Travel Targeting: Extending In-Market Reach

Most online verticals have evolved from an early emphasis on targeting media to a belated recognition of the importance of optimizing and personalizing on-site and "point of sale" content and experience. Travel marketing online has followed a somewhat different route until now, as Doug Miller, vice-president of global media solutions at Expedia, explains.

"Reaching someone contextually at point of sale has been, for obvious reasons, the core of travel targeting tactics," Miller says. "When you buy a ticket to travel, for instance, it's a magnificent opportunity to talk to consumers about rental cars and hotels, for instance."

The challenge, which travel marketers are only now tackling head-on, is that contextual advertising reaches in-market travelers only for those few minutes -- and travel has an inherently longer consideration and purchase cycle, which in fact can be four to six weeks long for many kinds of purchases, according to Miller.

"In-store you try to hit consumers at point of purchase all at once, but what's been lacking is an ability to extend and deepen that conversation," he says. "So our goal is to find ways to more effectively put our ad partners out in front of consumers more extensively throughout the funnel."

Taking the wealth of high-intent behavioral data generated in-store and moving it "outbound" by applying it to ad targeting, according to Miller, is the goal of Expedia's recently launched behavioral initiative, Passport Ads.

"When we work with marketers who are thinking of extending beyond their in-store messaging," says Miller, "the first thing we try to do is extend that primary origin and destination targeting beyond the Expedia site level. Typically the publisher partners we're working with are Comscore 100 publisher sites and quality ad networks with a focus on making sure we bring scale to Passport Ads.

"There are over 23 million unique consumers who visit Expedia web sites each month," he adds, "which represents well over half, actually about two-thirds, of all online travel shoppers. That's an incredible, till now largely unrealized opportunity for display advertisers to reach in-market travel shoppers on that scale. If I know someone has purchased a flight, we know -- based on the deep e-commerce intent and behavioral data we've amassed through travel supplier partners about timing for travel related decisions -- whether it's hotels, cars, restaurants, ball game tickets, and a wide gamut of other product categories."

As an early example of the how enhanced behavioral targeting for travel advertising can work for advertisers, Miller cites a program Expedia undertook with a tourist board in the U.S. "They wanted to identify key 'feeder markets' in the U.S, particular consumers and areas that fed particular points of origin." Expedia is also working with a major U.S. airline to look at targeting consumers by particular origin-destination lanes.

Looking forward, Miller says, "The challenge of moving beyond point of sale is to begin to target travel consumers by where they are in the funnel. We are able to infer a lot about travel segments and the different decision-making cycles of each segment. The behavior of a business traveler shopping for a mid-week flight two weeks or so ahead are very different from a cruise shopper planning six months or up to a year ahead. Knowing that consideration cycle enables you to better focus recency and frequency. The premise of the platform is that it's now possible to customize and buy in-market travel data with precise targeting capabilities including departure city, destination city, and also travel date, vacation package, and other criteria."

Beyond that Miller sees possibilities in applying the types of granular consumer segmentation developed for on-site personalization to off-site travel ads. "We know there's a huge difference between the behavioral patterns of a business traveler looking for deals in a hurry mid-week and, for instance a cruise traveler who often books a year in advance," he says. "Yet customizing campaigns to reach those segments at optimal times in the funnel has remained uncharted territory for most travel advertisers."

The ultimate goal, he explains, "is to take all the information we've been able to focus on optimizing site experience for different segments of travelers, and leverage that better for delivering relevant advertising messages based on who travelers are, what their needs and intent are, and where they are in a particular consideration cycle."

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4 comments about "Travel Targeting: Extending In-Market Reach".
  1. Stuart Falk , March 25, 2009 at 12:02 p.m.

    Is RCCL Manipulating CruiseCritic.com (owned by TripAdvisor)?

    From Jaunted (Conde Nast):

    http://www.jaunted.com/story/2009/3/16/12635/4598/travel/Royal+Caribbean+Cruises+Has+Web+2.0+Viral+Infection

    Royal Caribbean Cruises Has Web 2.0 Viral Infection

    No surprise here: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a viral infection. For once, however, it's not the Norovirus but that new-fangled byproduct of Web 2.0, the viral marketing infiltration. According to Consumerist, a group of fifty "Royal Champions" was outed by their own creator, the Customer Insight Group, as being a successful project whereby frequent positive cruise commenting on sites such as CruiseCritic was rewarded with free cruises and other perks.
    So what's the big deal? Well, it seems that the "Royal Champions" weren't always up front about their status as compensated reviewers, effectively misleading readers of CruiseCritic forums with their positive comments. Add to this the fact that CruiseCritic admins assisted Royal Caribbean in choosing the fifty, with one of the stipulations being quantity of posts, "with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics." From here, the hole just gets deeper.
    Now that many RC fans feel slighted at not having made the ranks and most everyone else is disgusted at the covert trade of cruising for happy juicing, the trustworthiness of such forums is under fire.
    Due to CruiseCritic's ownership by TripAdvisor, which is in turn under the Expedia blanket of travel sites, a viral marketing stunt gone awry could possibly continue to negatively ripple. Does news like this affect your ability to trust good reviews on travel sites, or do you already consider yourself an excellent shill-spotter enough to weed out the solicited from the unsolicited? While this whole ordeal is mired in serious muckety-muck, let's hope it serves as a lesson for future viral marketers and as an argument for transparency.

  2. Alex Druk from Semantic Communities, LLC , March 25, 2009 at 12:26 p.m.

    One of the best methods to extend “ability to extend and deepen that conversation” is to pursue other travel –related interests based on traveler`s mindset.
    For example, Interestmatrix.com data demonstrate that people who like Tokyo also like London ; those who like Paris like New York, those who like Paris Hilton also with high probability like Laguna Beach. Recommendations based on customers ‘mindsets’ can help solve the problem.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 25, 2009 at 2:06 p.m.

    Looks like there is an opening for a real site with real reports and views of travel and its related experiences. It needs to be easy to use and direct with better categorization and run by a non travel entity. I can picture it; wish I could do it.

  4. Kathleen Wiersch from baynote , March 25, 2009 at 6:51 p.m.

    Stuart makes a great point about an over-reliance on reviews which can be biased. We believe it is necessary to also track the hidden, implicit "voting" of all site visitors. For more on this line of thinking, you might want to read this article by Baynote's CTO Scott Brave titled "How to Circumvent the Seven Deadly Biases" - http://openwebdeveloper.sys-con.com/node/747502.

    BTW - Expedia uses this implicit, crowd wisdom to improve site search results via Baynote. It allows everyone searching on the site to have a more "targeted" experience by putting the most useful content at the top. So say we all.