an organisation which realises its potential.


The problem is, too many of us build a separate tower away from the rest of the organisation and only very rarely open the gates up to let anyone else inside.  You might think it’s only your responsibility to deliver prospects, and then it’s sales’ job to convert them into customers. Or you may have created a wonderful vision document for the brand which was presented at a board meeting a few months after you joined but hasn’t seen the light of day since. In both cases, you’re condemning yourself  to shouting from the parapet when the people in the courtyard below simply can’t hear you.


I’ve not been immune from ‘ivory tower’ syndrome myself. Let me talk about a specific incident, early in my marketing career so you can learn from my experience.


Ivory Towers - Easy To Build But Tricky To Dismantle

Ivory Towers - Easy To Build But Tricky To Dismantle

When I joined Simply Travel back in September 2000, I laid the foundations of my tower right from the start.


I knew I had to get to know the brand better, so I arranged meetings with my managerial colleagues.  I even took a trip out to Turkey so I could understand the sort of experience our customers had. And I ploughed through swathes of information on the market, the company and it’s competititors.


A good start, surely?  Nope – I simply wasn’t comprehensive enough.  I’d had opinions from one tier of the organisation, but I’d barely spoken to anyone on the front line. Plus I missed a swathe of important and opinionated individuals – the Product Managers.  Hence, when I later came to sell in my initial strategic ideas, I had limited credibility amongst certain important opinion leaders. First lesson learnt – before I could expect people to listen to me, I had to demonstrate I’d listened to them.


I took my initial research away and drew perceptual maps to help me understand the market, where we stood in it and which direction the opportunities were in. But I kept things very close to my chest and once I’d drawn my conclusions, I presented them to the leadership team. Once I had their buy in, I presented them to my own team.


And the response? Joy at being led by such an inspired strategic thinker? Nope. There were underwhelmed to say the least. Why? Because I hadn’t involved a bunch of smart, passionate and marketing literate people who could have added significant value in the evolution of something that was central to their task. Well done, Ben – first floor of the tower successfully built. And my lesson? I needed to keep things tight – strategy evolution by committee leads to fuzzy strategy – but by involving the right sort of people in the thought process the strategy would have been better ‘road tested’ , and I’d have had some valuable allies when selling it in.


Of course, when I came to sell the strategy in to other departments, I met resistance because I hadn’t spent enough time listening and building credibility up front.   But also because I’d committed the cardinal sin of interpreting that strategy for them.  Bad move. That was the 2nd floor, the parapet and the conical bit on the top added all at once.


I had some uncomfortable meetings to say the least. In fact, in some I felt very much like a christian facing a pack of lions in the Colosseum. I can’t blame them for how they reacted – ‘marketing upstart who’s only been around for 3 months tells me to start to do things differently when I think I’m doing a pretty good job’. I couldn’t tell them how to do their job, because they knew it better than me. What I could do was to give them a framework to make their own decisions as to how what they did could better support the brand values. ‘Inspire’ rather than ‘tell’ or ‘sell’, so to speak. That was lesson 3 learnt.


I spent the next 4 years taking my tower down block by blockand believe me, unlike real towers they’re harder to take down than to put up. In fact, by the time I’d left, both myself and my department were consulted on a wide range of brand related decisions, from service standards in the UK to what the reps wore. And not because people were compelled to, but because they valued our opinion.


I had to build relationships and trust with some pretty opinionated people in that time but I learnt from my mistakes.  If you learn from them too you’ll find yourself building bridges rather than towers – a much more useful type of construction project for travel and tourism marketers.

Brand Vision & Values: It’s Common Sense, Isn’t It?

People are always telling me that marketing is ‘common sense’ – usually those not in the profession or those that have made a made a move from another role.


Frankly, this particular observation drives me round the twist.  It’s like telling a doctor all those years of study and practice were a waste of time as you can just look up your ailment on the internet.  Quite apart from that it’s clearly wrong.  We’re surrounding by thousands of examples of ‘common sense’ marketing and do we pay a jot of notice to it – probably not.


