Storytelling is experiencing a Renaissance, adapting to our digital world as consumers, well, consume media and content in a variety of formats.
While the devices travellers carry with them are chock-full of alerts, messaging, productivity apps, games and other attention-grabbers, they also serve portable bookstores and digital newsstands.
While many storytelling sources vying for our attention travel brands have an advantage because they can offer a welcome escape.
B2C travel stories are as aspirational as they are inspirational and can influence spending decisions beyond the initial booking.
Most importantly, properly crafted travel stories can keep visitors coming back.
But is storytelling universal or should travel brands consider regional preferences and habits when crafting their content strategies?
For the answer to this question and expert advice on how the craft applies to travel brands, we turned to top story-weavers who work in both digital and print media:
Be THEIR There
In travel, location matters. The experts we spoke to believe localization is essential. They encourage brands to consider both a global and local audience, and tailor content to the needs of their target readers.
Keating tells us:
“Great storytelling is universal, but there is no doubt, that content consumption varies depending on the platform it is delivered on and geographical location.
“Our digital sites for airlines such as Cebu Pacific in Asia have great interaction, and this is due to the smaller bite-sized approach to content and huge mobile adoption rates in those markets, whereas our printed titles in the US, like Rhapsody for United Airlines and their long form storytelling, have higher engagement levels and most often a 25 minute read time.”
Allen also believes that global brands should relate to their audiences on a local level. Contently addresses the need by connecting local creatives in its worldwide network to global brands.
“From a practical point of view, global brands certainly need to produce a lot of content centrally, and retain their brand voice.
“However, to get true engagement and resonate at a local level, you do need to create at a local level.”
The experts we spoke with agree that much can be lost in translation. It’s important for the writer to understand the local reader, use common idioms, and share local perspectives on a story.
It is a delicate undertaking. Travel brands benefit from working with those who can craft globally and think locally, Girard tells us.
“I can’t emphasize culture enough. If we don’t understand the audience’s culture we’re missing an opportunity to connect with them.
“What we strive to do is be culturally adaptive. We try to ensure that we understand the customers of the brands that we’re working with, in their terms.”
“Some media have a templated format. They have a world view, and they fit that brand into their world view.”
Localization goes beyond content to medium.
It is just as important to understand how content is consumed on a local level and to be present where the reader is most likely to look for you.
“If you look at different social media channels have regional and national rankings. Instagram is one of the best ways to get through to Chilean consumer, especially the emerging middle class, Millennials.
“Just as it’s popular with Millennials around the world, it is very popular in Spanish-speaking countries. Twitter is still very big in Brazil, whereas elsewhere not so much.
“Pinterest, for instance, has regional endeaarance, people who really love it. But in Canada, for example, I don’t really know of anyone who is on Pinterest.”
Location, location, location
Beyond regional variety in tone and content and media preferences travel brands also need to consider location in the context of the journey.
Readers around the world are more likely to consume certain types of content, and have different content needs at different stages of the travel process.
Allen tells us:
“Context is always a consideration — people receive and engage with content differently depending on the content consumption mode they are in.
Are they concentrating on socializing/sharing?
Are they on a commute wanting to be entertained?
Or on a break at work on a research mission with time restraints?
“The key is making sure you make different formats available to allow people to engage with content in the way of their choosing.”
“I think that travel inspiration and research content is still a high priority for audiences and therefore remains an important base component of travel brands’ content strategies, but there is an increasing emphasis on providing content further down the purchase funnel, which engenders high brand engagement and loyalty, leading to positive reviews and repeat purchases.”
Girard also believes content is key to inspire travel, enhance the journey, and encourage visitors to return:
“In a lot of emerging markets, I see that the interest in traveling and researching travel and content about travel is definitely in full efflorescence.
“Smart travel brands are present throughout the entire journey, and consistently so, in one tone of voice that is with you when you are planning, on the plane, at the destination, and when you’re back home and it starts over again.
“Our need states change throughout the entire journey. When you’re planning your trip, you want content that’s going to help you make decisions. When you are en route to your destination, you want reminders.
“You want short-form. You want to turn it to a list. You want to turn it into a map. You do want video to give you a sense of where you’re going.
“Readers engage with content differently dependent on what platform is delivered and consumed. Digital content usually is shorter, bitesized and fact based, whereas print naturally supports long form storytelling, beautiful photo essays and thought pieces.
“Our recent research actually showed that passengers were 50% more receptive to printed content in the cabin at 35,000 feet compared to on the ground, due to a mix of less distractions and a relaxed state of mind.
“When you’re on the road, on your mobile, you may want content in a far more succinct manner. Something that ties into Google Maps or your itinerary app. It has to relate to every single need state and adapt itself. That’s absolutely key. We can no longer just produce content for a magazine.
“Everything is connecting with different psychographics differently. Successful publishers need to create content that works across all channels, all need states, and across all devices.”
Leave your preconceptions behind
The content experts we spoke to encourage travel brands to ignore some common assumptions about content format, specifically that readers prefer short article snippets over longer pieces.
This, they say, is proving out differently in the real world. While relative to travel context and activities, readers are welcoming more in-depth stories.
“We are finding there is a definite trend towards long-form. Despite all the rhetoric about our ever-decreasing attention spans, we are spending longer with quality content that engages and inspires us.
“The average word count for the top 10 ranking travel articles on Google in 2015 was 1,285 higher than in 2014. And recent research we conducted found that pieces from between 1,000-2,000 words were the most shared socially, with 2,000 words+ articles coming a close second.
“Conversely, posts under 1,000 words are being shared the least. The more comprehensive quality articles are winning out these days.”
“We also recently analyzed the most popular formats, in terms of social sharing and engagement amongst the top 25 travel publications, and found that video scores very highly.
“Also, ‘why’ articles followed by ‘how’ posts work very well. Lists are still up there but we are seeing the trend for this waning somewhat, perhaps as a result of saturation of the ‘listicle’ style traffic-driving tactic that has been somewhat over-employed in the last few years.”
The eagerness to learn more is also cross-generational, Girard says.
“We’re finding that Millennials are comfortable with long-form online and generally engage with it quite well and thoroughly, whereas a more mature reader may be more comfortable with long form in print.
“But recently, we see high engagement by Millennials with long-form in print. I don’t think you can make any broad stroke statement on that or generalizations.
“One of the programs we produce for Air Canada for example, Canada’s Best New Restaurants, is a top-10 list, it’s highly appealing to Millennials. Even though it’s a list, but there’s also long-form deep-dive into the winners.
“We talk to the chefs and there are maybe 600 words per entry in that list. That might seem counter-intuitive, you would think that people just want to know what the top-10 restaurants are, but people want the story.
“They may be referring to the list as they travel, but when they are at home or on the plane they really want the story behind those restaurants. They are doing a deep dive. It’s about a lot more than just the food. It’s about the decor of the restaurant, etc.
“We can’t make any kind of generalization about anyone any longer. An 83-year-old reader of one of our publications wanted more online content because she is an avid traveller and has mobility imitations and doesn’t want to carry a magazine around with her.
“In that case, we have to ensure that we have options. No publisher has the luxury of missing out on the opportunity to engage with the reader. That means that you have to be everywhere at once.”
Get your message out there
Once the story and medium are crafted to appeal to the local audience, Allen gave us an interesting tip to ensure it gets the most readership and engagement.
“People share travel content the most mid-week. This is the same all around the world.
“Perhaps this relates the dip in motivation that often happens in the working week when dreams of faraway lands start taking form!”
Everywhere around the world, people need dreams to get them going.