Unpacking The Travel Persona: Using Social Cues To Target Ads

Travelers have few things in common. You can safely assume most travelers have a destination in mind and the financial means to reach it. But the differences end there.

While waiting for your next flight, look around at your fellow travelers and try to guess what travel persona they fit. Are the folks in Premium Economy returning from a family trip? Is there a young couple wearing backpacks and hardy walking shoes, who might later be making a connection to an international flight? Is the last guy in the boarding line traveling solo? (That’s me — I’d rather wait at the gate than on the plane!) 

Everyone you see bought a ticket for the same flight. (Congratulations, United.) But what other travel-related products did they purchase for the trip? How were those products marketed and advertised? How were those ads targeted?

Persona-based targeting creates an advantage for travel marketers. With persona-based targeting, marketers infer what people like, and what they will respond to, based on the information people provide voluntarily via social channels. This data is then used to build relevant audience personas, such as “business travelers,” or “deal seekers.” As a result, brands minimize waste in campaigns by targeting the right ads to smartly segmented subgroups — or personas — with a high degree of precision. 



Here’s how to use persona-based targeting in the context of travel marketing:

When designing a campaign around a travel persona, start by compiling audiences of travel-related influencers and brands.

For example, Starwood Hotels, which operates the St. Regis in Park City, Utah, could add people who like Virgin Airlines or Deer Valley Resort on Facebook, and who follow the Twitter and Pinterest accounts of Another Something, a travel and style blog that “assumes its readers to be smart and savvy,” and was “last seen scouting Chilean designers at Milan Design Week.”

Next, look at what keywords people are seeing and sharing in order to add additional context. What’s motivating their travel? Do they like Southwest Airlines and tweet about the hassle at the rental car agency, or are they posting collections of photos or videos of exotic locations? Use the context and insight from social channels to differentiate between business warrior and world adventurer personas, and craft offers accordingly.

You can also use content shared on social channels to identify in-market travel shoppers, or use social check-in activity to gain further insight into a persona. For example, Starwood Hotels could target world adventurers who have checked into any competing luxury resort or hotel property around the globe.

Here are three travel personas and how to target them:

  • Business travelers.

Business travelers aren’t usually traveling to exotic destinations. They shop for efficiency and practical comfort. You’ll find business travelers following CEOs and startup leaders on Twitter and checking in at airline lounges on Foursquare.

  • World adventurers.

World travelers like to document their explorations as they conquer their bucket list. You’ll find them creating Pinterest boards ahead of their trips, posting photos and videos to Instagram and Vine while they travel, or checking into off-the-beaten-path hotels and hostels.

  • Family Vacationers.

Family vacationers often have to spend more time in the planning phase to meet the demands of traveling in a group. You’ll find them mostly on Twitter and Facebook, following airfare and hotel deal sites before travel and posting photos and updates during their trip.

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