Travel Marketing In A Pandemic

Marketing in the midst of a pandemic is a daunting prospect. What kind of messages can you deliver? How do you plan when there is so much uncertainty?  Is it a good idea to market at all?

Looking to marketing analytics can be helpful, according to Matt Voda, CEO of OptiMine Software.

Media spending for travel, of course, has been cut way back, close to zero in some cases. The question, Voda noted, is: How do you maintain some level of investment to keep market share -- or not? And how do you plan now for a rebound so you are ready when it happens?

In some cases, said Voda, OptiMine is working with brands to guide them to the safest level of cuts. If they say they have to cut 80% of spend, the discussion will be around doing that in the least damaging way. 

At a time like this when there is so little commerce, there are still metrics that can be looked at beyond actual bookings, he said.  Are people engaging with content? Are they looking at specific properties or destinations? He said it is still possible to measure engagement around awareness and favorability.

Some brands even see the current situation as an opportunity, he added If competitors are cutting spend to zero, it might be worth it to spend something to maintain a presence.  In cases where a hotel chain is seeing zero bookings, is it important to advertise to stay front of mind of consumers?

At a minimum, said Voda, OptiMine will guide clients on spend level recommendations — say shifting such and such a percentage from video into search. Using that, agencies can then work on targeting, creative, messaging and branding.

Looking past the pandemic, Voda sees ad rates rising, particularly in states up for grabs in the presidential election. But right now there are price drops and opportunities for media buys as demand has cratered.  The duration of this spending may carry a halo effect, so if travelers are planning for a rebound, companies need to hit the gas at the first sign of recovery. The challenge is that no one knows how long this will last so companies have to be ready with an intelligent plan for the rebound.

Voda said OptiMine is running different simulations with alternative scenarios and assumptions to be ready for the rebound. That is why analytics are crucial, because there are so many different channels, he noted. One mistake is to just look at the bottom of the funnel, like Google search, and miss cross-channel effects. The danger  is that marketers become so myopic they lose sight of the larger strategy.

Marketers also have to think about geo-optimization, because there may be pockets of travel in certain regions and an opportunity to be more fine-tuned. Larger brands that do national advertising may miss an opportunity to be more targeted on a region-by-region basis. 

History tends to show that those able to market smartly through a crisis come out better for it on the other side. Marketing analytics is certainly part of that “smart” tool kit, for those who are still in a fortunate enough position to take advantage of it.

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