Tripadvisor unveiled its three-pronged strategy around content, community and commerce during its recent earnings call.
The company has laid out how it wants to engage with travelers on a deeper level, use new content forms such as video and voice and tap into new trends and emerging tech such as social commerce and generative AI.
In an interview with PhocusWire, chief marketing officer John Boris, who joined the company in late 2022, shares more on the strategy as well as his thoughts on the state of travel marketing.
You’re an e-commerce, travel and hospitality veteran, what experience do you bring to Tripadvisor?
It’s the opportunity to bring them together and showing how you can bring them together. We did that at Zagat, we did it at Lonely Planet and other places even beyond just travel. At Shutterfly, content and commerce and community was a key driver. From each role you take little bits of learning that you get to apply to the next one.
Tripadvisor is at the intersection of commerce, content and community. Each one can live on its own, but the power really happens when you get that alchemy coming together.
As you look across industries, what do you see that you’d love to apply to travel?
I think there are certain things that are just key to travel. Social is one that plays such an important part in people’s lives, and we still need to figure out how travel fits into that. How do you leverage those social networks and channels, and the content and trust we have, to truly meet travelers where they are? That’s a really great opportunity. We have not cracked the code on that, and it’s something we aspire to.
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In terms of emerging trends, generative AI and things like ChatGPT are real, they’re here and they are producing interesting content. So how do we harness that power to really scale in a meaningful way? Also, how do you make sure systems aren’t being gamed by generative AI? So those are things that are very real for us.
Another big opportunity we are focused on is mobile, and it sounds so odd in 2023 to say mobile first because it’s so inherent, but it is the one thing people carry with them all the time. It’s basically their wallet.
Mobile for us comes to life with in-destination content, which means experiences and restaurants. We have Tripadvisor, Viator and TheFork as key drivers of that. With in-destination, the chances are you already have your hotel so it’s all about what to do.
Do you look at advertisements such as the Mercedes one where you choose your car online and think it could be great to do something like that in travel?
Travel is a highly involved and high cost consideration with a high planning consideration. Unlike the Mercedes example where the chances are you have already decided you are going to buy a Mercedes, travel has so many factors. That’s where data comes into play. I can say here’s what my family is interested in, we’re action and adventure oriented or arts and culture oriented, or both, so just removing that friction point is what’s key. I don’t think data is going to solve the ultimate problem of here’s the only trip you should go on, but it’s going to present the most relevant array of options for you that hopefully aids in the decision-making process.
What’s the current state of marketing in travel, what needs fixing?
There’s not a singular site that someone goes to for their travel information. People shop around from site to site, because it is that high involvement purchase that you really want to make sure you do the right research.
The challenging part is to find that trust and authority. So figuring how you separate from the rest is critical for every brand. I do think that opportunity to push to people through mobile while in destination is a game changer. I have talked about multi-channel from a marketing and advertising standpoint and really trying to understand the multi-touch attribution behind it to make sure you’re spending correctly. And then the million dollar question is Google. How do you reduce you dependence on Google? That doesn’t mean Google is not an incredibly important component of your marketing mix, it just means how do you become less dependent.
What was the last advertisement you saw outside travel that you saw and thought ‘wow!’?
I’m a big soccer fan and I’ve been watching Ted Lasso with my family. I thought the Ted Lasso World Cup campaign was brilliant. It was a billboard campaign. They did letters to the U.S. soccer players in that Ted Lasso style, it was very thoughtful and on brand.
Same question for travel?
That’s a tough one, and I think that says something. I think there’s a sea of sameness in the way that travel is portrayed, and I think that there’s an opportunity for a campaign to speak differently to travelers.
I just haven’t seen anything that has broken through. What we’re doing through our media organization Wanderlab, and this is a biased answer, I think is the most differentiated advertising campaign out there. The Wanderer is a short-form video we have done for Turkey and Abu Dhabi that is a really innovative way to reach new audiences and put new opportunity out there to engage with travelers. We’re trying to break the mold from traditional advertising into kind of bespoke advertising that is predicated on guidance and trust but also has destinations in mind.
What do you mean by ‘speak differently to travelers’?
To speak differently both in terms of tone and direction as opposed to a straight 30-second ad saying ‘Go buy here, we have better hotel rates than anybody else.’ It’s explaining the why behind it, why you should be going somewhere and what you can see, in that authentic way.
