In the final analysis, it was inevitable. The day of the spurious digital marketing tactics employed by some of the travel industry’s most well‐known brands was never meant to last.
Sure, high‐pressure strategies ‐ like creating a false impression of scarcity with misleading claims about numbers of seats/rooms available at an advertised price, or how many other users are looking at the exact same hotel room as you right this very second ‐ generated positive results, but deep down most people realized that a day would come when consumers would catch on and say “no more!”.
That day has come.
Recently, the scale of consumer complaints about travel marketing has reached an important tipping point.
Watchdog groups have taken travel brands to task for the misleading tactics that have been driving up digital travel marketing conversion rates for the better part of the past decade.
As marketers in the travel space honed their ability to target negative emotions like fear, doubt, and anxiety in their customers, unexpected side‐effects emerged: people became uncomfortable with the way they were being sold to, and consumer trust in travel brands plummeted.
While this phenomenon is by no means limited entirely to the travel business, people’s natural anxieties about travel made them particularly susceptible to such tactics, and the invisible hand of the travel market kept us all pushing the envelope, perhaps a little further than we should have.
The result? When it comes to the way in which travel brands market their brands to consumers online, change is in the air.
A new travel marketing paradigm
What does all of this mean for the intrepid folks tasked with engaging and converting today’s digital audiences? A new way of doing business.
As part of its Emotions Matter campaign to change the conversation about fear‐ and anxiety‐inducing marketing, Phrasee commissioned Vitreous World to conduct a survey among 4,000 consumers and 400 marketers across the UK and US into their attitudes towards ethics and marketing.
It revealed important trends in consumer perceptions of marketing, with 76% of respondents reporting that they are “turned off” by brands that engage in high‐pressure sales tactics.
A further 69% of respondents stated that they would be more likely to make a purchase from a brand that engages in positive marketing tactics.
Such data is already driving a shift in travel marketing away from the pressure‐driven tactics of old and toward the positivity‐based tactics of the future, a sentiment reflected by many of the travel industry’s most forward‐thinking leaders.
Mark Croucher, head of customer experience at Virgin Holidays, has made this a key tenet of the Virgin Holidays brand:
“Our vision at Virgin is to become the most‐loved travel brand, something we can only do through genuine, honest, and meaningful conversations with our customers.”
By leaving misleading, high‐pressure sales tactics in the rearview mirror, brands like Virgin Holidays are beginning to reap the financial rewards of a more ethical approach to travel marketing.
Return on ethics (ROE)
In a travel marketing ecosystem where pressuring and misleading consumers has long kept the KPI needle moving forward, skeptics remain, however.
Letting go of strategies that work is never easy, even if they may be less than ethical at their core and unsustainable in the long run.
There’s good news for the skeptics, though, in the form of a new marketing performance metric, one that puts the needs of the consumer at the forefront.
This metric is called Return on Ethics (ROE): the impact that marketing and communicating to customers in an ethical and responsible way has on a business.
The survey results reveal that there is indeed value to be found in taking a more ethical approach to marketing.
That value comes in three different, but equally important, forms:
- Employer branding: More than four in five (83%) respondents said that they would not work for a company that they did not consider to be ethical in its marketing.
- Team morale: More than a fifth (22%) of respondents have felt ashamed to be a marketer because of unethical marketing practices.
- Revenue: More than a quarter (26%) of respondents have seen negative results from using unethical marketing practices.
While the short‐termism and “KPIs‐at‐any‐cost” thinking that have dominated the travel marketing landscape for so long will certainly take time and effort to change, the long‐term results could well prove to make it all worthwhile.
With as much as 81% of consumers reporting that they have experienced ‘pressure messaging’ while browsing travel websites in the past year, it has become clear that the relationships between travel brands and their digital audiences need serious work, and will require many marketers in the travel industry to re‐think their approach.
The brands and marketers who get out in front of the significant shift now taking place in travel marketing stand to benefit greatly from adapting their approach.
For those that do, a more positive, trustworthy brand perception, more robust relationships with customers, and more revenue over time could quickly follow.
So, what is next for travel brands or marketers who want to make ethical practices a cornerstone of their marketing strategy moving forward?
We are committed to driving a more positive, ethical approach to marketing, but we don’t have all the answers and we can’t do it on our own.
We encourage other marketers and brands to join the Emotions Matter movement, and to help to build a more ethical travel marketing future – a future in which the needs, health, and emotions of the travel consumers come first.
You’ll be glad you did (and so will your audience!).