Most travel advice still happens face-to-face

Marketers everywhere are rushing to tap into the power of consumer word of mouth, and many assume that the keys to unlock this power are found online. 

While the power of online advice in travel is undeniable, it may surprise you to learn that only 10% of travel-related word-of-mouth takes place online, while about 90% takes place offline, primarily face-to-face.

Yes, the dominant way people share is not online, but rather in person as they seek advice and share their travel experiences with family, friends, and colleagues at work.  It turns out that real relationships still rule, even in a digital marketplace. 

This doesn’t mean the Internet is unimportant. Quite the contrary. More than half of all conversations consumers have about travel brands include some type of reference to media or marketing, and the Internet is far and away the medium they talk about most frequently. A third of all conversations about travel brands include references to things people have seen online.

But what type of online content are we talking about? You might assume it is ratings and reviews or online social media. That would be a wrong assumption. More than all other online sources of content, people talk about brand websites when they talk about travel. Yes, the website for hotels, airlines, and car rental agencies. These remain undervalued resources in driving conversations about travel. 

The message here is that travel marketers need to have a broader vision and strategy when they think about marketing to today’s socially-driven marketplace.  There is nothing wrong with spending time and money on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. But realize that they are but a very small piece of the overall puzzle. And it is undeniable that consumers will be looking at ratings and reviews as they make their travel decisions so make sure you’re doing all you can to engage with consumers on the channels that offer them. But don’t stop there and feel you have done your job.

So how does a travel marketer make sure marketing efforts work in both spaces? Here are five ways to maximize the impact of any marketing strategy.



1. Design content to be buzzworthy

This means content needs to focus on things that are truly surprising, funny, or exciting. People like to share things that have a strong emotional component. It’s also key that a marketer realize the story — the content — is more important than the delivery channel. This is why the Old Spice Guy campaign did so well. Its humor and sexiness made it one of the most successful viral campaigns in history.



2. Post at the right time

Whenever possible, plan for digital content to be delivered at times of the day when people are likely to be in social settings, which makes conversation possible. The reason is that research shows that people are going online and talking with other people the most between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. weekday mornings. That’s just about the time they are firing up the computers at work and saying good morning to their colleagues. Or consider the dinner hour, when a timely email about a travel opportunity to spark a conversation between husband and wife at the dinner table.  These are ideal times to deliver a digital message that will be shared offline among colleagues.



3. Make content useful and easy to find

Make digital content “conversation friendly” because studies show that people often turn to the Internet seeking information while in the middle of a conversation. They do this because they are looking to fill gaps in their conversation. For example, they may want to know where a hotel is located, or they want to know which weekends offer festivals or concerts in particular cities. Quick access to such information is critical. Make sure your website is optimized so that you will show up.



4. Target influencers

About 25% of word of mouth comes from 10% of the population who are most active in making recommendations. And their recommendations have four times as much impact as the average consumer. And here we mean real-world influencers, many of whom you’ll discover are not people with high Klout scores. They have their own unique media usage patterns, both in terms of which media, as well as the time of day they use it. And they respond to different types of marketing appeals than others. Learn who they are, what motivates them, and create strategies specifically for them; you’ll be delighted by the results that you can achieve. 



5. Design with your advocates in mind

Highly satisfied recent visitors to your hotel, resort, or destination are valuable assets. Encourage them to talk more about their trip, and encourage friends and family to make the same trip. Amplify your advocates by reminding them of what they liked about the trip, send them information or photos they can share with others online or offline, consider offering a special discount they can pass along to friends. Make sure your websites contain information they can easily forward to others. Help them feel they are part of a “club” with special status or privileges.

Marketers are smart to leverage the amazing new digital tools that help them share their travel experiences with others, but don’t forget that the most powerful “social influence” happens around a dinner table, or at the literal water cooler at work.  Travel experiences — like sports and the weather — are among the most popular topics for “small talk” in a wide variety of social contexts. With the right nurturing by travel marketers, that small talk can lead to big results.


Contributed by Ed Keller and Brad Fay, principals, Keller Fay Group, New Brunswick, New Jersey