12:02PM January 28 2013

Do Travel Brands Need to Be ‘Always On’?

The fragmentation of media over the past few decades has been well documented. It used to be relatively straightforward for mainstream advertisers: make a TV ad, put it on ITV and reach almost half of the population with your message – easy.

It was a similar story with the travel industry. Even before cheap flights gave Brits access to ‘The Continent’, Christmas would finish, January would swing around – time to order the holiday brochures. Options would be perused and selected, be it a holiday park in Cornwall or more recently, a Mediterranean or long haul destination. Then it was time to contact the travel agent and book. Sometimes this decision-making process was undertaken before Christmas, but almost always by February, giving the prospective holiday-maker at least six months to look forward to their trip (because everyone went away in July or August, even if they didn’t have kids!).

From a travel advertising point of view, this made things easy, January was the big month. In the context of the traditional purchase funnel, this led to awareness, consideration, preference then purchase – all concentrated into a one-month period. Not much debate where to focus your advertising budget then.

Fast forward to 2013 and the landscape for the travel industry is much different. Notwithstanding the more recent impact of the recession on holiday trends (such as the growth of the ‘Staycation’), the broader trend has seen cheaper travel, higher levels of affluence, and digital media changing people’s behaviours for good.

Data from TGI illustrates this, the latest figures show that over half of those who took a holiday abroad of more than five days booked just 3 months before or sooner.

A breakdown of when holidays were taken shows that whilst July and August are still the most popular months, the distribution of when people take holidays throughout the year is much more even than it once was.

So like the ITV TV spot that reached 18million+ people in one hit, the days of capturing the majority of holiday-makers in the January booking window is a distant memory. Yet when you look advertising expenditure patterns within the Travel and Transport category, January (and Quarter 1 as a whole) still proportionately has a large amount of investment compared to the rest of the year.

Of course January is still an important month, but digital media has changed the nature of the purchase funnel, so that awareness, consideration and preference are being influenced throughout the year.

This calls for travel brands to adapt their marketing strategies to reflect consumer behaviour. An ongoing dialogue is needed with consumers rather than appearing once a year and expecting the consumer to ‘get’ their brand.

This approach reflects the fundamental principle behind ‘Always On’. The theory here is that in this digital age we build relationships with brands the same way we build relationships with people. As Paul Adams writes ‘we don’t suddenly become close friends overnight. We become close friends through many, lightweight interactions over time’.  

This is what modern consumer brands need to do to remain (or become) relevant to their consumers and with the dispersion of decision-making across the year in the travel market, it becomes a powerful strategy for those willing to embrace it.

Posted by: at 12:02pm January 28 2013 | Permalink