I live and breathe internet marketing. I don't have any hidden powers or know something that is not already public knowledge. I just like to ponder and hypothesize what the future might be, identifying trends from my unique perspective and offering up thoughtful solutions.
The digital marketing space is quickly evolving and it’s critical for travel businesses to stay abreast of trends in order to stay in the game. Here I offer up seven top trends I see coming and my recommendations for addressing each.
NB: This is a viewpoint from Peter Brooke, chief executive of Blue Interactive Agency.
Trend #1: The internet, not the web, is the main source of advertising consumption
Response: Marketers need to market to the internet as a whole and not just make sure that the company website looks good.
Internet, web. Web, internet. It’s all the same. Right? If you agree, you’re looking at losing some pretty heavy market share very soon if you don’t wake up and change course. Here’s why.
I woke up this morning and immediately checked my Facebook app for new messages. I went for a run and used Spotify App to listen to music. I used Google maps on my phone to find directions to my client’s office and while I was waiting to see the client, I went on my fantasy football app to check my sports team score.
I spent most of my day on email and came home to play Xbox with my online friends.
Here’s the kicker—I was on the internet all day, but I wasn’t on the web. Many people use the terms “internet” and “web”, interchangeably, but the two terms are not synonymous. The World Wide Web is only one of hundreds of services used on the internet. The web is a global set of documents, images and other resources logically interrelated by hyperlinks and referenced with Uniform Resource Identifiers.
Each day with more and more people getting smartphones, internet televisions and wearables, marketers are finding that the internet is now taking center stage as the main source of advertising consumption and that web marketing as a singular source strategy is dead.
Trend #2: Mobile is the new desktop
Response: If you don’t have a mobile website, forget about m.dot and go straight to responsive design.
No recent merger of technologies has been more impactful than when the mobile phone met the World Wide Web. The integration of mobile with web has created a huge game change in how we communicate and interact with the world around us and each other.
The mobile phone has become central command for our lives, the remote control of our individualized universes. Look at what we have it doing for us—unlocking our doors, setting our room temperature, starting our car, alerting us to bad weather and traffic, playing our favorite songs, capturing pictures, checking sport teams scores, booking vacations and measuring our vitals.
With the addition of the tablet, mobile Google search queries have overtaken desktop Google search inquiries, relegating the PC in many ways into the genre of dusty fax machines—you kind of need to keep it around just in case but there are far more efficient ways of handling tasks.
Conservatively speaking, mobile today is making up about 10-15% of your web traffic and similarly for tablets. Now double that in the next year. Are you ready for almost one half of your traffic to come from a mobile or tablet device? Have you tried to navigate your website from either of these devices?
Trend #3: Mobile will continue its exponential reach into various aspects of our lives
Response: Innovate user-friendly ways to seamlessly intertwine your digital media into a guest’s life, not only while they’re with you but before and after a stay.
Very soon, there’s no doubt we’ll see a hotel’s app that once downloaded will unlock a guest door via Bluetooth, order room service or extra towels, schedule a convenient housekeeping time, create a wake-up call, allow the guest to settle a folio with Apple iWallet and book a cabana out by the pool. Credit cards, cash and your hotel loyalty card will go the way of 8-tracks, cassettes, floppy disks and CDs.
Smart innovative thinking will also need to address the challenges of having downsized to smaller physical mobile devices (vs a laptop or desktop) that are navigated primarily by a thumb and call for instantaneous load times and results. This is going to require complete re-engineering of your online reservation process and if you are starting on a redesign project, think mobile first. It is easier to migrate a mobile process to the desktop than the other way around.
Trend #4: Traditional web marketing methods are becoming ineffective
Response: Remember, you’ve got to operate from a new paradigm of internet marketing, not web marketing.
What’s worked well for us in the past—simple keyword research, back linking, content and social media strategies—is becoming about as old and tired as having your local radio station broadcast from a car dealer’s parking lot. Worse yet, these strategies are going to start to lose their effectiveness thanks to the rapid advance of mobile, apps and tablets.
Siri, Cortana and Google Now bypass the web and Google search altogether and give up voice replies, rather than long lists of searchable results littered with ads (that feed Google’s profits).
Trend #5: Google searches will increasingly begin to turn up irrelevant results, and organic searches will fall further and further down the page
Response: Start looking for opportunities to keep your guest away from Google search and other third party traffic. Better yet, create and market your own app.
With last year’s Google “Hummingbird Update”, the results a guest wanted when he/she typed something in the search box may quickly flit away in an educated guess on what the guest was really searching for.
