The recent ASTA report titled 2013 Technology & Website Usage contains some interesting perspectives on social media and website marketing by travel professionals. There is not a great deal of surprising information in the report but it largely confirms the anecdotal sense of the state of the industry. According to ASTA’s technology report, more agencies have a social media presence but are uncertain about the efficacy of social media marketing. Website marketing seems to be underutilized and other technologies such as mobile applications are little utilized or not well understood.
The gap that has always existed between consumer usage and understanding of technology and the industry as a whole remains dangerously large. Much of the disparity results from a lack of solid planning and fundamental understanding of the role of technology. In the interest of stimulating some thinking around these issues, let’s take a look at some of those fundamentals.
- Firstly, it’s social media marketing, not social media sales. Marketing drives sales and generates leads. But for some inexplicable reason, social media marketing takes the brunt force of a lot of misplaced expectations. In a correctly understood marketing campaign, tactical sales is not primarily the role of social media marketing. Public relations doesn’t make “sales” either, but few would diminish its importance.
- A written business plan encompassing each marketing tactic is important. Too often travel professionals work without clearly defined goals, powering their efforts through sheer determination and hope. Sometimes a defined success results, but more often without a plan the expectations are skewed and the results remain in the realm of anecdote rather than benchmark. The strategies and tactics you use are important, but without a plan are likely to be so poorly implemented as to be ineffective. This is the most fundamental of business basics, but a principle we continually ignore.
- Each effort in a marketing campaign has its place. Websites and social media marketing are not interchangeable. Your Facebook page may be easier and less expensive to maintain than a website, but they have vastly different roles in your marketing mix. Certainly measuring as precisely as possible the ROI for any component in a campaign is both necessary and important. But marketers also must understand each effort in its proper context. Use emails to make tactical sales and secondarily to build brand. Use social media to build relationships so people will subscribe to emails and to fine-tune your sales efforts. Tactics are not interchangeable and each has a purpose in the context of a coherent marketing strategy.
- Think in terms of campaigns rather than disjointed marketing efforts. Perhaps at one time it was fairly easy to trace back the causative factors resulting in a buying decision. The complexity of the media landscape now, however, makes such simple analysis nearly impossible. It’s difficult to draw a straight line between any one contact point and a buying decision. The difficulty, moreover, sometimes leads to the wrong conclusion. Most often it is the cumulative impact of the total exposure to all of the marketing efforts to which the consumer is exposed that result in a final buying decision, not a single marketing effort by any one company. That means the travel professional must remain top of mind and in an engaged relationship with the client.
Why do consumers buy through one channel to the exclusion of others? It is all about relationships, however built. Consumers are more likely to purchase through a company whose ethic and temperament most closely matches their own. This is another way of indicating that we do business with companies we like and with which we have a relationship. Therein is the role for social media – to condition the sales environment. Actually, as a commenter to a relatively recent Wired article points out, the premise social media marketing influences buying decisions is not really so anecdotal.
Staying top of mind is the travel marketer’s challenge. Remember, too, there is little or no no separation for the small business person between personal life and your business practices. The comments you make on your personal profile posts leak over onto your business page. Your personality and the way you are known in your community is pervasive. It is up to you to mold and shape that image and to create for yourself goals and benchmarks in the most intentional of manners.
The buying decision may happen in close proximity to a tactical sales effort or long thereafter. The buying decision is a matrix, not a straight line. But every point of contact, every engagement builds the relationship finally culminating in the purchasing decision through one company or another.
What does your use of social media look like? What is your take on the ASTA Technology report? On April 22, Nolan Burris and I will hold an intensive analysis of social media marketing and the import of the ASTA Technology report. Watch for the announcement of the webinar and I hope you will join us there.