PRODUCT VS. EXPERIENCES
We’re in the business of making memories and a tourism brand is largely build via the stories people share through word of mouth and in social media. The implication is that the tourism industry needs to stop believing they’re selling products and start understanding they need to sell experiences.
A stay in a hotel is more than a room to sleep in. A visit to a restaurant is more than a meal. A visit to a museum is more than looking at art. It’s the same reason why Apple has turned unpacking their products into an experience. It’s why Starbucks can charge way more for coffee than McDonalds.
Selling products is a race to the bottom, selling experiences a race to the top. Just read the Experience Economy again. Experiences aren’t just the way customers interact with your staff. It includes every touchpoint from the moment somebody books to moment they’ve left.
I’ve been designing online experiences for more than a decade. Interaction design and Information Architecture are well established methodologies and processes. They’re user centred and based on bringing relevant content and services to target audiences in an easy and useful way. The processes are based on keeping a relentless focus on the end user, prototyping, testing, measuring and iterating. Personas, paper prototyping, usability tests and web analytics are all tools in the toolbox to make a good interactive experience.
Why wouldn’t you use the same methodologies and processes in the offline world?
DESIGNING TOURISM EXPERIENCES
Designing offline experiences isn’t something new. Just look at any of the Disney theme-parks The experience is managed completely from the moment you walk in until you leave. There’s a whole Imagineering department responsible for this and the results show. Disney is recognized as the gold standard in theme parks and are the most visited tourism attractions around the world.
DMOs should take Disney’s example and view their DMO through the same lens. Transportation, safety, cleanliness, friendliness of locals and signage all play part in the destination experience. Even though a DMO has nowhere near the control of a Disney theme park, it makes sense to strive to make the destination experience best it can be. By Nett Promotor Score (NPS) as a measure you can predict growth.
Designing experiences and managing the destination experience is starting to gain traction and the discipline is called Service Design. I’m not crazy about the term because it can easily be confused with customer service but it is what it is. There’s a good book called This is Service Design Thinking that explains service design in detail and provides the tools and processes a service designer needs.Technology tools are becoming available and conferences are being organized.
We’ve started doing service design work with clients. It’s a great fit with our company because it uses a similar approach to designing digital experiences. And because the customer experience is the start of social conversations, there’s a natural alignment with social media.
I wrote this post as a guest post on the TBEX blog.
Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) have hosted influencers for a long time. It used to be the exclusive territory of travel journalists. They were courted, invited and hosted in order to generate awareness and consideration for a destination.
In order to measure this PR most DMOs used the “Advertising Value Equivalency” (AVE). You take the size of the produced piece, use the equivalent cost of running an ad of the same size in the publication, apply a multiplying factor because editorial is more credible and there’s your equivalent value of “free” advertising.
Most people in the PR industry agree that AVE is significantly flawed. But for years, it’s all we had. It was simple and easy to calculate – and at least it was consistent, something we could monitor over time, and benchmark against the competition. At least that was something.
There’s no such direct measure for blogger-based campaigns at the moment. Keith (Velvet Escape) and Melvin (Traveldudes) presented a first draft of a method calculating the value of a blog at a TBEX session in Girona. It was loosely based on AVE and an attempt to quantify the value of a post in dollars.
I applaud the attempt because at least it will provide DMOs with some guidance and offer benchmarking possibilities. But I’m not a fan of trying to use an old-media method that’s already shaky at best and applying it to a new world model in order find a social media equivalent for it. It assumes a specific blogger will provide equal value to all destinations and that’s simply not true.
There are a multitude of travel blogs out there, and with careful research, we can unearth a blog and a writer who has the best fit with a specific destination and its objectives. Often we end up bringing bloggers who have a specific skill or niche. And when we bring a group of bloggers together, the composition of that group, the mesh of personalities, matters.
It’s not just the size of a blogger’s audience that’s important, but the likelihood of delivering a relevant, credible, and authentic message to their network. Passion speaks volumes. We need to believe that their message will influence a reader’s travel decisions.
