Yesterday we established that your brand is the total sum of people’s perceptions about your company (or about you personally as a travel agent). Too often, branding happens without any intentional thought or direction – the company’s brand simply evolves from customer experience. If the travel agent is very good at what he or she does, excellent at communication and customer service, an unconscious approach to branding will work, but never as well as a directed, focused branding strategy. The goal of a branding strategy is to create an association in the mind of the public with you and travel – when clients think of travel, they think of you in the positive light you intend. In fact, they would not think of traveling without thinking of contacting you. It is possible to build this sort of strong, emotional connection with your clients and the public but it requires a concerted and consistent effort on your part.
The first step in a branding strategy is to craft a clear message. Many find it helpful to express their brand message in the form of a mission statement to give their brand focus and clarity. What does your travel agency stand for in terms of its “reason for being”? What is your ethic? Why do you exist? Branding requires clarity from the outset of the development process. Do you know, clearly, what message you are communicating to clients? In 20 words or less, can you describe your travel planning practice? What is your unique selling point, the reason that clients would purchase travel through you rather than anywhere else? Your message will most likely involve three elements: People, Assets and Expectations:
- People – what do the people in your agency represent in terms of expertise?
- Assets – What assets do you have at your disposal that enhance your expertise?
- Expectations – What type of experience can clients who use your agency expect?
This column has many times argued that you are, in fact, not selling travel, that as a travel agent you are selling yourself. People can purchase travel anywhere, but you are not available anywhere else. Thus, it is fairly certain that a successful branding strategy is going to involve an emphasis on the people associated with your agency. However, many agencies place their branding emphasis on product rather than on their agency’s key assets. Their websites and marketing collateral are filled with the logos of suppliers. This is a valid tactic, but the strategy is less than clear. People certainly do respond to Carnival’s logo. However, why would the client buy a Carnival cruise from this particular agency? If the purchasing decision comes down to product, it too often becomes centered on price – a battle that is difficult to win against large discounters. Agencies are far better served by focusing on their employees. Who represents the agency? Why are they unique? What is their training? How much traveling have they done. What is their story? Why are they a travel agent? Do you have a niche?
While the people of your agency are certainly its most important asset, what others do you have at your disposal? Is the fact you are a local business an asset? What relationships in the world of travel have you built? What consortia do you belong to? What inside information do you possess? What type of buying power or insight do you have through consortia or other organization?
Finally, given the people who work at your agency and the assets you have at your command, what is the benefit to the client? What kind of experience can people who use your agency expect? Personal attention? Expert planning? Local accountability? Satisfaction? Advocacy? A life-long relationship? Long term consulting and advice?
Spend some time going over each of the elements of a brand – People, Assets and Expectations. Write full paragraphs on each at first, and then drill it down until you craft a short, clear and succinct message that details what is truly unique about your travel planning practice. Finally, craft your mission statement in such a way that its focus in client-centric. You want your mission statement to express your brand in terms of the benefits clients receive by doing business with you.
Now, imagine a client comparing your agency against a large, online discounter. The discounter is offering a $200 discount on a cruise your client wants. Make your message so strong, the client is still compelled to buy from you.
Tomorrow – Communicating Your Brand