Marketers of travel-related services were among the first to bear the brunt of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic as worldwide restrictions were put in place. As restrictions ease, consumers have been looking for ways to travel closer to home.
For travel destinations, digital advertising strategies can vary greatly. While the strategies are different, the one thing they all have in common is the value of precise audience targeting and drive results.
We sat down with Andy Rupert at Madden Media to better understand how they put together digital advertising strategies for their travel destination clients.
Let’s start with an explanation of your role at Madden Media.
Andy Rupert: I am a Media Specialist at Madden Media. In my role, I am creating and managing digital campaigns for destination marketing organizations across the United States. My clients I work with are literally from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. We do a lot of work in SEM, video, display, native, and others to get the most out of campaigns for our clients.
From your point of view, what impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on travel behaviors for consumers?
Before working at Madden Media I worked at a destination marketing organization (DMO), so more at the ground level directly with partners in a destination. Obviously, when the news of the virus first came out people were understandably afraid. When that happened much of the interest in travel plummeted. If you can’t get someone to leave their house for groceries, how do you expect to get them to travel?
As more information has come out and the vaccine has started to roll out you’ve seen a lot of the travel research picking back up closer to normal levels. There is simply a lot of pent-up desire to travel and be somewhere other than your home or town. A lot of people are planning that next weekend trip or next week-long trip to experience something new. This period of time is a great opportunity for brands to be creative and catch the eye of potential travelers with disposable income.
What kind of strategies and tactics do you use for your travel destination clients?
We really push for quality over quantity at Madden Media. So not only do we want to uplift a brand to make it more recognizable, but getting visitors to websites to have high-quality visits. In that, I’m looking at 3+ minute long sessions on the website or 4+ pages per session. We really want consumers to dig into a destination to find enough cool things for them to really consider a trip to a destination.
We use a large variety of actual tactics because DMO’s aren’t a cookie-cutter approach. There are different sized DMO’s and in different parts of the country. Every destination has different “wow” factor assets in their backyard that appeal to different niches of audiences. The first thing you have to understand is what makes the destination you are working with great. What do consumers already know about the destination? You rope in consumers with what they know, then tell them what they don’t.
How have these strategies and tactics changed over the last year?
Obviously, the way we live our lives is different and the way we consume content. It has to be an incredible year if you worked at a streaming service or a video meeting company.
There seems to be more sensitivity given to the consumer now than there was before. This is because there are different levels of comfort with getting back into travel. Some people are ready to dive right back into the deep end of the pool and there are others that just want to dip their toes in. You have to be sensitive to that and also knowledgeable about the standards set in place by local and state governments. You need to craft a message that resonates with both audiences.
How has Choozle helped you execute your campaigns and strategies for your clients?
In Choozle, we’re looking to elevate a brand’s awareness more than anything. A client I worked with recently was Luzerne County, PA. They are located smack-dab in the middle of one of the busiest and most populated pockets of the country. Just a couple of hours from Philly or NYC.
Obviously, they are surrounded by some pretty big destinations and brands. They are located next door to the Pocono Mountains, which have long been a destination for people escaping the city. Luzerne County offers something a little bit different than either the major cities or the Poconos and there is an audience for that. We ran several different campaigns for Luzerne County and had terrific success in not only creating brand awareness but also creating quality clicks to their website in a way they may never have had before.
Choozle was definitely a key piece in that story of driving awareness for a destination that is just a short drive away and has a lot to offer.
What are some of the benefits of being able to target specific audiences?
I think the days of a blanketed general message are over. Consumers fit into very specific niches. At Madden, we focus more on intent-based advertising than we do on demographics as you’ve traditionally seen brands do. We want to tap into those desires more so than try to draw up a visual of what we think the audience would look like. You could be a 23-year-old young professional or an 82-year-old grandmother and enjoy a brewery visit. You could be a 27-year-old single grad student or be planning a family trip and enjoy a relaxing trip to a lake. We keep focused on the intent and desires.
How have these strategies helped improve your campaigns and performance?
I feel that we get a better audience that is genuinely interested in our campaign when we focus on intent and quality web visits over vanity metrics such as clicks or impressions. At a DMO, I would have easily traded 10 okay clicks for one great web visit that could lead to a consumer requesting more info or making a trip. When you focus on quality you build a stronger community that wants to listen to what your destination has to say.
What are some of the challenges you face when implementing digital advertising?
I think that destinations have to be realistic that we are not, and I hate this term, but “one-stop shops”. You have to be very honest about what you do better than any of your immediate competitors and drive that home to the right niche audience. A million places have hiking trails, a lake, or a new hip brewery. What assets are head over shoulders more impressive than your neighboring regions?
Taking that message of why you’re great for that specific audience and delivering on that promise is what creates great traction. Choozle comes in as a great platform to drive those arguments home to the right people, with the right intents, at the right time.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other marketing professionals looking to come up with strategies for travel destinations?
I would say you are best served to pour your efforts and money into a few targeting tactics you do really well and support your region’s assets. Rather than sprinkling money around to 10-12 routes, really pour it into 3-4 that support your business goals.
Be very clear about what your business goals are and have the measurement tools in place before you turn on those campaigns. If you aren’t seeing the results you want from an outlet, do be afraid to switch up creative or a tactic.
Any final thoughts?
Don’t be afraid to be different from other travel brands. So many places try to replicate something they saw someone else do when they should just be authentic and unique.