By Matt White
Recently, I spoke to an industry forum about travel
trade advertising and why it works. The premise of my speech was that
for the most part, it doesn't! You see, most of the dollars spent on
travel trade advertising are a complete waste of money.
Why? Most travel trade advertising is too consumer
Many advertisers make the mistake of thinking that
the features and benefits that appeal to consumers will appeal to travel
agents as well. In fact, agents are much more interested in what a given
product will do for their business, and how it will affect the satisfaction
of their customers.
Travel agents are your sales force; not your ultimate
consumer. This means their wants and needs are quite different. Think
about it. Consumers tend to look for deals; they want the most travel
for the least money. Travel agents want to make these consumers happy,
but they need to sell products that earn big commissions or they'll
be out of business. If you try to use the same message to reach both
agents and consumers, chances are, you'll appeal to neither.
To be successful in advertising, you've got to know
what your customers want to hear and then deliver it. That's why the
E. James White Company commissioned a study with Plog Research to find
out exactly what travel agents are most interested in.
The first information came as no surprise. 83% of
agents said they wanted travel trade advertising targeted specifically
to them. Take any typical consumer vacation ad. You'll see they tend
to feature big packages at small prices. From an agent's perspective,
this is an immediate turnoff. They can't make money selling cheap packages.
However, a smart advertiser could take the same package and direct it
at the trade by highlighting the commission an agent could earn, along
with all the add-on opportunities a vacation offers. This sends the
agent a very different message: vacation sales present the opportunity
to earn real money.
Agents are looking for trade advertising to convince
them of the relevance of products and services by pointing out direct
benefits or rewards solely for them. Tell them how much commission they
can earn by selling your package. Show them why their customers will
be happy when they buy your package. Offer them the opportunity to learn
more, and give them a direct way to get in touch with you. Whatever
you tell them, make sure it is information they want to hear.
In the Plog study, we found out that what agents
are interested in depends on the characteristics of the agency. For
example, large volume travel agencies focus on different issues than
smaller agencies, and corporate travel agencies have different concerns
than leisure agencies. In general, you'll find that travel agencies
seek products and services that benefit them directly, such as familiarization
trips, or indirectly by appealing to their clients.
Our survey shows that familiarization trips (or
"fam" trips) lead all other topics in interest among most
agencies large and small, followed by educational and training seminars
and programs on client satisfaction. Why? Travel agents are looking
for ways to increase their value to customers. While big commissions
and cash bonuses are appealing in the short run, happy customers are
even more so. The best way to keep customers happy is by demonstrating
superior product knowledge.
It is interesting to note that as agencies grow,
their interest seems to shift. Agencies with revenue greater than $5
million place higher emphasis on volume sales rewards, and mid-sized
agencies place and rank fam trips #1. I think this is a reflection of
the fact that larger agencies deal with a more transient sales force.
But no matter how large the agency, travel agents tend to hold their
own interest at bay, placing agency incentives behind special offers
and discounts that will benefit a large number of their clients.
We asked agents what types of information interested
them. Did they want to know about discounts and special offers? New
packages to destinations? Fam trip programs? Again, the answer varied
depending on their size and business mix. For example, cruise discounts
ranked #1 with leisure-focused agencies while corporate-focused agencies
were more interested in the latest airfare discounts. Among all agencies,
these types of promotional offers were followed in importance by information
on new packages, agency incentive programs and familiarization trip
What does this tell you? If you don't have a specific
promotional offer that will entice the travel agents' clients and thus
contribute to volume sales, your next best bet is an incentive program
that will generate trial among agents.
Logically this leads to the next question. What
incentives appeal to agents? Do they really work? Are these programs
an effective use of marketing dollars?
Plog looked at programs that travel agents had participated
in the past year. Airline promotions and discounts clearly lead all
other items in preference. Car rental incentives and tour package sales
incentives ranked second and third, with resort incentives and hotel
sweepstakes ranking last.
