Advertising is one of the most vexing tactics for a travel agent to properly implement into a marketing plan. The capital expenditure for advertising is one of the most risky since client response, or lack thereof, occurs outside of the view of the travel agent. It is often difficult to measure results and to ensure the target audience is indeed even seeing the advertising. Done correctly, however, advertising can be very effective and can raise the public profile of the travel agent and help drive sales. The secret is to properly develop the advertising, to choose the right media and to follow up appropriately.
Advertising is paid, non-personal communication through third-party media meant to persuade a target audience to act in a desired manner. Advertising is one part of the marketing mix, but it is sometimes mistaken for the whole. Advertising works in concert with the other aspects of a marketing plan to both generate short-term sales opportunities and to position the company for more long-term objectives. Travel is a good example of a product where advertising serves both short term (”buy now”) and long term (”remember us and buy when you want to travel”) objectives.
Because of its high degree of visibility, advertising is an important part of brand awareness. For that reason, the message in the ad must be clear and should never conflict with the company’s core brand message. Typically, advertising is “non-personal” – it is directed in a “one to many” fashion, though good advertising is targeted and focused on the demographic of the media chosen. The media can be visual, like banner ads, print advertising, imprinted merchandise, television or auditory like radio or pod-cast sponsorships. But in each case, the advertising must work in concert with the other segments of the overall marketing strategy, and the hard-dollar cost that is typically involved suggests that much careful attention needs to be given its planning, execution and management.
The 365 Guide has a number of articles that provide important requisite considerations for developing a good adverting program. Not wanting to merely re-hash those articles, I recommend that as you build your 2012 Marketing Plan that you review the earlier columns in order to understand the various elements of an advertising program and how to implement an advertising campaign for your travel agency. Of key importance is the need to professionally design your advertising around your core marketing message. An ad that is not professionally designed may do your travel agency more harm than good. Equally important is to place the ad in the appropriate media, narrowing your target demographic as much as possible. Shotgun advertising in mass media works only for mass market product. Better results are often found in more cost effective niche publications and media.
Display advertising is important – it both builds your brand, generating familiarity with your company, and it can act to tactically sell. Especially during more difficult economic times you want to shift your marketing away from “shotgun” tactics designed to market to the world and advertise with media that has a tight, loyal readership. Display advertising in a general circulation newspaper is a more risky effort than a much less expensive ad placed in a newsletter that is circulated in a neighborhood the readers of which match the demographics of your current clientele.
Placing display ads in highly targeted periodicals with a well defined readership allows for more experimentation with ad copy, format and placement. If you find a particular media that works well, it is important to change out aspects of your ad with some frequency so it does not become “invisible” to readers. Retain those elements of the ad that signify your brand – your logo, address, company name, but change out other graphical elements, position and colors. Keeping a display ad fresh ensures that people will see it multiple times rather than scanning over it with the impression that they have read it in the past.
Finally, when committing to an advertising venue, it is imperative to understand that frequency matters. Again, think in terms of campaigns. A single ad placed a single time represents wasted effort and money. To be effective, an ad must run multiple times to sufficiently impact a readership, to build the brand curiosity necessary. Thus, an advertising effort’s cost must be calculated on a campaign basis, not on the cost of a single ad.
Advertising plays an important role in building your travel agency’s brand and driving sales. However, advertising also tends to consume the greatest portion of many travel agency’s marketing budget. Plan carefully, choose your media wisely and monitor your results. Finally, keep advertising in perspective. It is only one part of the marketing mix, and many agencies very successfully market their travel practice without ever spending any capital on advertising.
Exercise – Read the past 365 Guide articles on advertising. Make a list of the media in your community that targets the demographic you seek. Don’t overlook non-conventional venues like neighborhood newsletters or periodicals published by retailers. Consider the allocation of a portion of your marketing budget to display advertising if appropriate, but let’s look to tightly focus its impact. Advertising’s ROI can be difficult to measure.
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