One of the biggest challenges facing Travel/Tourism/Hospitality Industry businesses in today’s online-driven world isn’t simply getting the attention of travelers- it’s about KEEPING that attention when those travelers are still in the research and comparison phase.
Pay-Per-Click, banner ads, media buys, and traditional mailers are great ways to score wins with direct response offers assuming that a traveler is ready to buy/book and that your timing is right, but none of them will do you much good if the buying action is anything less than immediate.
That’s what attracted me to Content Marketing and Lead Nurturing to begin with. I’ve been involved with marketing since I began my “real job” career, and there are very few industries with longer sales cycles than marketing services. Being both the guy that created the product and the guy who had to sell it, I spent years running myself ragged trying to attract qualified leads and keep them engaged long enough to convert into paying customers while still being responsible for the day to day responsibilities of properly servicing existing clients. There had to be some way to keep leads engaged through longer sales cycles, but – at the time- the tools and philosophies just didn’t seem to be there.
Content Marketing – especially when combined with a strategically sound Lead Nurturing program has been the key for me, and I believe it can be the key for you too, but the trick is to do it right. I spent years trying different things before I found a winning formula- hopefully (assuming you haven’t started yet)- my blood, sweat, and tears can save you a little ramp up time in your business!
Step 1: You Gotta Get ’em Before You Can Keep ‘Em- Now, maybe this is a little obvious, but you can’t KEEP people engaged until they have become engaged to begin with, and that begins with them simply becoming aware of you. In today’s world, that primarily happens in one of four ways for businesses in the travel and tourism industry: Through word-of-mouth (powerful but not scalable), by having people actually see you/your business while they are doing something else such as driving by your signage (VERY not scalable), by having them come across your listing on aggregation sites like Kayak and Expedia… during which time your businesses is presented on the same screen as your competitors while you each fight to be cheaper than each other (do I really need to go into why this isn’t ideal?), and by being found online when potential customers are already looking for a company that can do what your company does.
The fact is, word of mouth is too important to just ignore, but for the most part, being found online is the best, most controllable, and most scalable way to draw awareness (and ultimately engagement), and so that’s what we’re going to focus on.
There are literally dozens of ways you can draw awareness to your travel or tourism business online, from social media, to pay-per-click advertising, to affiliate marketing, and good ol’ SEO, but for our money, Content Marketing provides the most bang for your buck.
At RipCurrent, we like to say that Content Marketing isn’t complicated, but it does require effort. If you want to start driving more people to your website today (rather than waiting to be found on those travel aggregator sites that take a huge cut of your revenue), the best thing you can do is to starting writing good content today.
To begin with, don’t worry about it being mind-bendingly awesome if you aren’t a natural writer or marketer. To begin with, just write, but make sure that you write about your customers and not about you. You can get our free Persona Builder Template here which will help you super target who your best client/audience really is, and I bet that- assuming you are open minded while putting it together- you will learn that they aren’t exactly who you were assuming!
If you run a hotel in Myrtle Beach, write about what makes Myrtle Beach different than Panama Beach. Write about the best ways to stretch a buck during a family vacation on the Grand Strand. Write about the 5 best Myrtle Beach golf courses for people just learning the sport. Write, write, write, and make sure that you focus on providing information that people want instead of just pitching sales at readers. The more content you have on your site, the more the search engines will see you as an authority figure, and the more that people searching for information will find you BEFORE they are ready to make a buying decision. Put all of your articles and a dedicated blog page that is easy to find from your home page menu, and add 1 or 2 tags to each post that will help readers segment what the piece is about.
As time goes by of course, you should definitely focus more on making the quality of everything piece of content that you create awesome, and chances are that this will start to happen on it’s own with experience.
Note: If you just aren’t a writer and need help writing marketing content, we can take care of that for you- just let us know!
Step 2: Give Them A Reason To Introduce Themselves- Once people find you, you need some sort of way to capture a few important pieces of information: A first name and an email address. As time goes by, you want to pick up a few other pieces of information from them of course (last names, locations, and their interests are particularly helpful), but start simple by concentrating on the email address and first name.
Make sure that your blog page has a few features before you post any content: “Social Sharing” buttons (for people to share your content with their own Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Pinterest networks), and an easy to find contact form are the bare minimum, and if you REALLY want to have visitors to your site self-identify themselves, offer them a premium piece of content that they can download for the price of giving you their email address!