But every now and again, something really cuts through all the surrounding clutter. And creating those campaigns requires a deep understanding of target customers, the brand’s own message and the fundamentals of communication and persuasion. Let me give you an example of how transformative clearly expressed vision and values can be.


I had the good fortune back in 2003 to work with a chap called Marcus Codrington Fernandez, one of the UK’s leading brand gurus – the man behind the success of brands such as IBM, Mercedes-Benz and Orange.


My brand, Simply Travel, was drifting – and drifting in the wrong direction. Our campaign was becoming increasingly ineffective, our service levels were slipping – everything we tried had little or no effect. Like many marketers, I was focusing on the tools – trying different advertising formats, different timings of mailings and emailings and different offers. Good ‘common sense’ marketing – problem was, I wasn’t getting the message right.


Marcus had been recommended by another supplier. I met him more in hope than expectation. He suggested he spend some time with members of the Simply team – both old and new and across all functions – to define a positioning for the brand that we could use to shed new light on all our activity.



The Celestial Model of Brand Vision and Values

Marcus’s aim was to define a vision for the brand – a guiding star upon which we kept our gaze firmly fixed as we moved forward – and 5 values, the rungs on the celestial ladder we needed to ascend if we were going to reach our goal. For him, we needed to define no more. No rational benefits, emotional benefits, brand attributes or any of the other numerous and sometimes unfathomable layers of the ‘brand onion.’ His view was if you got the vision and values right, and then followed the fundamentals of good communication, everything else would flow. Like a deliciously simple recipe you can easily remember and make again and again rather than one with an irritatingly long list of instructions.


So what did he come up with? He defined our vision as ‘Helping People to Find Their Own Way’ – a beautifully simple way of defining our role for our clients. We weren’t there to tell them what to do, but we weren’t there to stand back and let them do it all themselves and make inevitable and avoidable mistakes.  We were facilitators and helpers – enabling people to discover the little known and unspoilt parts of the Mediterranean we loved, but in their own way.


Our values? Chatty, Honest, Informative, Nimble and Surprising or ‘CHINS’ as they became known.


Onions - Great for Eating But Not So Great for Defining Brands

Onions - Great for Eating But Not So Great for Defining Brands

Chatty because we were passionate about what we did and wanted to share it with people, because we viewed our customers as fellow travellers rather than transactions and because we were just as interested in them as they were in us. Honest because the places and properties we chose were authentic and we wanted to depict them in as honest a light as we could because that made for happy customers. Informative because we knew our destinations and properties inside out and wanted to share our knowledge with those who wanted to listen. Nimble because we moved fast to deal with customers problems and faster than our competitors in unearthing new places. And surprising because people like surprises – good ones at least – and they’re what makes an experience memorable. And memorable holidays make people want to come back and tell others about them.


By reviewing all our activity in the cold light of these visions and values, we made some remarkable things happen. Our customer service ratings in the UK and overseas leapt up after 4 years of decline. Our marketing efforts scooped awards at CIMTIG’s annual bash. And I’m sure we outperformed the market – we certainly outperformed our sister brands at TUI.


My point is that we have a tendency to get immersed in the best ways of using the tools in marketing rather than focusing on the core message which will resonate with our customers. The ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’ or the ‘how, so to speak.  But I can be the most skilled paintbrush user in the whole of the world – without a vision I’m just a painter/decorator, not an artist.


So the next time someone tells you marketing is ‘just common sense’, you can tell them from me that they’re right – ‘run-of-the-mill’ marketing is common sense.  And great marketing is sense too, but of an entirely more uncommon variety.

‘The Plane That Went Tech’ and Other Lessons in Word of Mouth Marketing

I’ve just been on holiday. Not a remarkable event in itself I’ll admit but my experience of booking and taking that holiday provided some prime examples of ‘schemas’ and their role in generating word of mouth.


So what precisely is a ‘schema’ I hear you cry? In brief, it’s a little movie containing generic properties about a concept or category stored in our memories and ready for ‘play’ when someone pushes the button.


No help? OK – let me give you an example. What springs to mind when I say ‘package holiday?’ For me, it’s images of sunburnt people with tattoos at the airport, having my knees wedged underneath the seat in front on the flight, the smell of cheap fried food at innumerable cafes selling full English breakfasts and families crammed into studio apartments that allegedly sleep four.


