An unfortunate temptation in marketing your travel agency is to scurry from one tactic to the next looking for the magic “trick” that will make clients come streaming through the door. The lure of the newest, the latest and great marketing gimmick is strong, but often comes at the expense of fundamentals. Thus, you sometimes see new travel agents that have not yet mastered the art of networking in their local communities leaping onto Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to market their new travel business because they heard that some other agent, somewhere, managed to wring a sale out of the online world.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for creative niche marketing and I, too, enjoy learning about new marketing strategies and tactics. However, I am equally convinced that in the eagerness to quickly build business, too many agents dart from one “technique” to the next rather than honing tried and true fundamentals. Even with social media, it is the media that is new, not the tactical efforts. Every tactical effort, however, is not for everyone. The truth is, it is far better to have one or two tactics that you can accomplish very, very well than a whole repertoire of marketing techniques to which you give marginal time and attention.
You are an individual, with your own talents and personality. The marketing campaigns you design for your travel agency should be based on what comes natural to you. Not to say you shouldn’t push beyond your comfort zone, you certainly should. But your marketing strategy should be a matter of thought and planning, an approach developed with a very conscious intentionality.
In the name of getting back to basics, let’s look at some turbo-basic principles you can use to assist in effective marketing. Your way of being and working is better atuned to some marketing techniques than others. If you are an outgoing, gregarious individual, networking, events and speaking opportunities sound right for you. If you are more introverted in your approach (I know a few such individuals) writing and online media may be more your style.
Don’t immediately assume because an agent in your private “Facebook group” was successful in a marketing tactic you will be as well. Study the tactic and make it your own, enhancing it with your own personality and approach. Remember, marketing is not a bag of tricks you can utilize at any given time. Rather, good marketing is a way of being, a mindset issuing forth from a studied plan infused with your own personality.
Applied consistently and intelligently, these fundamentals will then give a context to your investigation of new, innovative techniques for getting the word out. I’m going to go a bit long in this particular article, but each of the following factors work in tandem with the others and I don’t want to short-change you in the name of brevity.
- Figure out what works and do it again. Marketing is very personal and some techniques will work better for you than others. Examine your past successes and figure out what went right. Pull out some paper and a pen and write down a small narrative about your most successful client experiences. If you are new to travel, write down something about your former life, job interviews or social encounters. What works for you? Is it your enthusiasm? Your confidence? Your intimate knowledge of product? You empathy and concern for the client? Did you take on some marketing technique that worked well? See if you can detect a pattern in your successes and, then, seek to institutionalize your strength – keep it in the foreground of all of your client encounters.
- Figure out what doesn’t work and quit doing it. Next, honestly assess your worst client encounters. Resist the temptation to blame the client for whatever happened. What went wrong? Were you too “hungry” thinking about yourself to the exclusion of the client? Were you too eager to please, taking on clients or assignments on which should have passed? Did you apply some marketing technique that absolutely failed? Again, see if you can detect a pattern of behavior that causes unpredictable, unfavorable results and work it out of your business life.
- Know your message – What is your marketing message? Can you quickly summarize the unique selling point that is at the core of your business? Your message is certainly not that you sell travel! Consider the fact that your clients can buy travel anywhere – they can purchase travel from other agents, from suppliers, from the internet. Is your message your expertise in your destination? Is it the experience you have working with families or planning adventure travel? Is your message the time and attention you give each individual client? What difference do you make in the life of your clients? Spend some time developing your message, honing it to a short, concise statement of your strongest traits. This is what you are selling to your clients, this is why they buy from you. But unless you can clearly articulate your message, you cannot clearly communicate it and your marketing efforts will lack focus. You are your own brand, whether you own the agency you work for or whether you are an employee, and your message is at the very core of your brand.
- Communicate your message consistently – Once you understand the essence of your marketing message, integrate it into all of your marketing collateral and efforts. Line up all of your marketing around your unique selling point. Make sure that your business cards, your fliers, your brochures, your networking efforts, your advertising and your public relations efforts – all of your points of contact reflect that message consistently. If your unique selling point is “individual time and attention to every client” you will present yourself very differently than you will if your message is “discount travel”. Look at every point where the public adds to their perception of your business and polish that point of contact to clearly and consistently communicate your marketing message.
