Customer Acquisition in the Travel Industry: 19 Channels for Customer Acquisition in 2020
There is a saying in business that there is no problem that a ton of new sales can´t fix. Customer acquisition is where the majority of a company´s effort should be focused on. In this post we will break down the 19 channels for acquiring travel customers. These 19 channels are extracted from the book “Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth” and this post dives into detail about customer acquisition in the travel industry and how travel companies can implement these 19 channels of customer acquisition in 2020.
The 19 Channels of Traction are:
1. Viral Marketing
2. PR (Public Relations)
3. Unconventional PR
4. Search Engine Marketing
5. Social and Display Ads
6. Offline Advertisement
7. Search Engine Optimization
8. Content Marketing
9. Email Marketing
10. Engineering as Marketing
11. Targeting Blogs and Influencers
12. Business Development
14. Affiliate Programs
15. Existing Platforms
16. Trade Shows
17. Offline Events
18. Speaking Engagements
19. Community Building
Viral marketing is a process where your users and customers bring you new users and customers, without you having to advertise or market to those new users.
There are 4 elements of viral sharing:
Emotional Element (amusing, surprising, provokes controversy)
Content element (video, study, images)
Topic Element (something trendy, babies and animals)
Format Element (story, tips, research)
In addition, we know from case studies (Booking.com, Dropbox) that two-sided incentive programs (where both the inviter and the invitee are compensated) for having friends sign up provoke virality as well.
So how can you implement these elements with your travel services?
1. Create an amusing video about your brand like Dollar Shave Club did (below)
2. Embed your service as an add-on to another popular site
3. Involve animals or babies in a video or image about your service
4. Write about a controversial subject (ex. How Donald Trump will use your service to plan his end-of-term vacation in January 2021).
5. Create a referral program that entices your customers to share your service with their circle of influence. Make sure that both the referrer and the referral are compensated
PR (Public Relations)
Customer acquisition in the travel industry can be expensive due to the massive competition involved. So it´s extremely important to take advantage of free customer acquisition channels. Earned media has multiple benefits. Not only do you get in front of the eyes of the followers of a reputable news source, but the content generated by their media coverage of your service can be a great ad campaign as well. It´s so much easier to convince someone who has not heard of your service to use your service by exposing them to reputable media sites that talk about you, instead of you talking about yourself.
So, how can you earn media coverage without paying for it? This has been one of the key factors to Pruvo´s growth over the past 4 years, since we have had over 300 media mentions in 36 countries without paying a dime. While I cannot disclose our “secret sauce” and strategy about obtaining earned media, I can share with you 2 important points:
1. You need to be newsworthy – not all services and products are newsworthy. However, can you create content that is newsworthy? A company that does this real well is TravelgateX, which constantly appear on local Spanish TV channels analyzing travel trends. Think about what data you can extract from your service that can be useful to a media outlet.
2. Build relationships – some of Pruvo´s most notable media mentions came after weeks or months of building a relationship with the relevant journalist. Building a relationship does not mean sending follow up emails every week asking if they are going to publish the article about you! Provide useful information on a consistent basis, and when your service will be relevant to a certain story they are working on, you will remain fresh in their minds.
This is quite different than regular PR, since it does not necessarily involve reaching out to media outlets. The media attention happens by itself since it is so unique. How can you do something outlandish that fits with your product and will draw attention to it? How can you entertain, shock, or amuse while advertising at the same time?
My 2 favorite unconventional PR stunts of all time are the story are:
1. WePay, a PayPal competitor, took advantage of Paypal´s tendency of freezing its members´ accounts by dropping a block of ice with money frozen inside in front of San Francisco’s Moscone Center. This stunt got massive media coverage and increased WePay´s customers count by 225%.
2. Half.com struck a deal with the city of Halfway, Oregon, in which the city would change it´s name to Half.com for a year. This stunt allowed half.com to obtain 40 million media impressions back in 1999, which translated into a huge customer base.
So how can you implement unconventional PR as a travel company? One way is the next time you attend a conference, dress up in costumes relevant to your service. You will probably be the only company dressed in a costume, so for sure you will not go unnoticed.
Search Engine Marketing
Search Engine Marketing allows you to pay per click in order to position your site at the top of search results for certain keywords. Use this strategy if there are certain keywords for which you do not rank for organically. This strategy can be successful as long as you validate that those keywords and the visitors that arrive to your site from those keywords are high intent visitors that convert into customers.
