Have you ever landed on a business’ blog post filled with such fantastic information you were compelled to click on that PDF download at the bottom of the page? Then, have you found yourself interacting with a company via email communications that didn’t feel spammy? If so, you were impacted by inbound marketing.
Simply stated, this marketing strategy is a form of digital marketing where you create content and offers in a way that compels potential clients to reach out to you instead of the other way around.
It was named and essentially created by Hubspot in 2011. At the time, SEO strategy was becoming more competitive and advanced, businesses were starting to rank based on excellent content, and good just wasn’t good enough. Social media ads and AdWords were starting to become important strategies for digital marketing, and users were getting smarter — not falling for traditional banner ads and spammy emails.
Today, an inbound marketing strategy makes even more sense. With the amount of content people encounter every day, users are looking for reliable sources to optimize their time spent online. As travel advisors and businesses, it is our job to do this for our clients.
Many travel clients start their travel planning searches by looking for tips and information about the destination they’re visiting or the type of travel they’re pursuing. Both of these areas are excellent areas for travel advisors to demonstrate their expertise and explain how they can help potential travelers.
In inbound marketing, there are two important navigation paths to consider: the customer journey and the marketing strategy your business should take to connect with clients at the right time.
The Customer Journey
The customer journey has three phases: exploration, consideration, and decision. We’ll use a trip planning example to show how the customer journey proceeds through these phases.
In the exploration phase, a potential customer has a problem to solve, but she doesn’t quite know what she is looking for. She might have travel dates set but isn’t sure where to go, so she’s considering potential destinations. Or she really wants to participate in a certain activity, such as a group hiking trip, but she doesn’t have a destination in mind.
In the consideration phase, the customer has part of the solution to her problem. Let’s say she wants to go hiking and has decided on South America as a general destination for her trip
At this point, she’s possibly looking for tour providers, trying to figure out if she can make the trip on her own, or finding fellow hikers to join her. Will she take a classic hike, such as along the Inca Trail? Or go a bit off the beaten path and explore Chapada Diamantina in Brazil on a week-long hike? Maybe Patagonia would be a better option? She’s exploring different dates, and seeing which destination is best at different times of the year.
Let’s say she has vacation days in March and, during the consideration phase, finds articles saying Peru is a bit too rainy that time of year and it’s still quite hot in Chapada Diamantina. So she zeros in on Patagonia, which still has favorable weather for trekking in March.
In the decision phase, our customer has already selected Patagonia. She is probably deciding where, specifically, to hike and booking her tickets and hotel stays in larger cities, but is still looking for activity providers. Or she’s looking for the ideal hiking provider or guide.
Most of the time, as travel service providers, we focus the majority of our content on the decision phase because we want clients to land on our websites and book!
The reality is, when planning a trip, a user will make hundreds of searches before booking. In 2016, Google published an interesting study on micro moments in travel bookings. It includes an example where a user made 166 searches while planning a vacation. And that was three years ago, when there was a lot less content than there is today.
The Marketing Strategy
As travel advisors and activity providers promoting services, you are, by default, also a travel marketer. In order to truly connect with potential clients, you need to make sure you reach them at each of these phases — exploration, consideration, and decision — in their trip planning.
Do this by using a marketing strategy — the second path mentioned above — with the following touch points: attract, convert, close, and delight.
In order to attract potential customers, you must create content. This should be informative, educational, non-transactional content, usually found in the form of blog or social media posts.
Users most often reach this content by browsing social media sites or searching on Google.
Content to attract potential customers during the exploration and consideration phases should answer their questions. On your website, you might publish blog posts on topics such as:
- Best destinations for trekking in March.
- Pros and cons of traveling to South America.
- What you need to do to prepare for a trekking holiday.
Preparing for a trekking holiday is a great topic for a video or photo album. In an instructional video, explain the gear or physical preparation required. Short snippets of these videos can be turned into Instagram stories.
Inspirational destination photos or video testimonials of the experiences you’re marketing can also attract users. Showing someone at the top of a mountain and telling a story about her experience about a trek in this destination can grab potential clients’ attention.
You can also simply link to blog posts with captivating images to lead users to your site.
By getting users on our websites with this content, you open up the possibility of interacting with them on your site. At the very least, they become aware of your brand.
The conversion phase in inbound marketing is not the same as a traditional conversion in marketing. Traditionally, conversion meant getting someone to make a purchase, and, therefore, this person became a client.
