'First Class' Marketing Relies On Customer Experience

Google put rumors to rest in mid-July, unveiling its direct-booking interface, which allows consumers to find and book hotels on Google maps without leaving the Google environment. This latest advance is just one reason the online travel-booking business is getting more competitive. Other new entrants such as Amazon and TripAdvisor are flexing their muscles too, while established players like Expedia and Priceline consolidate. 

These dynamics are giving travel suppliers a run for their data and their customers. Travel suppliers need to defend their market position by focusing on the customer experience, further distinguishing their brands through personalization. 

The quality of customer data and how brands analyze and execute on it impacts market share because consumers are pushing travel brands to do more. If you travel frequently, you’ve likely heard an exchange similar to the one I did recently, when a fellow traveler tried to negotiate his way into United’s First Class lounge at Heathrow. He was typical of an impatient (and self-important) elite loyalty member, asking a beleaguered service agent the rhetorical question: “Do you know who I am?” 



However, if you strip away the drama from such exchanges, you’re left with a strong desire on the part of the consumer to be known and treated as an individual. 

Expectations of specialized treatment for being a good customer are pervasive and increasing. Findings from a Deloittestudy revealed that frequent travelers consider a hospitality provider’s “ability to understand my needs” more important than comfort, reputation or loyalty points. Yet travel companies are falling short in achieving this personalized dialogue. Why? I believe this is largely because of the following challenges:

1. Collecting, storing and extracting insight from first-party data is becoming more difficult with the increase in online and social-media data. 

2. Encouraging customers to volunteer preference data carries with it the responsibility to act upon that data. 

3. While third-party data (demographics, life-stage, financial) has been available, it’s difficult to coax insights from it and enhance engagement.

4. Competitive-spend data, which is considered highly predictive, has until recently, only been derived from surveys, partner data, credit-card data and modeled propensities.

To overcome these challenges marketers must take advantage of improved analytical techniques like machine learning and customer data-management tools that accommodate the exponential increase in data that’s s making it easier to address the first three gaps. But how can you address the fourth? 

Incorporating competitive-spend data with your own behavioral data, customer-preference feedback and third-party insights yields a complete portrait that can drive greater effectiveness across all marketing interactions and even operational decision making. This knowledge can transform the customer experience throughout the travel cycle—from wait times at the call center to incentives in email offers and upgrades and ancillary services on the day of travel. 

You can determine whether a high-value traveler has stopped traveling with you or simply stopped traveling. You can identify the best candidates for a marketing campaign or evaluate the impact of changes to loyalty programs. Most important, you can add a dimension to customer segmentation that more confidently includes share of wallet. 

To incorporate competitive spend, a travel brand could run a champion (business-as-usual) vs. challenger test for an email campaign. For example, American Airlines might offer double miles if the AAdvantage member flies 10,000 miles in the next 60 days. Marketers apply their existing models to identify the target list.—those that are likely to have competitive spend that can be captured by the offer.

The challenger approach uses actual competitive-spend data at the individual level to identify customers who have available wallet share. The same offer, as described above, is sent to both sets of target individuals. The results between the two approaches are compared based on opens, click-throughs and most important, on revenue and the incremental number of bookings generated. It’s easy to guess which group will perform better—the target list defined by actual data rather than modeled input.  

Travel brands can take advantage of their role in the customer experience to enhance their market position versus online travel-booking sites. There’s no need to wait for your top-tier travelers to question your knowledge, asking, “Do you know who I am?”

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