This may not be a true reflection but my schema doesn’t have to be built from actual experience of package holidays  but perceptions of them built up from a myriad of sources. You may not have driven a sports car but you’ve got a schema of one in your head.


By conflicting with schema in credible ways, you can get people talking about your product or brand.  This may sound easy but first of all you have to understand which schema exist in the minds of your target market for your product or service category. And secondly, you need an offering which not only conflicts with the existing schema but one that does so in a credible way.


I see it like a seesaw in the brain – jump in near the centre (too close to centre of the existing schema) and nothing will happen. Jump and miss the seesaw altogether and your attempt was clearly too far from the existing schema to generate any action. Jump on near the ends and it will tip into action, but remember it can move both ways – one positive for your brand and one negative. A little known PR disaster when I was Marketing Manager at Austravel provides a prime example.


The WOM/Schema SeeSaw

The WOM/Schema SeeSaw

Back in the late Nineties Austravel launched into a joint venture with a Dutch firm to launch a charter flight from Maastricht to Australia.  The inaugural flight was a big PR event – all the top brass from Austravel and their Dutch partners were there, as well as the cream of the Dutch media curious about this new venture. Problem was, the plane went ‘tech’ and it didn’t go anywhere.


The whole management team returned home with a sense of impending disaster. The commercial success of this venture was seriously jeopardised – no-one was going to book with a company that couldn’t even get their inaugural flight off the ground. But this so-called disaster had an unexpected result.  The press gleefully reported the story but also included the price of the flights. The phones (no internet booking in those days) went berserk with people booking. What had happened?


How Can Planes Stuck on the Tarmac Generate Word of Mouth?

How Can Planes Stuck on the Tarmac Generate Word of Mouth?

Word of mouth schema theory explains it.  Your schema of airlines and charter airlines in particular is that planes will occasionally go ‘tech’ – unfortunate but no surprises there. But nobody expected that you’d be able to fly from The Netherlands to Australia for the price the newspapers published and a word of mouth tide began to sweep across the country. Disaster turned into success in the most unexpected fashion.  But when you look at it with reference to schemas, it all makes sense.


So back to my holiday – which provided 3 classic word of mouth ‘events’ triggered by interference with schemas.  Firstly, the booking process was so badly handled (how can you spell the parents’ names right but their child’s name wrong, and do it for 2 sets of passengers with different surnames? And who spells ‘Cox’ ‘Cocks’?) that it prompted me and my wife to talk to our friends about it.


Secondly, we travelled with friends and although we’d been there before, the experience conflicted with their perceptions of a package holiday – unspoilt island, no ‘full Englishes’ in sight, spacious villa – which got them talking to relatives about booking another trip for next year (for those of you curious we were on a Simply Travel holiday – and no doubt alot of Simply’s success in the late Nineties and early Noughties was in presenting holidays far from the package in terms of environment and accommodation but in a packaged way.)


And thirdly, Thomsonfly screened an excellent safety video on the flight featuring children as the cabin crew – interfering with my schema of safety demonstrations (bored looking cabin crew member shows me how to do up a seatbelt and flaps arms in vague direction of exits). People paid attention and some even laughed and no doubt people will be talking about it (as I am now).


Getting someone talking about an airline safety demonstration must be the ultimate challenge in word of mouth marketing. If Thomsonfly can do it, surely generating word of mouth marketing for your product or brand must be achievable?

From Cocoons to Mud Huts – Psychographics and Why It’s Key to Travel & Tourism Marketing

When segmenting your audience and positioning your brand in travel and tourism marketing, psychographics is key and in particular how values and personality manifest themselves in ‘preferred level of cultural immersion’.

I described what I regarded to be the key segmentation criteria in travel and tourism marketing in brief in a previous post. I now want to delve a little deeper into one of those in particular which I consider to be absolutely key – psychographics.


The whole area of psychographics, a phrase that describes values, personality and lifestyle, first became of practical rather than theoretical use to me when I was at Simply Travel, especially when comparing and contrasting the brand with it’s ‘sister’ brand in TUI’s Specialist Sun Division, Magic Travel Group (rest in peace).