Social and Display Ads
Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Google and Youtube offer endless opportunities to get in front of your customers, where they spend their time the most. Check out tips #6 and #13 in our previous post to learn advanced techniques to apply to your social media campaigns.
B2B travel companies can leverage industry focused magazines to write an editorial or appear in an advertisement slot. If you are a B2C travel company, leverage billboards in affluent areas to attract people to your site. Make sure you make your billboard unique, and heck, why not a bit controversial like Duck Duck Go did.
Search Engine Optimization
The key to mastering search engine optimization and acquiring free online traffic is either having a niche service or focusing on high intent long tail keywords. For a more in depth guide on how to achieve high rankings and appear above travel industry conglomerates, I suggest you read our most popular blog post detailing how your travel company can get on Google's first page in 2020.
Don’t limit yourselves to only written content. Content marketing should be focused on creating material of unique value, regardless of the format. It can be in the form of guides, infographics, "how to" videos and more.
I recently came across the story of Harr Travel, which quickly grew their Youtube following by doing simple but informative videos about life aboard cruise ships.
Another company that does content marketing in an admirable way is Tourwriter. Periodically, they publish extremely useful guides showing stats and practices of what successful travel companies are up to.
Email marketing can be one of your most ROI-positive customer acquisition channels, or, it can also be your #1 cause to customers unsubscribing and marking your emails as spam. Email newsletters are usually too “salesy” or just too boring and repetitious. Don´t believe me? Out of every 10 newsletters you sign up to – how many do you end up unsubscribing to after a month or two? Of the newsletters that you do not unsubscribe from, how many of them do you actually read? Get my point? If you decide to do a newsletter, research about what some of the most successful newsletters in other industries are doing and implement it into your travel business.
Stay tuned, because in a few weeks, Pruvo is going to launch an epic “never before seen in the travel industry” newsletter theme, which will not only have an insanely high open and CTR ratio, but it will be a newsletter that travel industry executives will actually share with their colleagues! DM us to make sure we include you in the distribution list.
Engineering as Marketing
In a previous post on 13 Innovative ideas for travel companies to increase traffic, sales and profits, I discussed how creating “tools” can become one of your highest sources of free organic traffic. This creation of tools for marketing purposes is known as "engineering as marketing". Some everyday examples of these tools are:
Take a look at this last example of the body fat percentage calculator by active.com
Their top 3 pages are all free tools!
Why are these so powerful? Well, for a few reasons. First, they usually answer direct search queries and provide immediate answers. Due to that, the more useful your tool is, the more enticing it will be for the user to share the tool. Not only will more people share it, but many sites will start to link to it as a useful source as well.
So how can travel companies implement this? Well, it all depends on the capabilities of your IT team. Here are some ideas of tools that you can potentially create:
Visa requirement tool – your user enters their passport nationality and their destination, and the tool tells them all of the requirements to enter a certain destination with that passport.
Budget estimation for destinations – your user enters some basic details about their trip destination and the tool provides them with a rough estimate of a daily budget.
Competition comparison calculator – This tool is more suitable for B2B companies. Have your user enter data about certain KPIs (monthly hotel bookings, how many suppliers etc) and the current solution they are using, and share with them the a calculation of how much they will be saving using your solution instead.
Targeting Blogs and Influencers
Do you have a service that can appeal to niche blogs and influencers? If so, there are 2 ways to approach this customer acquisition channel: organically and paid. If you approach this with the intent of obtaining a free mention from a blogger or influencer, you really need to strategize your approach. Bloggers tend to request a fee for everything. So, in order to bypass this, you can try a few approaches:
1. Search for broken links on their sites that are relevant to your service – reach out, notify them about the broken link (a broken link is a link to a URL that no longer exists), and gently offer them to replace it with your company´s URL.
2. Create infographics – search for detailed content on their site that is not backed by images, and convert that content into a breath-taking infographic and send it to them. “I´ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” tends to work well with this approach and there is a high probability that they will mention you thanks to that gesture.
3. Interview them – interview them for a topic and then ask them to share the interview if they like it.
4. Let them test your service for free – if they can try your service out and find the value, they might be willing to review it at no extra cost.
A note of caution in case you decide to approach influencers and are willing to pay for their services. Don´t only evaluate their reach and audience size, but rather, calculate their engagement ratio for their organic posts and their paid partnership posts. Though there are many unknowns when doing this, the best way to go about this is to sum up the comments, views and shares of a certain post and divide it by the total followers. If you can go through the comments and filter out the bot-responses, even better.
