Since the early days of “search”, travel brands have led the way in building new business models that cater to the changing ways that consumers shop online, engaging consumers at targeted moments when they are actively looking to book a flight, hotel, car rental, cruise, scenic tour, and more.
But as companies of every stripe tapped into the “search” channel, it evolved into a highly competitive and mature marketplace, and it’s hard to imagine the category driving significant growth for travel brands in the coming years.
Instead of relying solely on “search,” many companies are looking to content marketing to help drive growth, developing strategies that engage consumers weeks before they even begin actively searching to book their next trip.
This strategy can build more intimate relationships with consumers, and is increasingly necessary as people spend more time conducting online research before making a purchase.
Online storytelling, and related kinds of “native” distribution channels, are quickly becoming the most effective way to reach relevant audiences who are less affected by display advertising, and today’s fastest growing travel companies are shifting budgets away from TV and towards digital accordingly.
Below are a few examples of how today’s most buzzed-about travel brands are leveraging the power of storytelling to drive ROI-positive strategies across the marketing funnel.
Airbnb engages 100 million member community through online video
Peer-to-peer “home-sharing” platform Airbnb has turned its YouTube channel into a kind of digital brand magazine, featuring in-depth stories from its users and hosts around the world, who are responsible for more nightly bookings than any single major hotel chain.
These videos have been viewed more than 70 million times, rivalling the scope of a Super Bowl commercial, except these online viewers actively set out to watch the stories throughout the year.
Video is increasingly becoming the primary way for brands to power their online storytelling efforts, as consumers flock towards smaller screens. eMarketer forecasts that mobile video promotion will nearly double by 2019, and our own data intelligence team at Taboola confirms that online users are twice as likely to enjoy a piece of travel content on their smartphone—which is especially suited towards video—rather than on desktop.
Expedia drives new leads and bookings with Viewfinder travel blog
In addition to brand awareness, online content can generate tangible business results when engaging with people further along the customer journey. Extended online videos are a great way to share your brand story, but more informative or educational content can encourage valuable actions from consumers who are starting to get curious about their next trip – while they may not be likely to make a purchase at that precise moment, they are primed to be traveling soon.
The Expedia “ Viewfinder ” blog uses a lively mix of content as a “conversation-starter” with interested buyers, offering an on-site experience that includes personalized recommendations for relevant deals on top destinations or discounts on appropriate membership plans.
While consumers are more likely to consume travel content on mobile devices, data from Taboola’s network finds that they are more likely to actually convert on desktop, and slideshow format articles like those from Expedia are especially effective at driving new bookings amongst interested trip-seekers.
Strategic forms of content promotion and distribution can also ensure that your team is driving the most relevant and engaged audiences to your website. Expedia found that users arriving through content discovery platforms spent twice as long on site, and consumed 28 percent more pages per visit, on average, than visitors who arrived through the homepage.
By promoting content through personalized recommendations on top sites across the web, discovery platforms enable travel brands to more effectively scale their marketing efforts and reach new audiences they might otherwise miss.
Content studios boost brand loyalty for Marriott and Best Western
Established hotel chains such as Marriott and Best Western may have been around since the heyday of offline media, but the brands haven’t been any less nimble in adapting to the realities of digital media.
Both companies have invested heavily in online content: Best Western’s BW Content Studio and “You Must Be Trippin” microsite equip travelers with tips, news, and informative videos, while Marriott’s “M Live” content studio produces short films, TV shows, personalized online travel magazines, and round-the-clock social media promotion (powered by a global “command center” outfitted with nine TV screens).
These extensive content operations have become a crucial component of both companies’ overall marketing mix. For Best Western, which sees 88 percent of its hotel bookings conducted online, content is vital to reaching consumers as early and efficiently as possible, and
complementing search marketing efforts further down the funnel.
Marriott has also registered a measurable uptick in bookings at hotel brands and destinations featured in its branded content, as well as an impressive enrollment boost from “next-gen” (or “Millennial”) consumers into the Marriott Rewards program – those elusive audiences that major brand marketers have been struggling to reach through traditional channels.
Online content is quickly replacing traditional advertising as the means by which brands are building relationships with consumers, and this is especially true in the travel sector, where the customer journey is more complicated and emotion-driven than a simple product purchase.
No matter what your current business goal or challenge may be, there is a role for content to play in the overall marketing mix—from more effectively promoting your brand story, to encouraging adventure-seekers to book their next trip, and ultimately to driving longer-term
loyalty with the next generation of travelers. So, where are you heading to next?