Be your brand

Posted on October 16th, 2009 by in Agent Perspectives

If you had to guess, what do you think Royal Caribbean’s annual marketing budget is? How about Disney?  Or Sandals?

And what percentage of that budget do they allocate to promoting your travel agency? Or promoting you, specifically, as a knowledgeable travel professional? Many of the suppliers do spend marketing dollars promoting travel agents as a whole; but they are not in business to pump up my individual bottom line. Or yours.  Nor should they be.

So why do so many travel agencies, who certainly have a much smaller budget than any of the major travel companies, focus their marketing plans on promoting and supporting specific suppliers and products?

Before I get slammed, I’m not talking about co-op mailings that include special supplier offers along with a call to action to contact that individual travel agency to take advantage of the deal. There’s certainly a place in any marketing plan for those. What I’m talking about are the agencies that spend all their marketing time, energy and money on promoting product, rather than promoting themselves.

We’ve all seen the agencies whose bridal show booths are so completely Sandals-themed that a bride would be hard-pressed to realize there’s even an agency involved.  How would that same bride possibly see the value of working with that agent? She’s just as likely to take the brochures home with her and end up booking her honeymoon online at the Sandals web site.

Personally, I want my marketing dollars to promote ME.  I want to communicate my unique value, and give consumers a reason to call me for their next trip – regardless of what specific travel experience they’re looking for.  In other words, my marketing plan is all about MY brand. Not someone else’s.

So how do I communicate my “brand”?

  1. My web site (www.AnniesEscapes.com) has no special offers, supplier links, or booking engine. Instead, it has my photo, information about me, a description of the services that I offer, and first-person trip reports (with lots of photos) written by me and my clients.
  2. My blog (www.AnniesEscapes.wordpress.com) is a little more personal than the website. Through my frequent updates, I share my personality, thoughts, opinions, and advice with current and potential clients, all the while positioning myself as a travel resource.
  3. I created a glossy four-color brochure for my agency that highlights my experience and expertise, lists some of my certifications and specialties, explains what services I offer, and includes client testimonials. (View Brochure: PDF)
  4. When I exhibit at shows, my booth is all about me. I do typically bring a few supplier brochures tailored to the audience I’m expecting, but my booth display features a slide show of client photos, my agency brochures, and fliers that communicate my specific expertise on the topic (honeymoons, family vacations, whatever fits for that show)
  5. I belong to several local networking groups, and I use that opportunity to reinforce my positioning as a very knowledgeable, service-oriented travel consultant. I talk about how I create uniquely memorable “escapes” for my clients, and give concrete examples of the value that I add to the planning process. Rarely do I talk about a specific product or promotion, since people already know they want to take a vacation – they just need to know that I’m the one to help them do it!

I’m not sure about you, but I feel good knowing that my limited marketing budget is focused on just one thing – communicating my personal brand to potential clients.  What do you think? Am I off the mark? Add your comments below.


Ann Petronio is a travel consultant and the owner of Annie’s Escapes, Inc. in Cranston, Rhode Island. She creates custom-tailored vacations for busy couples, families and groups. www.AnniesEscapes.com

  14 thoughts on “Be your brand

  1. 1Toni Stanley says:

    I love the article. Every year at bridal shows everyone thinks I’m Sandals. This year I’m not even taking brochures. I made up flyer all about me and will be giving that out with all my contact info. I also highlighted contact us for an appointment and free personal consultation! That’s where I spend the first 15 minutes – free and then we go from there.
    My shows are this weekend so we’ll see what happens!

  2. I bellieve this is the new message, if travel professionals want to be valued, they need to put their personal value up front. It is a message you send in everything you do, from the way your website looks to the way you market yourself, you can’t just charge a fee and think that adds value to you. Great article!

  3. 1Jill says:

    Wonderful article. I have been trying very hard to convey this message within my company also.

    So nice to have validation from another travel professional.

    Thank you for writing it!

  4. 1Chuck Flagg says:

    Ann:

    This is such a great piece. I saw this linked in SmartBrief yesterday and wanted to say congratulations. You have inspired me to update my own brochure to emphasize my value.

  5. 1Ann Petronio says:

    Very good question, Bill! I don’t charge booking fees for the various transactions, so it is true that their vacation will be “at no added cost beyond what you can find for yourself online.” The only fees I charge are for stand-alone airline tickets, and I highly encourage my clients to book those on their own.

    I do charge a “plan to go” retainer, though, and it’s explained upfront in the first conversation or meeting. That $150 retainer gets applied to their vacation once they book with me. If they don’t book with me, I keep the retainer as a fee for the time spent.

  6. 1Bill says:

    Excellent points. Sell yourself first. One question: you say at ‘no extra charge’ in your brochure. Do you truly add no ‘fee’ or whatever you want to call it… and live off of whatever capricious commission (if any) each supplier chooses? OTOH, I believe adding a fee, as necessary, may still provide greater value to the customer for various reasons (like time-savings, packaging & buying power).

  7. 1Donna Dawson says:

    Hi Annie, I like your style! Too often we can’t see the forest for the trees, and I am speaking from the consumer side when I say that. I have had a specialty garden tour site where nothing else gets promoted except my garden tours and I started this in 1998. No brochures either…but I include the most unique tour itineraries that are really a keepsake of the tour. Our guests love them and no one else has this, which I am proud of :) You have to find your niche and promote it…and I might add, it’s even harder to do when you are a small tour operator. But I do it because I love to share what I have seen with others…
    Donna Dawson, Master Gardener

    Director Region 7 Garden Writers Association
    Affiliate Member Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors
    Member North American Travel Journalists Association
    http://www.ICanGarden.com
    http://www.gardeningtours.com
    http://twitter.com/icangarden
    2010 Garden Tours – Ecuador, China Spring Peony, India, Thailand/Cambodia and Chelsea Flower Show London

  8. 1Paul O'Meara says:

    Great stuff Ann!

    I just added a link to this article on our Facebook travel agency page at http://www.facebook.com/YankeeHolidays.

    It seems to me as if more and more travel professionals are realizing that their expertise is NOT a commodity. I say the more, the merrier as this change in thought pattern will help transform their business and the industry as a whole. For those that do not realize what is happening around them, it may be time to search for a new line of business.

    Paul O’Meara
    VP, Sales
    Yankee Holidays

  9. 1denyse says:

    This is an excellent article Annie. I see what you’re saying and I’ll be removing all supplier inferences from my website. Thanks!

  10. 1Latha Nemani says:

    This is a great article. I have been asked several times by new prospects that why should they book with me vs online when the price is the same. I can of course explain if they ask me but what if they don’t and just book online? So thanks for sharing the brochures that you created.

  11. Loved your blog. It was well-thought out and interesting. Obviously, you know how to market yourself using the latest available networks.

  12. 1Daphne Barbeito says:

    Very good article,
    I’m ASTA President for the PR/USVI Chapter and tomorrow we are having a meeting will all travel agents in the Industry.

    I will distribute your article tomorrow, it is time the agencies realize what you and I know…

    THanks
    Daphne Barbeito

  13. As always Annie, you are the best! Great article. I am so proud to see you “published” once again! Keep the good advice coming my friend! We’ve learned the hard way who to market ourselves at Bridal and Consumer shows. We have big banner, and then we pre-bag brochures with preferred suppliers, BUT the bags have our name, address, and phone number listed on them.

  14. 1Laura says:

    Great article Annie! I was just at a bridal show where two agencies had matching Sandals booths, and you couldn’t find the agency name on either one. How many brides went home thinking that was the Sandals booth? Your website looks great!

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