Anything below 3% engagement is not even worth considering paying for. Optimally, the minimum should be 5%. Unfortunately, there is usually a huge drop off in engagement when the influencers add a #sponsored or #ad to the post. If possible, try to negotiate a way out of them adding any notification that this is a paid post.
The next two customer acquisition channels are business development and sales. Though similar, they are separated since business development is the process of finding the match between a product (or solution) and a segment in the market, while sales is the process of systematically generating revenue with the product (solution).
What does your company do exceptionally well that can bring value to another company (and their customers) and that they aren´t doing? Business development has been a growth catalyst for Pruvo, thanks to our partnerships with tens of IT Hubs, including TravelgateX, DCS Plus, Ofimatica, Parsec and many more.
These partnerships are a great example of how business development can be a win-win-win situation: The IT hubs win because they can now offer their customers a service that will help them increase their profitability, the IT hubs´ customers win because they can use Pruvo´s post hotel booking profit optimization service without any integration costs and Pruvo wins because we can easily on-board customers that use these IT Hubs in order to connect to hotel suppliers.
When approaching sales, remember that there are multiple ways to increase sales:
Acquiring more customers
Increasing the frequency of purchase
Increasing the purchase volume
Focus on developing a strategic sales plan for each one of these 3, instead of only focusing on acquiring new customers.
Depending on the product or service, this acquisition channel can be gold. Think about it, why are e-commerce conversions low and B2B sales cycles so slow? It´s lack of trust! But, if your product can be offered to your target audience by someone they ALREADY trust, conversions will be much higher. Booking.com and Airbnb have grown exponentially through their affiliate program.
Develop your own affiliate program. Offer a generous payout to your affiliates – remember, they have many other services they can promote besides yours.
How can you take advantage of existing platforms with their existing audience in order to attract customers to your service? Besides the common social media outlets, is your service is suitable for platforms like Capterra, Udemy, Podcasts, Chrome Web Store, Amazon, and more? A great example of how this has been applied in the travel industry is Airbnb. Airbnb used to publish their listings on Craigslist, a popular, free classified ads portal, which initially was their main channel for customer acquisition.
Oh trade shows…remember those? Though it´s unclear as to when we will go back to assisting global trade shows in person (aren´t you tired of all these virtual conferences too?), one thing for sure is this. When assisting a trade show, be proactive before, during and after the show. Pruvo only assists trade shows and conferences that offer a pre-event networking platform, which allows us to reach out to participants and schedule in-event meetings. During the event – get out of your booth. If you assist an event alone, don´t even get a booth. And after the event, make sure to follow up with all the people you met in the event, and also those who you didn´t meet with.
Don´t wait for a trade show, in order to organize an event! What can you do locally that will gather your target audience and allow you to gain visibility while promoting your service? Pruvo has implemented this method quite a lot, by organizing many events in Latin America focused on “Budget Travel using Technology”. This allowed us to be in front of our end customer for our B2C service, while providing them with a ton of value, besides using Pruvo. If you are a B2B travel company, can you organize a meet and greet with other companies in your industry?
Speaking engagements not only act as a customer acquisition channel during the event, but also afterwards. First, you build a reputation as an industry authority. Second, Linkedin loves photos of speaking engagements – it makes you look important and appear as someone that should be taken seriously. Posting photos of speaking events tend to lead to more invitations for more speaking events. So you see, the point is to get the ball rolling, so that slowly you will start appearing in important industry events. Establishing yourself as an industry authority will generate new leads and shorten sales cycles.
How can you get the ball rolling? Chambers of Commerce and Universities are always looking for interesting topics. Create a speech (no more than 10% of the speech should be focused on your solution) that is of high interest to the potential audience. Keep that up, from one event to another, and soon you will be invited as a keynote speaker in ITB Berlin.
Community is power. How and where can you create a community of your users? Trip Advisor has done this tremendously well, with their destination experts and rewarding users to leave reviews. If you are a B2B travel company, think how you can create a community with companies and startups which can potentially use your service. Make sure to that there is no self-promotion within the community, just a genuine desire to mutually help each other and grow together.
Customer acquisition is much more than ad campaigns and Facebook posts. If you are going to do what everyone is doing, you will encounter endless competition, which usually means higher customer acquisition costs and less conversions. But if you expand your horizon of customer acquisition channels, you will find amazing growth opportunities for your travel business.