Ideas for premium content that would appeal to someone researching their next vacation could include vacation planning guides, budgeting templates, access to special events, or novelty maps that call out points of interest located nearby your location.
If you decide to invest the time and resources in creating a premium piece of content (or a “lead magnet” as they are often called), make sure that each article on your blog calls attention to your lead magnet and always include a visible call to action directing people to sign up to receive this premium (as well as to become registered on your email list). You’ll find that a great lead magnet combined with plenty of relevant blog content will start to drive more and more targeted visitors to your site quickly, and that a well designed call to action will begin building your email list just as quickly.
If you decide that now is not the time to invest in a nice lead magnet, then instead make sure that you end each blog post with a call to action directing readers to sign up for updates, vacation planning tips, and of course special offers by filling out the contact form you previously created.
Remember, the goal is only to get an email address and first name at this stage. The more information you ask for in this point, the less likely people are to give you ANY information. Be patient.
You can either build a good contact form on your own (or with plugins …on WordPress, we like “Ninja Forms“) or with email focused automation services like Aweber or the powerful new Autopilot service, which makes designing and automating your follow up simple and easy. You can even go with “freemium” services like MailChimp if you want to stick with “free”, and to different degrees, all of those will all give you the added bonus of helping you to track/segment your subscribers, as well as to help automate the follow up process. You can also use “Marketing Automation” softwares like HubSpot or Infusionsoft to build this process into an even more robust system of automated triggers, analytics, and sequences. These services tend to require a more hefty investment, though they are powerful tools if you know how to get the most out of them.
Is it possible to keep up regular touches with your prospective customers on your own? Yes. Is it likely to happen with the level of care and consistency that is required? Not a chance.
The fact of the matter is that- no matter how good our intentions may be- most of us are just too busy to keep up with everything that comes at us each day, and when you are looking to keep potential customers engaged throughout the entire Awareness/Engagement/Consideration/Decision/Action process, you can’t afford to be inconsistent.
A lot of people start and stop in their email marketing efforts because they aren’t seeing results quick enough to keep their interest. They either collect email addresses and then never do anything with them, they use them for monthly SPAM-shout-outs (that’s where you send EVERYONE on your list the same sales message once a month as the entirely of your email marketing program), or they send their follow-ups so inconsistently that people lose interest and stop paying attention.
With a good back-end email system installed on your site, you can segment which subscriber signed up on which page (and that will give you a good idea of what their interest are!), you can make sure that they automatically receive consistent emails based on the date that they initially signed up, and you can make sure that the messaging they receive is actually based on the things that they care about as opposed to trying to fit all of your subscribers into one big box (or worse, trying to manually respond to everyone on a consistent level, which will almost certainly never happen).
By automating the process, you ensure that the people you worked so hard to attract will continue to feel the love from you, even when you are too busy to reach out to them personally. Likewise, nearly every good Automation/Autoresponder service offers some fantastic analytics tools that will help you see who has opened your emails, when they opened them, if they forwarded them to someone else, and
Step 4: Leave a Trail to Bring Them Back Again and Again- If your website is the finely tuned automobile that get’s your business to your intended destination, and if autoresponders and marketing automation are the engine that provides the power behind the scenes, then content is the fuel. Now is the stage where you put some high quality gas in the tank!
Using the research you already did on your True Best Audience way back in Step 1, speed up production of blog posts and articles that will speak to the same audience that was attracted to your original content once you start seeing your traffic increasing. The increase in traffic will verify whether or not you are on target, so once you see that spike, put the pedal to the metal!
For instance, if your best traffic generating article was a guide to identifying all of the tropical flowers on the island where your hotel is located, maybe you then write a series of 4-8 blog posts about specific plants, or how to take high-quality still life photos of colorful vegetation with your cellphone, or maybe a piece about which flowers bloom during each month of the year. Try to publish 1-2 posts a week over the next month, and once a week, send your email list a quick teaser and link to the article via your Lead Nurturing system. The idea is two fold- it gives you an excuse to consistently remain top-of-mind, and secondly it should bring people back to your website once again where you have yet another chance to convert them into a customer. This brings us to Step 5…
Step 5: Make it Easy for Them to Make the Purchase- This should be a no-brainer, but just in case I’ll say it anyways: Make sure that there is a clear and easy path for your customer to actually make a purchase, no matter where they are on your site! Most hotels have some sort of booking software/theme/plugin on their websites that allow customers to check dates and rates before making a purchase. If this doesn’t appear on each page of your site, fix that STAT. If you are in a different sort of business however…let’s say maybe a fishing charter service, a Segway tour, a Museum, or a golf course, you still need to have some way for your target client to make a purchase then and there! There are plenty of companies who make software that integrates with website to allow customers to book services.
