By Jon Pickles, travel technology, CRM and social media consultant
"I give you everything, yet you give me nothing." - this might sound like a song title, or an argument you have had with a partner, yet it's how I feel every time I get an email marketing communication.
I am a consumer. I am in charge of my data. I decide who has my data. I take time to set up my likes etc. on Facebook and I often log into sites using Facebook login instead of creating yet another anonymous email/username login. I give companies my data so that they can use it to personalise my experience. So why on earth don't they use it?
I keep getting emails from travel companies offering me generic holidays and destinations, tagged with "discount", "free children" and so on. If they used my data they could see that clearly I have not booked a holiday with them for a long time, that I don't ever respond to these mailings, and often don't even click them. Yet week after week (and I can tell you the days and times I will get each operators marketing emails) the emails come through only to be destined for the trash bin.
Travel companies should take a leaf out of Amazon's book. The Amazon marketing emails are the ones I most click on. Not only do they get the timing just right, they have the knack of making the whole buying experience so simple that I often forget I have even made a purchase: only to receive the always welcome Amazon packaging through my door when I didn't even expect it. Amazon get my business because what they offer me is very relevant to me. However, even Amazon is starting to lose a grip on the personalisation they started. Take this example:
I use Amazon frequently, and with a simple bit of data mining anyone would discover that my last 10 purchases have all been music on vinyl (albums or LPs to you and me). Yet how many offers do I get daily trying to sell me the "latest electronic goods" or "Try these CDs" or DVDs, both of which I no longer buy.
It's as if the marketing algorithms and personalisation engine have gone wrong somewhere. Perhaps they should add "music media format = vinyl" to their engine. or maybe they are falling back on their "people who buy X, might also buy Y" algorithm?
In the not too distant future, data protection will afford consumers more control over their own data. Companies will need to be far more data-aware or risk being sued if they don't realise this. It won't be a case of an unsubscribe - companies will need to provide full access to the customer's data through a dashboard where the customer can pull or edit their data whenever they wish.
The consumer is becoming the "savvy consumer" (well, we are savvy, aren't we?) and won't take prisoners. Companies who get it wrong will most likely lose that customer. How many times have you purchased something, only to find it has dropped in price the next week?
There's another personalisation engine rule: "Do not send to a customer who has just purchased". Have the marketing team not heard of the marketing pool? As marketers they should have done but maybe they have become too reliant on the, now outdated, marketing tools they use?
Tesco do a great job of consumer loyalty with their Tesco loyalty card. Consumers unknowingly give them access to purchases through the loyalty card swipe and Tesco respond with money off vouchers for the things you have in your weekly shopping basket, or clever relevant alternatives.
Travel Companies hold some very powerful data and should start to use it to their advantage. Unlike retailers such as Tesco and Mothercare, anyone who travels has to provide their full details to the operator prior to departure. Offline retailers such as Tesco and Mothercare will sell you something without any knowledge of who you are which is why they have to use loyalty cards.
The travel company, on the other hand, has all your information before you even travel with them. For any holiday we have to provide our name and address and other contact details before we can travel. How powerful is that? Additionally, the travel company can make it easier for the consumer to post reviews, photos, blogs through Trip Advisor, Facebook and Twitter.
The savvy travel company can then get permission to use the consumer data (likes and dislikes) and also what the consumers friends like. Consider the additional personal data that Facebook and twitter provide and also two new direct methods of engagement. Couple this with access to the consumer through mobile and the tech savvy travel company can be permanently connected to the consumer using their social accounts - it has been said that with mobile, 23% of users check their accounts five times or more every day (buffer.com).
While you shouldn't expect instant returns using social media, you should start using it to build your brand awareness and to deliver targeted offers. Don't be fooled into thinking that social is just for the young - the fastest growing demographic on twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket.
So come on travel companies. Make your customer engagement personal. Understand your customer likes and turn your offers into bookings, and stop sending those broadcast emails out every Friday at 16:00! Make it easy for customers to use their social networks for feedback and they will give you everything you want, but only if they feel that giving you that information will be of direct value to them. If not, sit back and watch your customers disappear.
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