The beauty of integration.
How travel brands can focus on the whole customer.
Integration means more than just connecting the dots. It means taking things that seem different, that seem to have nothing in common, and unifying them into a single, beautiful whole. For travel brands, integration is the key to success in a world where experience is the watchword and customer expectations are through the roof. They need integration to create something beautiful.
Travel brands stand at the intersection of the online and offline worlds, ready to integrate the two in ways no other industry could ever dream of. For years, the digital face of the travel industry was dominated by the mechanical aspects of a journey — reservations, planning, and so on. Today, however, the technology exists to unite the digital and physical into a vibrant ecosystem that facilitates truly memorable and satisfying travel experiences for your customer and new opportunities for your company.
Let’s say your customer — a 43-year-old mom — is planning a family cruise with Carnival Cruise Line. She looks at different shore excursions like hiking, parasailing, and snorkeling, but only books hiking and parasailing. When she gets on the ship, however, there’s a surplus of snorkeling inventory. Since data shows your customer was interested in snorkeling, Carnival offers her a deal on snorkeling once she boards the ship. This serves two purposes: It helps sell distressed inventory and it gives her something they knew she wanted, at a better price.
“This is how you use the data to build a better experience,” says Eddie Gonzalez, director of marketing strategy and analysis for SapientNitro.1
Integrating your data, channels, and systems in a way that makes these kinds of experiences a reality can be overwhelming. But remember, you’re not just integrating for the sake of integrating. You’re doing it to create a complete customer profile, which allows you to design and deliver personalized experiences everywhere your customers go.
Three steps to create a customer profile.
Start with what they do.
Track customer interactions from both online and offline channels, including emails clicked on, mobile promotions acted on, purchases made on-site, and calls to customer service.
Weave in who they are.
Weave in who they are.
Gather demographic and behavioral data, such as the types of trips they’ve booked and the comments they’ve made on Facebook, so you can understand their deeper needs, wants, and motivations.
Create your profile.
Create your profile.
Bring all of this information together into a master marketing profile, which not only gives you a single place to view data about your customers and prospects, but opens other opportunities as well.
Learn by doing.
Your customers want a seamless travel experience, and they don’t care if your teams operate as distinct units. Your challenge is to ensure the ecosystem of your brand is built around these expectations. You can start by making sure your online and offline marketing, guest services, social media, customer service, and IT teams all work closely together.
Sounds simple enough, but many companies’ organizational structures don’t lend themselves to integrated data (see chart).2 For example, when online reservation employees don’t talk to their offline counterparts — like fron tdesk clerks — big chunks of critical customer data remain missing.
How integrated is your data?
Managed in silos, inconsistent delivery
Customer journey understood but little management across touchpoints
Integrated across channels but channel-focused, not customer-focused
Seamless integration of channels allows exploitation of opportunities
Carnival Cruise Line found a new way to approach their customers when they began to track individual customer journeys across multiple channels. “There’s a handoff that has to happen,” Gonzalez says. “You need to make sure that everyone representing the brand is armed with the same insights so that when the customer moves from planning to purchasing to enjoying on-ship entertainment and excursions, they’re being provided the same personalized experience.”3
But in the typical hotel chain or airline, various departments use different systems to manage customer interactions. One system for email, another for reservations, yet another for mobile, and on and on. In these cases, data sets don’t talk to one another, quality data is hard to find, and useful data insights are even more rare.
And while in-house technology is a challenge, the technology your customers use complicates things even more. Eighty-seven percent of consumers use more than one device at a time — so just knowing your customer across all their devices is difficult.4 But it’s a critical component of piecing together the whole customer.
By focusing your efforts on creating an integrated profile for each customer, you can create a common vision that helps you integrate data silos and technologies alike. You’ll be able to see which data sets to focus on, which technologies you need to adopt, and which strategies make the most sense.
For example, cross-device stitching is one way you “stitch together” a customer’s digital identity.5 This begins with understanding that a person’s journey could include media touchpoints across five different connected devices in three different channels before they eventually make a purchase with their desktop. Once you understand the complexity of the journey, you can prioritize the right online and offline data to turn these five devices and three channels into a complete profile of a person — the whole customer.
The best behavior.
Understanding how a customer is interacting with your brand is important, but putting those interactions into the larger context of that customer’s attitudes, desires, and behaviors is crucial.