At Think! we love working with bloggers because they are, generally speaking, very passionate and excellent creators of content. We work with dozens of DMOs around the world, helping them arrange blog trips, and we involve bloggers in many of our campaigns. We tie the way we measure a campaign involving bloggers to the specific marketing objectives.
We research, identify, and approach the right bloggers for the campaign, assist with the trip planning, and provide consultancy to clients on how to make these travel (or cultural) writers feel most engaged or valued.
Through our work we know many bloggers and we hope we have developed a good reputation amongst them. Because we have these relationship it makes it easier and easier to find the right bloggers for our projects.
In 2010 I wrote that Tripadvisor’s integration of Facebook connect offered a glimpse into the future. Well the future is here.
Graph Search, announced yesterday by Facebook, is a new way of searching. It’s using taking your social graph and the content shared on Facebook as the basis of relevancy. Graph Search will allow you to search for things based on your personal network of friends, your ‘friends-of-friends’ or Facebook users in general.
You can soon search on Facebook for “restaurants in San Francisco liked by people who live in San Francisco”.
Or ”restaurants in San Francisco my friends like”.
Or “restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends who live in San Francisco.”
Or “Restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends from India”
The possibilities are endless.
The travel decision process is going to be massively influenced when Facebook users adopt this kind of functionality. Because travel product is a heavy used item on Facebook. People check in, share photos and like places they’ve been all the time.
A whole new world of discovery and travel inspiration might open up. Imagine searching for ”Places people check-in who like scuba diving”
Or “Cities people check-in who like art”
Or “festivals people like who like Greenday”
Or “pictures from my friends in Berlin”
Yesterday I also read a nice post by a Techcrunch writer about a recent frustrating trip to the new MySpace. This part caught my attention and made me think.
A Techcrunch writer is obviously ahead of the curve. But what’s happening here is that people are starting to expect websites to personalize based on their previous behaviour and what they or their friends like on Facebook.
I remember being freaked out when Amazon recommended me books based on my previous purchases. Or when a laptop bag followed me around the internet thanks to remarketing. But that’s a long time ago. I don’t get freaked out anymore. We’ve gotten used to it. We even like it. We get mad when we see ads that aren’t relevant. And Facebook’s Graph Search might just deliver exactly the functionality at the right time. And travel and tourism marketing will never be the same. You better get ready.
A destination brand is shaped by the stories people tell each other. Consumers will share stories about their experiences. Do it right and they’ll do the marketing for you. Under deliver and they will become detractors. It’s the role of the DMO to lead the collection of stakeholders to market to the right people and deliver remarkable experiences.
Fortunately a visitor’s experience is one of the few things a DMO and it’s stakeholders have control over. And NPS, or Nett Promoter Score is the perfect way to measure and benchmark this. NPS measures customer satisfaction by answering one question - How likely is it that you would recommend [brand xyz] to a friend or colleague? On a zero to ten scale, people who score a 9 or 10 are promoters, they will recommend your destination. People who score a 7 or 8 are passive while people who score between 0 and 6 are detractors. They will tell others not to go. When you subtract the number of detractors from your promoters you end up with your Nett Promoter score.
There’s a lot of evidence that a high NPS is a strong indicator for corporate growth. Southwest is known for it’s friendly staff and business practices. It stands out from most other airlines in the US. Southwest built a customer centered culture and considers ”a high NPS indicates a strong competitive advantage“. They have posted 39 years of consecutive profits and this blog posts quantifies the results of their customer service efforts.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have concluded that every DMO should measure NPS. Because not only is NPS a good indicator of future growth, it will also get staff and stakeholders to focus on the consumer and the customer experience.
Managing your destinations reputation is more important than ever. And it’s a collective responsibility. Use NPS to measure and benchmark it. Read The Ultimate Question to learn more about NPS.