Does this mean that suppliers other than airlines
should forget incentive programs? Absolutely not. What this does point
out is the value of structuring partnership arrangements, where you
can leverage your own sales by offering popular incentives that a partner
can bring to the mix. For example, we put together a program with Alamo
Rental Cars and Spiegel that offered agents an opportunity to earn merchandise
from Spiegel every time they booked a car. We later put together a similar
promotion with Hertz and JC Penney. Both were fabulously successful;
in fact, the Alamo promotion generated $6 million in incremental revenues.
Equally important to presenting relevant messages
and appealing incentives is choosing the right medium for the message.
So we asked travel agents if there were particular information sources
that are more useful to them than others. Which media should you select?
The answer is, it depends-the best avenues vary by type of agency as
well as the type of information presented. That's why you need to look
not only at advertising, but at an integrated marketing campaign that
takes advantage of traditional and non-traditional media.
Out of nine distribution channels, agents prefer
to receive information by mail. This is followed by a personal visit
from a sales rep or company sponsored sales promotion such as a breakfast
seminar. Next come faxes, followed by trade advertising. Telephone sales
are a distant sixth, followed by consumer ads, CRS bulletins and e-mail.
Again, these results clearly demonstrate the importance
of a targeted integrated marketing program encompassing the use of direct
mail, sales promotions, travel trade ads, and promotional faxes-all
designed to break through the clutter of information tossed at agents.
Why do agents prefer some methods over others? Take
personal visits, for example. Agents felt they represent the best way
to get through the clutter of information tossed at them-an average
of 4,000 messages at any given time! In spite of efforts spent on telemarketing,
agents simply do not believe that telephone calls substitute for personal
You should also note the low value placed on consumer
advertising by all agencies. They just don't give it much credence.
So if you're running your consumer ads in the trades, it's a waste of
money. Better you should spend your marketing dollars on relevant messages
delivered through media that makes a difference.
Depending upon what you're selling, different mediums
do, indeed, work more effectively. For example, faxes are the preferred
method for specific promotional information, particularly discounts
and special offers, outweighing other media alternatives by numbers
as large as 5 to 1. This is because quick timing is an important issue.
Agents are most interested in cruise discounts and special offers-a
tell-tale sign that they're looking for income sources to make up the
difference in the loss of airline commissions.
Does this mean you should limit your spending to
faxes? Absolutely not. Faxes are a great support mechanism, but it still
takes an integrated effort to break through the clutter. And depending
on your message, another media may be preferred.
For example, when it comes to new package information
on destinations, agents prefer mail, sales rep visits or video. Here
are messages that need visual support to enhance sales. Agents want
to see what a new property looks like. They want to be able to describe
it to their customers. The more visual support you can provide through
your sales reps, your advertising and your sales support collateral,
the bigger the potential payoff can be.
So what can you do with this information? And how
can use it to grow your business?
First, make sure your messages are relevant to your
target audience. Use your advertising to show you understand their business,
and even the problems they are facing (i.e., commission reductions).
Smart advertisers are already running ads to sympathize with their new
financial plight. They are pledging support and reminding them of alternative
opportunities with higher commissions.
Second, develop campaigns that are of interest to
the travel agent. Remember that their needs differ from those of consumers.
Advertise your packages and arm your travel agents with the tools they
need to sell to consumers.
Third, offer incentives knowing that discounts and
special offers appeal to agents. Seek out unique and exciting partnership
opportunities to take advantage of the incentive travel agents prefer
Finally, educate your agents. Make sure they understand
why their customers will want to buy your product. No one knows your
product better than you. Explain it and educate them the same same way
you would your direct sales force. Convince agents that their clients
will be happy with your product and they can make money selling it.
There has never been a better time to focus on the
travel trade. The industry is clearly at a crossroads and agents are
desperate for new income opportunities. Motivate travel agents like
you would your own sales force with a targeted integrated travel trade
campaign and the revenue results should speak for themselves.
You can have the best of both worlds: a brilliant
consumer campaign and an equally brilliant trade campaign. But sometimes
it takes working with two agencies-a travel trade specialist and a consumer
specialist-then you have an advertising agency that truly understands
what makes each audience tick.