You can begin to bring out that brilliant color by starting with basic in-house, customer-level data. These names, email addresses, customer interactions, and sales channels through which customers engage and convert represent valuable pieces of information that allow you to start really understanding who your customer is, not just what they do.
From there, you begin to add behavioral insights. For a hotel brand, this data would include a guest’s habits and behaviors at the property. Information such as the time of day guests most likely check in; the frequency of their visits; and their use of amenities like the dry cleaning service, hotel transportation, or concierge services all contribute to completing a customer picture.
Gathering this depth of information usually means looking beyond first-party data. For instance, South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort may know that men ages 18 to 35 are likely to book an annual golfing weekend and watch a particular golf network, so they’ll advertise there — at premium rates. But what if they could narrow that audience by getting access to second- and third-party data — like customers who recently bought a new driver or subscribed to online golf tutorials? From there, they could use automated audience discovery tools to find even hotter prospects who are already in the purchase cycle — say, someone who’s already checked dates and rates for several resorts and courses online. It’s a way to not only use advertising budgets more efficiently, but also gain more high-value customers.
Focusing on your customer leads you next to your social channels. Social media is integral to the average consumer’s travel experience, from how they research and book flights and accommodations, to their ongoing engagement while traveling, to their post-travel experience via review sites.
“One huge opportunity with the social component,” says Gonzalez, “is creating opportunities for inspiration, like a share-worthy photo op. And this natural inspiration is more valuable when it comes from a friend, instead of being pushed out by a brand.”6
Cruise ships, for example, have always been very expensive to get connected because of the need for sophisticated satellite technology. Now, a lot of cruise lines are investing in better technology to provide less expensive “social packages” for connecting. And in turn, this allows “share-worthy” experiences to be shared.
While the marketing benefits of these social strategies are significant, the opportunity to understand your customer is priceless. Knowing what they’re buying and where they’re going is one thing, but combining those insights with what they love and what they share gives you the power to not just enhance their existing travel experience, but also create new ones they never thought possible.
More than connecting the dots.
As you focus your integration efforts on the goal of a single customer view, you’ll be able to make the right decisions when it comes to the technology you need to be successful. The key is to find a data management platform that works around or eliminates the silos to make the data work for you. With the right platform, you can pull data from different, potentially unrelated sources to create specific audience segments using traits — like age, income, hobbies, or interests — along with behaviors like frequency of site visits or in-store conversions.
And this is where your focus on the customer transforms into greater opportunities for your brand.
“Bringing all of this data together can quickly determine if a brand should pursue a certain kind of customer,” Gonzalez says. For Carnival, this data merge let them identify which customer was the best fit for each of the Carnival brands. “After the purchase, we connected each customer to a specific brand, allowing us to use the associated traits and habits to build look-alike customer segments for our entire portfolio.”7
You can then give these tightly defined segments their own distinct marketing experiences. For Carnival, one of these merged data segments could include price-conscious moms who stay at all-inclusive hotels and book family vacations each spring break. Next, advanced analytics tools do the audience discovery work by taking patterns into account — such as app engagement or ad click-throughs — and enriching those segments with more idiosyncratic details using second- and third-party data. It’s a way to discover the unknown and create intelligent segments that you wouldn’t have discovered another way.
By building highly specific audience segments no longer based on educated guesses, you can get hyper-personalized with your customer experience. Today’s audience segmentation lets you do more than just welcome back “frequent flyers” or “returning visitors.” It helps you blend behavioral data and customer insights to identify your greatest opportunities and most lucrative segments.
Integration means more than just connecting the dots. For travel brands looking to design and deliver the best experiences for their customers, it means creating an atmosphere in which channels, data sets, systems, and teams work together in a symbiotic relationship to understand and react to the customer’s needs. It means going beyond isolated online bookings and offline stays. It means offering great experiences while creating new opportunities.
It means becoming something more. Something beautiful.
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- Eddie Gonzalez, SapientNitro, personal interview, December 13, 2016.
- “Understanding the Customer Journey: More Than Just Online,” Econsultancy, April 2015.
- Interview with Gonzalez.
- “Digital video and the connected consumer,” Accenture Consulting, 2015, https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-digital-video-connected-consumer
- Neal George, “Why It’s Time to Embrace Cross-Device Sessions as a New Mobile Metric,” Tealium.com, June 2, 2015, http://tealium.com/blog/mobile-marketing/why-its-time-to-embrace-cross-device-sessions-as-a-new-mobile-metric.
- Interview with Gonzalez.