I’d had passed on to me via a colleague that one of the TUI senior management had described the only difference between the 2 brands as distribution (Simply was mainly direct and Magic mainly trade) but I regarded this as a misguided observation. The distribution difference was a manifestation of the core difference between the 2 brands, and that was the ‘level of cultural immersion’ the 2 brand’s customers preferred – a manifestation of their values and personality.


(Pricey) Dining in St Marks - Heaven for Cocoon Travellers

(Pricey) Dining in St Marks - Heaven for Cocoon Travellers

Simply core customers were very much at the ‘live like the locals’ end of the spectrum. For them, the sight of more than a small gaggle of fellow British tourists was a cause for dispair. Local people, local fare and ‘authentic’ lodgings (or their perception of authentic) was at the heart of their ideal holiday experience. By contrast, Magic core travellers preferred to ‘observe’ rather than ‘interact’ and it was more about ‘show’ than ‘do’ – they’d be the sort you see dining in one of the overpriced restaurants in St Marks in Venice, doing organised excursions to see the major sites or going to the local ‘cultural’ show in their 5 star hotel.


I also felt these differences in approach were reflected in their purchase behaviour – Simply customers searching out the experience provider direct, Magic ones taking the ‘safer’ route of relying on their trusted travel agent.


Understanding where along this ‘cultural immersion’ line our customers sat helped inform our product strategy, our service strategy  and our marketing strategies. For example, Simply properties had to be away from mainstream foreign tourism and feel authentic whereas Magic’s properties were more showy and in the mainstream destinations, particularly the ‘places to be seen’. Magic reps were smartly uniformed whilst Simply’s wore their own clothes to blend into their environment and create a ‘traveller to local’ rather than ‘tourist to rep’ style relationship.


The Self Challenger's Dream

The Self Challenger's Dream

I came across the best formal segmentation model for this theory a couple of year’s later whilst doing a consultancy stint at APT. It was produced by Tourism Australia, was entitled ‘In it for the Long Haul’ and mapped 5 major groups. 2 were inexperienced traveller groups that had yet to settle on a preferred type of travel. The other 3 were Cocoon Travellers (take me to the main sites with all the comforts of home), Comfort Adventurers (I want to interact with the locals but I’d like to stay somewhere comfy too) and Self Challenges (show me where the mud huts are, I’ll sleep on the floor like the locals). I’ve attached a link to this excellent piece of research which although 6 years old still makes for interesting and relevant reading (In it For the Long Haul – Tourism Australia).


The particularly interesting thing was that these ‘psychographic characteristics’, although they had some demographic biases, were observed across all age groups and lifestages.  It’s for this reason that I believe that when positioning your brand, this key psychographic dimension should be at the top of your list.


For example, if you’re a destination specialist and want to develop your business, you should look to what experiences you need to offer to those not catered for in your existing offering.  If you’re only offering self drive, you may be missing out on a market that wants to be more cocooned and would prefer an inclusive touring experience.  Conversely, if you cater for one of these psychographic groups only, then a more relevant growth strategy may be to spread your offering geographically, as Simply and Magic did, to attract more business from your existing customers but to new destinations.


Even if you’re a tourism attraction, you need to remember that some will feel uncomfortable with activities that require them to ‘get involved’ whereas others will get frustrated with an experience which is all about observing. To maximise satisfaction, you have to cater for both audiences.


That’s not too discount other segmentation criteria.  Lifestage in particular is also a very important variable and I do think that people can ‘subsume’ their psychographic preferences to a degree when thinking of the greater good, especially when kids are involved.  However, it’s likely the ideal will be combine both their lifestage requirements and their required level of cultural immersion. I’m off to Lefkas in a couple of weeks – authentic, unspoilt Greece, albeit in the grip of a financial crisis.  But my compromise is heading for a cluster of villas around a pool where other families go and where my little boy can mix and play with kids of his own age. I’d probably rather be in the heart of Africa sleeping with the locals in a mud hut but it could be worse – I could be at Butlins.