Thanks for joining me for another episode of the Destination Podcast. I’m Patrick King, the founder of Imagine – a branding and marketing agency for all sorts of places: cities, towns, breweries, distilleries and attractions.
Ok, so last week, I talked about the first two steps of the tourism customer journey: Awareness and Action. To recap, Awareness covers the marketing actions that you need to take to just let people know that your destination or attraction exists. A lot of marketers try to seal the deal and get visitors out of this step alone and those people are usually disappointed and don’t like their jobs very much. Sure, some will convert this far out but don’t plan for them. They’re a lucky accident, like getting an onion ring in your fries from Burger King. If you don’t get that reference, you probably don’t order fries from Burger King very often and I applaud your excellent decision-making skills.
In the awareness phase, the goal is simply to get customers to the next step – a “first down” in football lingo. The only pressure to put on yourself at this point is to get them to the Activity phase, and you do this by enticing them to follow you on social, sign up for a newsletter, order a visitor’s guide, check out your reviews – an activity that helps them get to know you better and, ideally, get information from you in a way that gives up their contact information so you can get them to the next step, which is where the tourism customer journey picks up today.
The third phase in the tourism customer journey is Action. This is what most travel marketers consider to be the holy land – where bookings are made, flights are booked, bags are packed, and employers are told to pound sand for a few days. This is the point of conversion. But there’s something that comes before the Action step and, using the holy land analogy, this is the forty days in the desert. We call this time before someone converts the “Conversion Gap”. Most marketing time and effort is spent on getting people to cross this chasm. I won’t argue with that, except to say that maybe too much time is spent there, ignoring some of the steps to come.
To guide people across the conversion gap, you need a combination of things, one of the most effective is retargeting, or remarketing. Those two words can be used interchangeably to a degree, although some may like to argue that point because there are differences but they’re subtle. Those people are usually contrarians anyway and not a lot of fun to be around.
For a retargeting campaign, you place a tracking code on your site. That code is downloaded into the device that your website visitors use to visit your site, and it follows the visitor around the internet, showing them more personalized ads from you over time until they get across the conversion gap, at which time you can either switch up the ads they see or stop ads for them altogether. You know that ad you saw on Facebook for the same overpriced pinball machine that you saw on Amazon? Yeah, it’s that.
You can get people over the conversion gap a ton of other ways, too, like email drip campaigns, optimizing your social media content, personalizing your website content and so on. Once you’ve been able to carry customers over the gap, you then seal the deal in the Action phase. Here, you look at two things: user experience and promotions.
Let’s talk about user experience and some important things to focus on. The most obvious is probably your website. After you’ve been working to get people to come back to your website – that stuff you did to get them across the conversion gap, now it’s time to seal the deal. But you have to make it easy, intuitive and make people feel good about doing it. I’ll use an example that at first, may seem totally irrelevant.
You know how Amazon seems to make it effortless to add something to your cart and check out? It’s not by accident. The entire site is designed to do those two things better than anything else because they know that’s the hardest thing to accomplish. If you’re on Amazon, you probably already know what you want – or at least have a vague idea, or you’ve had a few drinks on a Wednesday night and feel like treating yourself – either way, you’re already ready to buy something. The same holds true for those that come back to your website. They’re likely to convert but you have to make it simpler or, what I like to call “frictionless”. I’m already aware that sounds like snobby marketer lingo, but I just like the sound of the word.
If you’re running the tourism site for a city or town, the goal here is to get them to commit to a trip – and that’s either by making hotel bookings easier by quickly getting them over to a hotel site or showing positive testimonials for all of your local hotels or getting them to register for an event. Pro tip: even if your event is free, having them register on a site like Eventbrite is still a good idea because it encourages them to take actions that make them feel like they’ve committed to attending. They can also add the event to their calendars much easier, so there’s a better chance that they’ll show up.
If you run an economic development website, something like an online scheduler to set up a call can accomplish the same thing. If you want an example, go over to our website at imaginedc.net and check out the Contact page. There’s a button on that page to set up a call. You can use Calendly, HubSpot or any of the tons of platforms out there to set this up.
By engineering your website to make conversion easier, you’re designing the site to convert – not just inform.
User experience and conversion optimization are broad topics that go far beyond website experience and ones that I’ll cover in future episodes or article but for now, you have some actions steps, so let’s move on.
So now, they’ve taken action. They’ve committed to a visit, a call, something that helps you meet your financial or strategic goals. This is where most marketers stop. But keep that champagne corked, my friend, because we’re only halfway through the tourism customer journey.
The next step is Adoption or, in other words, making something a habit. What makes something a habit? Doing it more than once. So, in the realm of tourism, we’re talking about repeat visitation: coming back to the taproom, booking another weekend, taking another bus tour or road trip and so on. And this phase relies on two different but equally important factors: the in-person experience and personalized marketing.
Obviously, the in-person experience is something that marketing has the least control over, and it’s more of an operations thing. But by having 2-3 question post-visit surveys, bringing in test visitors as a type of focus group that may actually work, or keeping an eye on your online reviews, you can find the pain points that people have while experiencing your brand and you can make improvements as you become more informed.
The next thing you can do is go back to the tools you used to guide people over the conversion gap – retargeting, time-sensitive promotions, automated email marketing – and build processes to reach back out to visitors, giving them new reasons to come back. In some cases, especially with downtown areas, a visitor may have only eaten at one restaurant. If you really have your stuff together, you can find this out by comparing your restaurant’s POS data with your email marketing audience, but you can also do it if you have any online conversion action tracked like they clicked off your site to a hotel site or signed up for an event.
After a set amount of time, start them on a new retargeting campaign or email automation, this time, providing new reasons for them to return. By doing so, you’re getting them back over the conversion gap and into the Action phase again. You can do this over and over and over but it’s a lot of work each time, since the content should be different each time. But if you’re doing it right, two good visits should be all it takes to get a third.
Once you’ve made it to this point, you could consider your tourism customer journey done. But, if you knew that there’s one step left that can make your job easier, broaden your reach, and turn your customers into an unpaid sales team, you’d probably do it, right? Well, that’s the topic of the final part of this series, the Advocacy phase. I’m gonna cover that in the next episode.
So, that does it for today. Thanks for listening and, if you like what you’re hearing, you can give us a review on Apple Podcasts or, even better, consider sharing it with others that may benefit from listening to it. Both help us out in a big way. I look forward to seeing you back here in two weeks for the conclusion of the tourism customer journey!