At Think! we love working with bloggers because they are, generally speaking, very passionate and excellent creators of content. We work with dozens of DMOs around the world, helping them arrange blog trips and we involve bloggers in many of our campaigns.
About a month ago I attended the 2012 Digital Tourism Innovation Campus in Barcelona. Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere presented. Gary is one of the biggest travel bloggers out there and he’s permanently on the road. Gary laid out the business case for working with bloggers in these two simple slides.
Pretty straight forward isn’t it?
There’s more good info in his full presentation below.
Happy New Year everybody! Here are three things off the top of my head that are important things to consider for 2013. Do you have any more?
1) PUT SOCIAL AT THE CORE
I think it’s pretty clear by now that social media has a major impact on the travel decision making process. If your tourism business or DMO hasn’t realized this yet you better catch up. You should be at level 3 or higher by now.
Most marketers think of social media as an add-on to a traditional campaign, or at least start with traditional thinking. It’s time to flip it around. Start with a social idea and support it with traditional methods. Or do traditional things in a social way. For example, we recently worked with a DMO who let it’s Facebook community vote on what photos would be published in it’s visitor guide.
2) START USING SERVICE DESIGN
Mitigating a mediocre experience with brilliant marketing doesn’t cut it anymore. The experience IS your marketing and the stories your visitors tell each other is what it’s all about. You have two choices. First choice is to join the race to the bottom and keep offering specials, discounts and special offers. The second one is to create remarkable experiences people love and want to be part of, regardless of what it costs.
If your choice is the latter, you need to start thinking about service design. When you’re an operator you need to start thinking about the end-to-end experience you offer your guest. When you are a DMO you need to think about the end-to-end destination experience. Service design is gaining a lot of momentum in Europe, especially in Austria where destinations are starting to take an active role in the design of the destination experience.
3) MOBILE: THINK DEVICE PLUS CONTEXT
I was on a panel at a conference in Barcelona recently and somebody asked about mobile. Before I could even think about it I said “it’s not about mobile, it’s about device + context”. I probably heard it somewhere before but I have never really thought about it like that. But it’s true. Whether you build a desktop site, a mobile site, an adaptive site or an app, it’s not the device that’s important. It’s the context of use.
When you search google maps, it takes into account your device, where you are and what date and time it is. That’s the context of your usage and the information you get back takes that into account. You need to so the same thing. A consumer accessing your content at home is looking for very different things than a consumer walking down the street in your destination.
Now here’s the kicker. Often that means people use another website than yours. Somebody walking down the street looking for a restaurant is going to use Google Maps, Yelp or Tripadvisor, not a DMO website. Even a consumer planning as trip might never even make in onto your website (hello travel bloggers). Your content online strategy needs to include content on third party websites. From inspiration to transaction. Just like we used to do it in the 90s with travel guides and tour operator brochures.
I thought that most AirBnB users were looking for cheap accommodations. They’re not.
Some (AirBnB funded) research in San Francisco concludes that AirBnB customers spend more money in destination. And the money (minus a commission) goes directly to the host.
The econonomic benefits are also distributed throughout the destination.
Primary reason for travel
People live in incredible places or have done amazing things with spaces. And through AirBnB travellers can now access them. You can stay
You get my drift. There are some incredible private places for rent and people will travel just to stay there. Consumers are also shifting and are looking for unique and authentic experiences. Staying in a local neighbourhood or in somebody’s house is meeting that need.
I’ve never seen a DMO promote an AirBnB listing (or one of their competitors). Not even a very unique one. Don’t they take it seriously because it’s unconventional, because it’s a disruptor of their funding model or because hotel stakeholders are seeing it as a threat? Either way, the economic benefits are there and I think it’s a powerful tool in the toolbox that shouldn’t be ignored.
I’m not a foodie. But I like food. I like cooking. I like to eat good food. I like authentic experiences. I like holes in the wall. I once drove 5 hours to eat deep fried cheese. And when I was in LA last month I drove an hour to visit the Kogi food truck (photo). But I don’t really watch food shows, read food blogs or base every restaurant I visit on reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor.
