Commentary

Pursuing Personalization

If any word has been used more than experiential in travel marketing in recent years, it is personalization.

But what exactly does that mean? In theory it would create a trip for a traveler where her tastes and preferences are known beforehand, and deliver personalized services before, during and after.

But is that what really happens? Maybe not so much. But a company called Switchfly says it is  moving toward true personalization, beyond simply inserting names into greetings and marketing copy.

By using available customer information more intelligently, according to the company, travel providers can deliver offers that consumers really want.

For example, a hotel search for two adults and two children should curate results for family-friendly resorts. Or, a frequent flier traveling Monday to Thursday is likely a business traveler who needs WiFi in-flight, or a loyalty member who racks up rewards points through dining may be most interested in a food tour on her next vacation. 

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Alan Josephs, chief product officer, said Switchfly is a B2B company that’s been around for 17 years, working mainly with airlines and financial institutions. It has three products:

1. End-to-end packaging for flight/hotel/insurance purchases.
2. Travel redemption on loyalty points for airlines and companies like American Express.
3. Launching early in 2020, an internet booking engine will help Switchfly better promote and merchandise content through differentiated pricing and segmentation around ancillary purchases like premium seats, luggage checking, etc.

When it comes to personalization, said Josephs, the first level is intent-based. If any action is taken on a website indicating the type of travel being searched, the user experience will be adjusted to accommodate that —  sometimes with an obvious adjustment like photos of two adults and two families on a vacation packaging site. Josephs calls this “reactive personalization.”

The second level is segmentation, which comes into play with loyalty programs. In this case, messaging or sort order might be changed to target the potential customer. Switchfly is exploring how to take concrete action to drive more revenue during the booking experience by creating an emotional connection to the brand.

That might mean adjusting inventory for loyalty members in a higher tier. If Traveler X is a platinum member and gets special recognition for that, how will that affect her emotional connection to the provider? Special recognition might involve an upgrade, access to premium seats or information another segment might not get.

And now Switchfly is looking ahead to a third level, bringing in additional customer data either from the clients themselves or using third-party data to further customize the experience. Rather than being reactive as with the above examples, this next level would mean being able to adapt messaging based on age, income, seasonality and much more — even subtleties like whether or not the potential customer is the type of person who books close to travel dates or further out.

In the end, said Josephs, the goal of personalization is messaging/targeting based on the actual person. Since it’s so hard to get a consumer to come to a website, conversion and user experience are crucial. Switchfly’s clients want to own their customers, driving revenue in the short term and building loyalty for the long term.

Of course, measurement is key in all of this, which presents another challenge. While it’s easy enough to measure conversion, Switchfly is aiming to measure emotional impact with benchmarks like net promoter scores (that measure customer loyalty) and surveys that will be important in the long term. The ability to both affect and measure an emotional connection could be a game-changer.

Everybody talks about personalization. Let’s see if we can do something about it.

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