Programmatic advertising – a new destination for travel brandsNews / OnlineBy Viewpoints | November 26, 2014Share This article was originally published on The travel industry is a crowded marketplace with low margins. But it’s also high volume which provides a rich audience pool and data set to improve advertising.NB: This is an analysis by Attila Jakab, client strategy director at Infectious Media.Travel brands have a history of being among the first to use new media technologies to drive advantages over competitors, often being innovators in pay-per-click and social media strategies.Today, however, the search and online travel agency channels have become too crowded which has led to lowering margins for advertisers.This has created a need to grow the audience base by looking at other digital channels. Display advertising, so far, has been a channel travel advertisers have struggled to make work.Some have seen retargeting – focusing on users that have previously visited their websites – deliver great results but this approach still relies on traffic driven from search and OTAs.The wealth of rich data at travel brands’ fingertips means programmatic display advertising can be used to reduce this reliance on search and OTAs to improve incremental volume and efficiencies by targeting users through the entire customer lifecycle.Our experience of working with many travel brands across the booking spectrum has given us a deep understanding of the best way to manage travel campaigns using programmatic. Here are four key action points to help get it right:1. Get your data in orderThere are millions of data points running through your site every day, so start collecting and aggregating them. You’ll never be able to gain insights from your campaigns if you don’t have your data in a format that can be analysed and actioned upon.Partner with a data management platform (DMP) or, if you have an email programme, see how your customer data is already being managed.Organising customer data is the cornerstone of understanding your audience and the basis of advanced programmatic marketing.Without this you’ll only be able to run generalised retargeting or basic prospecting. Neither of these will be enough of a differentiator to lead to incremental gains.For instance, knowing if a user is a regular booker vs a browser instantly gives you a hierarchy of importance that informs what creative message to serve them, what bid price you are prepared to pay and how regularly you target them.A browser will need regular exposure to your brand to bring them in, but a regular booker will be coming back anyway so you need to identify how you can cross sell to them.2. Understand your audienceOnce you start collecting audience data, look to understand it. If you are starting out in this space, segment your audience into large pools and then build granularity.Your audience will be in different phases of booking which will be at different price points/specifics. Carve them up on this basis. Once you have achieved this, pick the few that are most beneficial and segment further.A quick win to drive incremental gains is to understand your users’ consideration path. Some will come to the site, research and come back to convert so retargeting them as soon as they leave is wasted as they would come back anyway.Learn how retargeting can drive incremental conversions rather than dropping a cookie on a natural user path.Programmatic advertising also allows advertisers to assess a number of data points to unearth powerful audience trends.Understanding what creative and placements perform best in addition to knowing where (geo), when (time of day and day of week) and on what devices (desktop, tablet, mobile) your users convert opens up a number of possibilities to increase performance.3. Tailor your creativeOnce you’ve built your audience segments one thing should become clear – serving them all with a blanket message just doesn’t make sense. Each of your audience segments will have unique attributes that make them different and your creative should reflect that.A user message should be tailored to action on a user’s activity, for example, with programmatic it’s possible to use audience data to serve users with creatives of flight routes or hotel types they have looked up.However, getting the right balance takes time so advertisers will need to test different creative visuals and messages to understand what triggers bring users back to the site.When undertaking tasks like this there’s a tendency to be swept up with the possibilities and test everything at once.You will have a limit on how much time and budget resource you can dedicate to this, so focus on testing creative variations you think will deliver the most meaningful insights.4. Test constantlySeasonality, sale periods and competitor behaviour can all have a major impact on campaign performance in travel. With this in mind you’ll need to ensure there’s a system in place to allow for the ongoing refinement of your audience segments, messaging and media selection.In a highly competitive environment such as travel, programmatic opens up a whole new opportunity for growth and innovation through personalisation – just as search did during its inception.NB: This is an analysis by Attila Jakab, client strategy director at Infectious Media.NB2: Online advertising image via Shutterstock.