I have friends for that.
My friend Stephanie is a foodie. She tries crazy recipes and knows about all the new and hot restaurants in town. And beyond. There aren’t a lot of cities I travel to where she doesn’t know of someplace amazing.
Stephanie is not a big food influencer. She doesn’t blog, doesn’t take photos of her food, she doesn’t pin food recipes. She does influence her friends though. In person or on Facebook. And if she recommends a restaurant, I’m going.
I’m not a foodie. But I’m influenced by one.
Stephanie in turn, is influenced by a host of people who share her obsession with food. She’s part of a passionate community of foodies. A lot of her friends are foodies, she watches Food TV, reads a lot of food blogs, is active on Chow and follows celebrity chefs on Twitter.
Stephanie is a foodie. She makes her decisions based on information from influencers in the foodie community.
The example above is the essence of modern tourism marketing. Restaurants will get people like me in the door because I’m influenced by a foodie, who in turn is influenced by leaders in the foodie community.
As a marketer, you need to approach this in reverse. Activate the influencers who connect with the passionate community, who in turn connect with consumers at large.
This works for any kind of niche. Hiking, skiing, modern art, theatre, gambling, roller coasters, etc. There are thousands of passionate communities and each community, large or small, has influencers. It’s just a matter of activating it.
As a tourism marketer you need to identify your niches and ensure the delivery of your experience is remarkable so people will recommend your destination or product. It will start a cascading effect that produces long term results.
Imagine you had to start a DMO. Your DMO. You have been given the same budget and must start from scratch. Would your DMO look exactly the same as it does now? The same departments, same positions? The same budget allocations? The same marketing tactics?
The internet, and social media in particular, have completely changed tourism marketing. Forever. People might not talk on Facebook about which fabric softener they use or which soft drink they prefer, but everybody talks about their travels. Social media sophistication is crucial to modern marketing. Yet the tourism industry is way behind.
We have worked with dozens of DMOs around the world, ranging from very small to very large. And we have spoken to hundreds more. Based on our conversations and experiences we have identified the following levels for social media adoption and integration into the organization.
1) Ignoring social media
This level represents DMOs who are not active at all in social media. Social media is seen more as a threat than an opportunity.
Characteristics you can find at this level are:
Two years ago, there were many DMOs at this level, but by today most have moved on. Most DMOs that remain here are tied to very restrictive government policies.
2) Experimenting with social media
DMOs experiment with social media without a specific strategy through random tactics.
Characteristics you can find at this level are:
There are still a lot of DMOs operating at this level. It often takes a noticeable event to move them to the next level. This could be spurred by a social media success internally or by the DMO next door. For example, a rival’s viral YouTube video or growing number of Facebook fans.
3) Social media supporting marketing campaigns
Due to a lack of strategic knowledge, DMOs incorporate social media in paid, outbound marketing campaigns. Often this is an add-on to traditional marketing campaigns, such as a YouTube channel showing videos originally made for TV or using Facebook and Twitter to broadcast campaign messaging.
Characteristics you can find at this level are:
Most DMOs operate at this level, sometimes with some additional effort to keep Facebook and Twitter going year-round. Often the level of success depends on the sophistication of one or two staff members.
DMOs at this level want to succeed but cannot break out of the traditional way of doing business. Getting to level four is usually achieved by having a strong social media success as part of a bigger initiative or having an epiphany that social requires a different way of thinking. Usually, level two experiments continue alongside level three activity.
4) Following a social media strategy
This level is typified by a DMO having a social media strategy in place or having social media integrated into its marketing strategy. The DMO still believes that it is in full control of the destination brand.
Characteristics you can find at this level are:
Leading DMOs have entered this level. Over the next few years we expect a rush of DMOs moving here. DMOs that enter level four first are the ones with less restraining operating environments (such as funding) with innovative leaders and marketing managers.