In inbound marketing, conversion is when you find a way to communicate with the client. A conversion can be as simple as obtaining an email address or interacting via a web chat.
You convert users by offering something, usually for free. Some ideas for offers are:
- A free PDF download. At my agency, Viare, we offer downloads to itineraries we’ve prepared. People can either opt to travel on their own or reach out to us for further information, and possibly booking that, or a similar itinerary, with us.
- A newsletter with valuable information about your type of service or destination. If you offer hiking itineraries, for example, your newsletter could include tips on trending destinations or gear information your clients might be interested in.
- A webinar answering questions related to your specific adventure travel sector. If you sell treks in different parts of the world, maybe you offer a webinar with safety tips for trekkers or even a live Q&A for potential trekkers to ask about different experiences and general advice.
To make these offers to potential clients, you need to create a landing page where clients can provide the information you need in order to make an offer. This page is the heart of inbound marketing, because it’s where you convince users that they should trust your brand enough to offer up their email address or other personal information.
This can be done by having testimonials on the page, snippets of what that webinar looks like, or a preview of what they can find in that PDF download along with a call to action to “unlock” the offer. Examples of calls to action could include:
- Download a free Brazil hiking adventure sample itinerary.
- Join our Facebook group for trekkers.
- Participate in a live Q&A with our company director, who’s trekked all over the world.
- Request a commitment-free proposal.
Once you have a user’s information, and this information was obtained because she was interested in your content, you have at least an idea as to what she is looking for.
This is where nutrition comes in. In inbound marketing, we call the series of emails sent to the user once her contact information is obtained “nutritional emails,” because they should be used not only to sell but also educate, based on the interests the user expressed on the landing page.
If you have several landing pages, this user will be put on a “track” based on the landing page she converted on.
You shouldn’t send the same emails to the user who converted by requesting a free sample itinerary and the person who signed up for the trekking group. The former is likely looking for a more traditional “bucket list” trip, whereas the latter is very set on an active holiday.
Nutritional emails may be more content based on users’ requests and can range from discount offers to information about set departures that need more travelers.
For the person interested in the trekking group, sample emails could include enticing topics such as:
- Find out where to get the best trekking gear for budget travelers: This email could feature a link to a blog post on trekking gear, include information about inexpensive hiking destinations, and offer a link to a set departure for one of these treks.
There are several calls to action, so you can see what stage of the customer journey the client is at.
- What are trekking levels, and where do you fall? This email can explain different levels and provide a link to a test users can take to find out what their level is. You could also link to hiking suggestions for each level either in the email, or, once the person has finished taking the test, unveil the results.
By taking the test, users indicate if they are interested in preparing for a hike. If they click on any of the set departures, it could indicate they’re nearing the decision phase.
- Discover the Chapada Diamantina on an eight-day trek in Brazil: This is more of a direct offer to clients. Start by telling them about set departures for destinations you’re offering. This could be a detailed itinerary, a link to book, or both.
For example, let’s say the user read the first email but didn’t click on anything. You then sent the email with the trekking level test. She took the test and identified with a trekking level equivalent to the Chapada Diamantina trek. Then you sent the final email with the offer, but the client didn't bite. Instead of insisting on Chapada Diamantina, start sending options fitting that user’s interest.
It is important to remember not to overwhelm the user with too many offers or emails. You don’t want her to find your brand annoying.
Let’s say it usually takes your company six weeks to book a trip from the first point of contact with the client. If, after six weeks, you haven’t had interaction with this user through these emails, the ideal approach is to send a final email saying you’re glad she’s consumed your content, and when she’s ready to book, you’re available to chat. Also, would she like to start receiving your brand’s newsletter? This puts the decision to continue communication into the user’s hands, often gaining respect with the user for being so respectful of her inbox!
Let’s say you do close on that last email. Congratulations! If this is the case, now your job is to delight your new client.
Marketers often consider their jobs done once a sale is made. In inbound marketing, however, for a client to truly love her experience, she needs to be delighted with the overall interaction with your brand.
This can be done with instructional emails prior to the trip, a video chat to get her excited for her holiday, or connecting her to other travelers on the same set departure to make the experience that much more intimate. After the trip, continue delighting your client with a follow-up email offering suggestions for upcoming treks or partner agencies that can help her with future travel plans in other destinations. This not only encourages the user to become a brand lover but will also lead to lots of word-of-mouth recommendations — which we all love!