At the very minimum, you need a “Book Now” or “Make a Reservation” button of some sort prominently displayed on every page of your site that takes guests to a page where you can sell your service while they are ready to buy. I’ve seen simple pages set up through PayPal that will suffice in a pinch.
The most important thing to remember is that the more roadblocks (or clicks) that you put between your client and a final purchase, the less likely they are to make it through to the purchase. Likewise, don’t ask them for any information that you don’t absolutely have to. The closer you can get to “one-click-purchasing”, the better off you will be, and the happier your soon to be guests will be as well!
Step 6 (POST sale): Keep the Tank Full-
I’m always blown away by how many people fall down on this one…
What is the EASIEST, CHEAPEST, and MOST PREDICTABLE business to get? The business you already have! Yet, for a multitude of reasons (with “I ran out of time” being the most often cited), we tend to be pretty lax on showing our customers the love AFTER they have made a purchase. That’s like spending all day fishing, and the moment you finally land a bite, you let go of the rod to do a little victory dance while the (probably very confused) fish makes off with your gear. Why would you put all that effort into building up a new relationship only to let the weeds start growing after the first sale? Keep those customers engaged! A good marketing strategy includes a plan for the follow up, and -honestly- it’s probably the easiest part of the plan to follow.
Pre-stock your email autoresponder or marketing automation program with at least four post-visit emails, and have the first one set to automatically send 4 days after the date of the client’s departure date, the next one automatically sending 1 week later, and the next two at the 1 month and 2 month post-departure dates. Our suggested content is as follows:
4 Days Post Departure Email: You are still fresh in the minds, so don’t club them with a heavy sales message! A simple thank you message combined with a request for feedback on their experience (and an easy link to a survey is the best way to do it- you can set one up for free at www.surveymonkey.com ) is all you the messaging you need on this first email. Of course you should add a nice image of your establishment to the header of the email that will link back to your website (just in case they are ready to book again!), and button links to your social media pages at the bottom. That’s it.
11 Days Post Departure Email: This email is the first reminder that you are looking forward to their next stay. Messaging should remain light and non-invasive. A short list of upcoming events, a link to a photo gallery of recent events, and a quick (ie- non-“salesy”) note that you look forward to serving them again in the near future will bring you back to top of mind without coming across as pushy or insincere. For the people who aren’t already subscribed to your email newletter list, ask them to to jump on board, but don’t automatically add them without asking or without permission. Even if they have already stayed with you, that’s still a no no.
30 Days Post Departure Email: By 30 days out, the chances that your guest’s life has “returned to normal” is pretty high. Work, family life, and all the other daily responsibilities have most likely crept back up. As such, a short message about how you are are there to help them unwind again just as soon as they are ready could very well be timely. Add a special promotion to the email offering them a discount if they book a return visit within the next 6 months. Don’t be pushy about the promotion- this is more about the long game and keeping them interested.
60 Days Post Departure Email: When you get to the 60 days out period, I suggest going more promotional, but focus on exclusivity. A V.I.P. discount, an invitation to an exclusive “members only” reception, a 2-for-1 tour, bonus points for your loyalty program (you DO have a loyalty program, right?) or a significant upgrade are good options. Give them another reason to sign up for your email newsletter list if they haven’t already done so, and end with a call to action.
Of course, it goes without saying that you want to make sure you stay in front of your clients and potential clients as often as you can without becoming a pest, but that can be a fine line. We’ve found from our own experience that once every 30 days tends to be “safe”, though once every 2 weeks is never bad when you have something genuinely helpful to share. The key is to automate as much on the back end as you can. Yes, there is an argument to make that automated reach-outs lose a big part of the personal touch, but most people/companies will never be able to stay consistent on their own, much less have the discipline to measure and track results.
Marketing Automation is an invaluable tool in your utility belt, but if used incorrectly, it can be equally dangerous. If you’re looking for more ways to make the most out of your marketing program (and avoiding some of the costly or time-sucking pitfalls ), why not subscribe to the RipList?
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Follow Up Marketing After They Book