5) Embracing the social business model
The level five social business recognizes that the destination’s story and reputation are based on visitors’ experiences at every touch point during their trips (see point 1 in “Top 5 Wrong Assumptions in Destination Marketing”). This DMO knows and accepts that it is no longer in control of the destination story. It recognizes and acts on the need to collaborate closely with its industry, residents, influencers and visitors, and that it must change the way success is measured.
The level five DMO starts with the core of the passions that make a destination relevant and leads all partners that have an impact on those experiences. The sole focus is on delivering outstanding visitor experiences that are unique to the destination, and then making it easy for visitors to share these experiences in their own voices.
As painful as it may be, the DMO re-organizes, ending much of its old way of doing business. Staff is re-trained and assigned to new activities.
Characteristics you can find at this level are:
We’re not aware of any DMOs at level five. We have spoken to many DMO executives who know they need to get here and want to get here. Often, their funding models or destination-specific politics stand in the way.
The DMO closest to a level five we are familiar with is Visit Sørlandet in Southern Norway. As a newly created regional DMO, this organization quickly realized it would be impossible to build a Southern Norway brand the traditional way. By creating a strategy based on collaborating with local DMOs and industry members to improve the visitor experience and elevate the collective digital marketing efforts, Visit Sørlandet is building it’s brand through every touchpoint while growing repeat visitation and encouraging word-of-mouth.
For many DMOs that have not reached level four, level five may seem pie in the sky. But the further you move your DMO through the levels, the more you realize just how much the world has changed and the true impact this has. Once you enter level four, you can see level five. It is no longer pie in the sky. It is tomorrow.
At what level is your DMO?
Your DMO’s current level is not a sign of success or failure. Every DMO is different. Politics and funding models have a big impact. So does the size and scope of a DMO. A country DMO is different from a city DMO. This affects specific marketing strategies and tactics.
It is also not a race. It is a process that organizations need to go through. Some might skip a step. For others, the levels could overlap. But in order for DMOs to stay relevant and effective, they need to climb up.
We have worked with DMOs in all shapes and sizes at every level of this process. We enjoy helping DMOs make the climb.
We have conducted audits, started Facebook pages, trained staff, implemented social media as part of bigger campaigns, run social campaigns, created strategies, helped to define entire business plans centered around social principles and much more.
Inventing the future
Alan Kay, the inventor of the GUI and object-oriented programming once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Instead of all DMOs trying to invent level 5 independently, we think the best future is that we all invent it together and collectively stay relevant. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
As always, thanks for all my Think! coworkers for their contributions in creating this post
Conferences are inherently social. People gather to learn and discuss topics that they are passionate about with people who care as much about it as they do. Yet the way conferences are created and promoted are incredibly traditional.
There’s a better way: bake social into the conference.
A good example is the Social Media Tourism Symposium Think!’s very own Dave Serino started in 2010. The mission statement describes what the conference is all about:
The symposium is a combination of destination marketing organizations, hotels, resorts, attractions and any other tourism related entities sharing ideas and learning more about how social media is effecting promotion within the travel industry.
What makes this conference unique is the involvement of attendees throughout the entire process. Attendees will have a voice in everything from the location to the session topics and presenters.
By involving the people who care about the subject matter in the planning process, Dave creates a conference that is more relevant and, therefore, more likely to be attended by the people who helped create it. Because all of this happens in social media, people who care are also promoters of the event.
For example, the destination selection process is driven by the SoMeT Facebook community. DMOs respond to an RFP and the Facebook community votes where the conference is going to be held. The 2012 selection process is entering the final stages.
In the process, people also get to know each other. They make friends online and want to attend the conference to meet those new friends.
This is what conferences are all about. Going to a cool place, learning relevant things and meeting new friends. By baking social media into the conference itself (instead of looking at it as an advertising vehicle) you make conferences more relevant with attendees who feel strongly connected and want to help make the event a success.