- Tend to Your Existing Clients – Your existing clients are the foundation of your business and much easier to reach out and touch than new prospects. Your existing clients represent not only repeat business, but also an important source of referrals and testimonials to potential new business. Yet, travel agents often allocate a disproportionate amount of marketing effort to the acquisition of new clients, neglecting their existing base. Use a good CRM tool to stay in touch with your existing clients at key times – their birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Know their preferences in travel and their travel ambitions. Take ownership of your clients and treat their long range travel planning exactly as you would expect a financial consultant to plan ahead for years at a time. Ask your existing clients for referrals and testimonials and continually strive to keep them involved in your own story. Share your successes with them and ensure that they can communicate your message to others when the time is appropriate.
- Marketing is more like farming than hunting. This is the mantra of Ivan Misner, the founder of the networking organization BNI, Too often, travel agents view their marketing efforts as an attempt to capture a few good clients, to bag a few prospects for the next big trip. In reality however, good marketing strategy would dictate the agent should focus instead on long-term tactics designed to build relationships within their communities. A good marketing calendar would have the agent speaking to groups, volunteering on civic projects, issuing press releases, writing columns locally – all designed to increase the market profile of the agent in their community over a period of time. It is within this context of community involvement the agent can then successfully launch appropriate tactical marketing efforts with the greatest impact.
- Market in Campaigns – Market consistently and with an adequate frequency to have an impact. Marketing is a commitment. Yet, it is easy to let a day go by, and then a week, and then two weeks, with no marketing activity. Sporadic burst of marketing activity will lack the consistency to imprint your brand in the minds of your clients and potential clients. You have to create an association in their minds – when they think of “travel”, they think of you. To create an association that strong, you must market with sufficient frequency to continually stay in front of your clients. In addition, your marketing plan must include a variety of media in order to hit your clients from a number of different angles. Ideally, over the course of a year, clients will see your company in display ads, in news articles, at an event in your community, will hear you speak, will see you networking, will hear other consumers and clients talking about you. Getting your message out in this manner, without spreading either yourself or your finances too thin takes planning.
- Know Your Business – To be successful in the business of travel consulting requires the travel agent to have a very solid understanding of both travel product and clients in order to properly match the two. Knowledge of travel product is not gained overnight, but is the process of ongoing education and study, and communication with suppliers and other travel agents. The successful agent spends a great deal of time building a proper foundation by studying and researching destinations and supplier product. While most agents eventually settle on a few key suppliers, they also continually seek out knowledge of new product and opportunities. Good marketers stay on top of industry trends and read trade and consumer periodicals. Many develop a niche where they can demonstrate a depth of knowledge unmatched by others. But these same agents know how to translate product features into client benefits. Good marketers know that the key to successful marketing is understanding what clients want and then meeting those needs. Most importantly, however, good travel marketers understand that, ultimately, they are not selling travel. Top travel agents are selling themselves – their expertise, their knowledge, their sound judgment and client advocacy – the ability to match exactly the right product with the right client.
- Love Your Business (and Your Clients!) – Good travel marketers love what they do, and their enthusiasm shows because they become an expert at communicating their passion. But remember this: you are not in the travel business; you are in the helping other people travel business. Make your travel practice client-centric and ensure your marketing efforts clearly demonstrate a concern for clients by addressing client needs and solutions. The best travel professionals demystify travel for clients and find ways to make travel accessible. Good marketers talk with clients, not to clients, in their marketing efforts and personal encounters. This final principle is the “fuel” that informs and energizes all of the other principles. A travel agent’s passion for helping others to travel and for serving others will shape their marketing message and will provide clients with the simple assurance they are in the right hands.
The idea is to begin systematically designing your marketing tools to work in tandem with each other and to be reliably consistent. A better understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses is fundamental to the process.