I seem to have gained the habit of explaining my web concepts by relating them to a “supermarket” analogy.
In my opinion, too many companies focus all their attention on re-arranging shelves and the placement of special offers, rather than worrying about building the “roads” to their Supermarket or where repeat customers can most conveniently park.
As an OTA industry, we seem to have reached a technology slow down in terms of travel site innovation, with most sites following the same booking flow and offering identical products. The key battlefield is now about who can generate the most cost effective customer flows or “roads” to their sites.
“Brand” in my opinion remains the key differentiator, as this allows OTAs to avoid expensive Google advertising, with direct site visits or low cost Google brand name clicks.
However, what other low cost or high converting traffic options are there?
Affiliate traffic from price comparison or review sites, is undoubtedly the most reliable source of traffic outside of Google, in terms of costs and quality of leads, with most OTAs working closely with sites like TripAdvisor, Travel Supermarket, Trivago and Cheapflights etc. However, the recent move to mobile has raised question marks over the effectiveness of some of these “Cost per click” pass through sites. This because they charge the same rate for a lower quality mobile leads, as higher quality desk top leads, even though the conversion is much lower.
The levels of customers travelling the Facebook super highway are massive, yet so far few players have effectively managed to divert traffic via the off ramps to their Supermarkets. The consensus of opinion seems to be that traditional commercial advertising via Social Media channels is ineffective, with customers rarely interacting with what they regard as “in personal brands” within a social environment.
Cruise.co.uk in my opinion are leading the way in utilising Facebook, by adopting an approach where their 109 passionate Cruise home workers, have become the “Face” of the Cruise.co.uk brand. These individuals, under their own names, rather than a central marketing department, drive all activity. The individuals are the “Social Brands”, interacting with their personal customer base via blogs, posts and Facebook pages, with the Cruise.co.uk brand being a kite mark for quality.
Cleverly however each activity is linked back to the Cruise.co.uk “mother ship” web site, with staff being paid “Social Media Revenue” which they earn commission on, for driving traffic. In turn this is invested, by them in Facebook “boosts”, to increase the prominence of their posts or in traditional Google PPC / Facebook advertising of their personal names and blog sites.
The move to mobile is also prompting a different approach to engaging customers during the booking process. The advent of “Co-browsing” technologies is allowing call centre agents to drive the search process for customers and to quickly make online recommendations. It’s very early days for this type of technology, but the increases in conversion levels it promises are significant.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my new “Consulting” focus, is the ability to engage with a wide range of companies and bright people. The rapid migration to mobile platforms clearly presents many challenges, but as with every market disruption, it also offers wonderful opportunities for innovation and game changing new approaches.
The UK travel sector is again becoming a very interesting place to work.