"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."