As every adventure travel business knows, the customer journey begins long before they pack their suitcase and head to the airport.
A typical adventure traveler could have been planning their trip for weeks, months or even years prior to making a booking. People draw on a vast amount of online information while they research, plan and eventually book. According to ATTA’s Adventure Travel Research, approximately 45% of US Adventure Travelers are booking 1 – 4 months in advance. 24% of the most experienced adventure travelers, also referred to as “Enthusiasts” in Attracting and Serving the U.S. Adventure Traveler, are booking 5 – 7 months in advance.
Smart digital strategy embraces this reality by nurturing people along the path to purchase. We use content to connect with people and build relationships with potential customers, capturing their attention and retaining their interest as they prepare to book a trip.
Doing this effectively means using multiple channels, fully integrated to work together as they move people through your marketing funnel and towards a sale:
In reality things are rarely this clear-cut. In a different situation you might use display ads in the “inspiration” stage of the customer journey. Email could be used in the “consideration” phase. Ditto for social, SEO, and pretty much any other channel you could name.
An easier way to break this down is by thinking in terms of demand generation vs demand capture. This is a simple concept but it could transform how you plan your digital strategy.
With demand generation we’re trying to inspire and educate our potential customers – informing them about destinations and experiences that they haven’t already considered or started researching.
This activity sits early in the customer journey, long before they start proactively searching for specific services and suppliers. With a travel purchase this could be years ahead of the booking date. Demand generation is usually the domain of DMOs and larger companies – people with the resources to spend on brand advertising and planting seeds of inspiration for long-term purchase decisions.
On the other hand demand capture is about connecting with people once they’ve made a decision and have started to search for a supplier. This is where most adventure travel businesses’ marketing strategy begins – SEO and Adwords are classic demand capture channels and are where SMB travel firms tend to focus their budgets.
It’s intuitive that smaller businesses would want to focus their attention on the directly lead-generating channels and leave the “inspiration” heavy lifting to tourism boards and bigger brands. But is it necessarily the case that travel SMBs should avoid spending time and money on demand generation outright?
Although demand generation activity is certainly a less direct and longer-term effort, there are a number of ways that it can pay off – even for smaller firms.
Own your audience
Firstly, demand generation creates opportunities to build your own audience.
Hoovering up purchase-ready traffic from Adwords is fine, but you’re still only buying Google’s audience. As soon as the money is turned off, or the cost-per-click gets too expensive, you’re left high and dry.
By contrast, demand generation activities let you put potential customers onto your own audience lists. Engaging audiences earlier in the purchase decision with compelling but non-promotional content means getting people onto email databases, into your retargeting lists and growing your social media followings. These are owned assets with a much longer shelf-life than an Adwords campaign.
Avoid the rat race
Secondly, building relationships with potential customers earlier in the purchase decision gives you an advantage when they do start searching for potential suppliers. Chances are that people are comparing your prices to a dozen other suppliers, along with TripAdvisor reviews and all the other validation people use to make a big travel purchase.
Getting in early and making an impact with genuinely useful, objective travel content and advice helps establish your brand, your credibility and your expertise. Anything that helps differentiate your company from the rest at the moment of purchase is enormously powerful.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, building a pre-qualified audience of your own can also help slash your customer acquisition costs and improve your overall returns.
Retargeting to a warm audience is infinitely more effective than throwing your ads out there cold. Use retargeting on both Google and Facebook to show ads to people who’ve already demonstrated an interest by accessing your content.
This one-two approach to audience building, followed by audience conversion lets you cast a tighter net and avoid wasting precious money on less qualified clicks.
Find the sweet spot
Although it’s counterintuitive, spending money on indirect demand generation and audience building can save money further down the line when it comes to demand capture.
The trick is to find the sweet spot, aim for a balance between the two with the available budget and where you’ll get most bang for your buck.
Not sure where to start? Give us a shout and we’ll help you explore your options.