About six weeks ago, Tim Hughes introduced his concept of travel individuation on his Business Of Online Travel blog. He titled it EveryYou. In a nutshell, EveryYou applies persona-based marketing to the unique needs associated with different types of trips that a traveler may experience.
For example, business trips, family vacations and a couple’s weekend getaway would all potentially have very different criteria impacting the consumer’s decision making process. EveryYou extends one-to-one marketing and long tail niche business strategies to envision a highly engaged customer relationship that enables travel marketers to promote highly relevant product tailored for a specific itinerary in a timely and efficient manner.
photo credit: Spigoo
Travelers may have a persona for every trip, but the challenge for travel marketers will be to successfully promote a trip for every persona.
Tim intended to give this presentation at the Web in Travel Conference, held in conjunction with ITB Asia in Singapore this week, but was unfortunately waylaid by a back ailment. The good news is that he recorded a podcast of the presentation.
Tim’s hypothesis is dead-on target; the future of online travel lives with persona-based, trip-centric marketing.
Due to the greater degree of relationship longevity and customer engagement associated with traditional travel agent / client relationships, this has always been an aspect where a quality professional travel agent could beat an online travel site. A great travel agent can recommend a great trip itinerary that satisfies needs a traveler may not have even realized existed.
Recommendation engines and persona marketing have been a personal interest for a long time. A decade ago I worked with the Sabre Labs team on a collaborative filtering project using the same underlying technology that powers Amazon’s recommendation engine – with fascinating results.
Even with extremely small samples (50 people, 25 ratings each) we found the recommendation algorithm could be tweaked to produce 94% accuracy – not too bad for a first generation proof of concept.
Unfortunately, the Achilles-heel was that there needed to be consideration of the specific trip purpose, or traveler persona, introduced into the process to provide accurate situational recommendations. Presumably, the attributes associated with each of the multiple personas could be derived through a soft and hard filtering process based on both expressed and implied (experiential) information streams. The challenge would be getting access to this highly personalized and voluminous information. Between the explosion of computing power now available to consumers and the advent of social networking, the fundamental technologies now exist.
Some may argue that the principal obstacle for EveryYou is the legacy technology used by so many groups within the travel industry, the high degree of fragmentation within the travel industry, or the massive amount of data required to create and present relevant recommendations. I disagree – there is a larger and much more challenging issue – travel industry culture and many incumbents’ inherent fear of change.
EveryYou significantly undermines the traditional broadcast / brand marketing of major travel organizations and levels the playing field for independents and small niche players to engage with individuals.
Don’t get me wrong, EveryYou holds incredible opportunities for major travel brands – especially to develop closer customer relationships and improve traveler engagement. EveryYou is the secret sauce that can help travel companies stimulate travel demand.
Here’s the presentation Tim planned for the Web in Travel Conference:
In 2009, the travel industry is still discussing Web 2.0 in conceptual terms. Video is still not considered a mainstream travel website technology. User generated content, embraced by travel content sites, still represents a strategic management challenge for many travel suppliers. Social media, used effectively by a small number of travel industry groups, largely remains unaligned with core marketing and communication strategies. These realities put the travel industry safely on a track five years behind Internet first movers & early adopters.
So why does this lag create an issue for EveryYou? One word: TRUST. The success of EveryYou is predicated on travel organizations having respectful, trusted relationships with its customers that necessitate delivery of:
1. relevant communication, regarding
2. appropriate product, on a
3. timely basis, providing
4. consumer value
This represents a dramatic departure from common ravel marketing practices. Messaging needs to change from “Four-star hotels in Chicago at two-star prices: From $53/Night” to “Hotel Monaco’s Indulge in Romance Package is the perfect weekend getaway for You & Joe on your 10th Wedding Anniversary next month.”
Tim covered context and community in the presentation as essential data dimensions. To gain timely access to accurate (and frequently highly personal) consumer information, a high degree of engagement is required. But engagement is not enough, it also requires a high degree of consumer trust, and that trust must be earned by the travel seller.
This means a travel company must resist the temptation to push product that is not best suited to the traveler’s needs simply because surplus supply exists. Maximizing short-term rate yield opportunities may need to be subordinated to provide appropriate pricing to create the consumer value required to sustain customer engagement over a full relationship lifecycle.
Long-tail strategies and EveryYou address opportunities for more infrequent, lower sales volume purchases from a broader range of consumers. This is a radical concept for large travel organizations that have historically grown by focusing resources on consortia, corporations, group movements and frequent traveler programs that reward high frequency / high revenue relationships. Adopting such a dramatically new approach requires exceptional leadership and vision.
The good news is that there will undoubtedly be enlightened leaders with the mentality to embrace the opportunities, develop the strategies, adopt the technologies and implement the operational processes necessary to make EveryYou a successful reality.
The bad news is that some opposing forces, for example investors seeking maximum short-term profit, market leaders desiring to maintain the status quo, or resource constrained teams prioritizing other more tactical projects, may slow its adoption.
The question should not be “if” EveryYou could develop into an important travel industry paradigm, but “when” – I see it as an inevitable evolutionary step in a Web 3.0 world. I sincerely hope it will be sooner, rather than later. Hopefully Tim’s presentation will help the travel leaders of tomorrow consider the opportunities.