Too often the gut reaction of any marketer, travel or otherwise, is to give up on brand advertising and focus available dollars on messaging aimed straight at the bottom of the funnel -- short term, transactional business driven largely by discounts and other promotional offers. And, when your bottom line is hurting, it's hard to argue with a strategy that creates short-term gains and perceived momentum.
But as always, it's important to not let actions you take in the short term create challenges for you in the long term. So how do you balance the need to uphold and uplift your brand with the need to drive business in the short term? Especially in a category that, even in non-recession times, easily depends on discounting to create momentum? A few things to consider:
1. Embrace your brand essentials: positioning, strategy. This no time to start being a cowboy. No matter what you decide your marketing message should be, ground it in the strategy and positioning you've been working with. If what you think will move your business doesn't align with that, you can be sure of two things -- any short-term upswing you may see will be ultimately undermined by a long-term negative effect and that short-term upswing won't likely be as good as you hope.
2. Embrace and recognize your brand lovers. In tumultuous times, whether traveling for business or pleasure, the expense feels a bit gratuitous. It feels less so when the destination or product is a known entity -- a proven experience and value for investment. You'll need to be competitive, because in the worst of times low rates can tempt even the strongest brand loyalists, but use every weapon in your arsenal to ensure that you give them significant pause. Chief among them? Simple recognition. From the incentives and promotions to get them to book to acknowledgement during the travel process and follow-up afterwards, show some love. This can be the difference between consumers feeling a dollar was well spent versus just simply spent.
3. Play to your strengths. If you're traditionally known as a family-friendly brand, don't choose now to try and focus on couples travel. It will be hard enough to earn your share of dollar among the audience that knows you well; this is no time to try to open up a new segment.
4. Exploit your own weaknesses before someone else does. This simply means addressing head on that which you're known least positively for. One great, if old, example in my memory was years ago when Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas offered a meal plan option that simulated other family-friendly competitors' all-inclusive options. This finally answered the long-heard complaint that dining at the resort was incredibly cost prohibitive, especially for families who traveled there.
5. Don't discount. Remove barriers. Look, we're all sensitive to discounting our product. So consider other barriers that exist for your customer to book you and create incentives that remove them. This has been a successful ploy for destinations who have partnered with airlines to pay down the cost of airfare, allowing hoteliers and other vendors to maintain their rates.
However you choose to address the likely challenges of the upcoming quarter, the key is forethought and pro-activity. Anticipating the needs of your customers as they change and adjust due to the ever-evolving economic climate is the best bet you have for garnering your fair or greater share of their year-end travel spend.