Google is starting to recognize the intent of the query and not the keyword typed in the search box. For instance, if a guest searches ten times for “downtown San Diego hotel” and the eleventh time types in “San Diego hotel” (maybe with an intent to cast a wider net), it will deduct based on past web behavior and other data points that the correct result would be a downtown San Diego hotel and not any other hotel result.
Google has gone from a factual database of everything to more of a predictive user intent result that is always learning and updating itself based on a user’s behavior characteristics (see machine learning below). Google will now sort through the billions of web pages and other information it has in order to return what it believes are the best answers and not what may have actually been typed in the search box.
Start looking for opportunities to keep your guest away from Google search and other third party traffic. You have to start building your own audience.
The perfect storm of Siri, Hummingbird, mobile, smaller screens, tablets and apps means that you’ve got less online browser real estate to find you. Couple these trends with Google’s increasing focus on paid AdWords and paid apps displays and your organic results will continue to shove down the page depending upon the size of your property.
Why not develop an app, pay for it to come up in the search results, entice the guest to download it and install it? Aim your marketing efforts to get the guest to go directly to your app or website to book and take Google out of the equation. This will and has to become the mantra for internet marketers going forward.
Trend #6: Google makes a strong play at the travel industry
Response: Google share prices have been in the $500’s for a while now and shareholders will become restless with management as they search for new revenue growth.
No one is looking harder at Google trends than, well, Google. Just like hotel marketers are scrambling because of the factors we’ve been examining (Siri, mobile, smaller screens, apps, death of the desktop), Google is facing similar challenges to its tried and true business model.
Remember, Google doesn't make any money from organic search results so why would they want to promote, upgrade and change a product that produces zero income? They’ve got to quickly start finding other means of generating income.
Looking into my digital crystal ball, I can’t see how Google is not going to make some strong inroads into the travel marketing space. I think we’ll see it move at a pace that will appease the shareholders, not ruffle too many anti-trust feathers and definitely not upset the OTAs—its main source of travel ad income.
And, in fact with Google’s acquisition of ITA software and subsequent roll out of Google Flight Search, it has, I believe, rendered flight OTAs useless. In one fell swoop, Google has become the only flight booking engine you will ever need!
Why wouldn’t they quietly start entering the hotel booking engine sector? No one appears to be up in arms about it or picketing outside Google--save the OTA websites. In fact the consumer rather enjoys the new flight search engine as it means one less step to a result. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft, Apple and Amazon jumped into the travel market too, it is just lucrative not to.
Trend #7: Machine learning
Response: The new tomorrow is here, the fight is on to analyze the mass travel data been collected and find ways to effectively monetize it.
Right now the big four Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple are engaged in somewhat of a development space race for information made available through machine learning. It creeps a lot of us out, but we still can’t help sharing our location, our personal biometrics, our major life events, our friend lists, our interests, our buying habits and our incomes.
Heck, I believe Samsung has a Tweeting fridge now, and with Google’s acquisition of Nest, the internet even knows if your front door is unlocked! Every piece of data we produce is being consumed and analyzed by massive machines to predict our habits (and ultimate spending). The big four are in a huge move from hard facts to subtle awareness of your every move.
We see glimpses of it right now with Google's self-driving cars and the cat experiment (no animals were harmed). The New York Times reported that Google scientists connected a whopping 16,000 computer processors that they set loose on the internet to learn on its own.
They ended up creating one of the largest neural networks for machine learning, also called "deep learning". After assimilating 10 million digital images from YouTube, Google's brain was found to mimic the human brain--it went in search of cats.
Amazon is probably one of few companies that have made huge strides in machine learning. Based on our online behavior, the machines are constantly trying to predict and anticipate what we need to purchase next. It's still not 100%, but it's pretty darn close if you take notice at what they suggest you buy.
In conclusion, we are living in a time in history with unprecedented, exponential change measured against time. Think of this--if you were around in the 1800s, you might have had three or four major changes in 100 years that affected your life, which probably was the steamed locomotive, electricity and the telephone.
Move forward to the 1900s and there were a few more major changes: the automobile, flight, the tank, Penicillin, nuclear fusion, the computer, internet and DVDs. Now look back at the past 14 years of the new millennium. There has been an explosion of technology through digital music, Bluetooth, YouTube, Facebook, smartphones, wearables, the cloud, electric cars, self-driving cars and the list goes on.
Consumers demand change, and we expect it now. We are looking for technology to deliver life-changing events. Our thirst for digital consumption and our willingness to provide digital information will continue to grow exponentially and the companies that figure out how to really harness and monetize this data will leave everyone else behind.
NB: This is a viewpoint from Peter Brooke, chief executive of Blue Interactive Agency.
NB2: Connectivity image via Shutterstock.