The other thing is new form factors like what we’re doing with Amazon Voice. Capturing things like voice tech is absolutely critical because that’s what people want.
Tripadvisor at its core has been the same for many years - reviews and ratings - but has had different ways of spinning that up. Coming from Lonely Planet, do you draw any parallels with Thorn Tree, a great resource that people would say was wasted when Lonely Planet was bought?
I love Lonely Planet. It has been a staple in my life for a long time, and Thorn Tree at one time was the leading travel community platform. As much as I love Lonely Planet, the several changes in ownership have not helped that brand and not helped assets like Thorn Tree that have withered.
We have an incredibly valuable community that we need to augment and figure out ways to continue to harness its power. Part of that goes back to our engagement strategy. How do we create the right membership program to drive and encourage community activity? How do you create the right recognition program to really reward community leaders who are writing ratings and reviews? So we’re in the process of doing that.
If we do that right and drive greater engagement and usage of the site and greater fanaticism, and we do have zealots who genuinely love sharing their knowledge of a place, it’s going to unlock monetization opportunities for us directly through commerce, but also through our media sales team and also through other marketplaces like experiences. And we have direct-to-consumer opportunities too.
We do have a paid membership program that we are still in the process of evolving. We’re adding more value to it. We’re excited to see where that can go. We’ve just announced a large partnership with Target to promote our paid membership program - our Trip Plus program - so we’re getting behind membership in a big way.
You talked about your membership program and the right recognition program and your paid membership program. Is there an opportunity to bring them all together?
They are coming together. We’re revising our membership program. We’re 130 million members strong, and we’re not really doing as much as we can to engage them. It’s multi-faceted. Part of it is recognition and rewards, if you’re a super user, it recognizes that. The second thing is a tiered structure where we’re figuring out the right levels of engagement and reward. It’s a reward mechanism to thank you for your level of engagement. An offshoot of that will be paid membership, and we’re still working out the nuances of that, and it’s going to be rolled out over the next 12+ months.
Tripadvisor talks about driving deeper traveler engagement - do you look at it and wonder why it hasn’t been able to achieve this?
My thought has always been that this is an amazing brand and asset that has an opportunity to do more. I’ve been here five and a half months and my outside-looking-in view has been validated. I think the strategy we have put in place will unlock that potential to do more. Do more doesn’t just mean monetization, which is a big piece of course. It means to continue to grow and establish our position as the world’s largest travel guidance platform.
You’ve talked about immersive formats such as video - are we going to see more of that?
Content in the broad sense is not just written word, it’s not just points of interest, it’s a holistic view of content. It’s photos, it’s video, it’s community content, it’s written word. And video is multifaceted in itself. It’s everything from short-form, seven-second video, to [destination marketing organization]-driven long-form video, so we’re having to find the right content to engage customers because people value content differently. If you talk to my kids, if a video is longer than 10 seconds they can’t process it.
We’re 130 million members strong, and we’re not really doing as much as we can to engage them. Part of it is recognition and rewards, if you’re a super user it recognizes that. The second thing is a tiered structure where we’re figuring out the right levels of engagement and reward. An offshoot of that will be paid membership.
John Boris, Tripadvisor
You’ve been there five and a half months, why is this the right strategy now?
There’s a new management team in place. Matt Goldberg has come in as CEO. In addition to bringing in folks like myself and other management people - a new chief product officer, a new CFO as well as a new COO - the first thing we did was step back and create a fact-based data set on the company, our audience and the sector as a whole. We looked at the whole array of opportunities in front of us, where we think we have permission to play, and whittle down what we think progresses our business.
It comes down to the strategy mentioned before. We explored every opportunity, and a lot ended up on the editing room floor. So what we are focused on is continuing to innovate on our guidance platform with new content, everything from new form factors to planning itineraries, trip planning tools for pre-travel and in destination and mobile first. That’s one bucket of travel guidance.
The second bucket is around the engagement element. We have this treasure trove of community and user assets that we can do more with. That’s really predicated on helping to drive planning needs and using data to unlock personalization so you can engage with customers on a one-to-one basis. Then, there’s membership, free and paid.
If we do those things correctly, it unlocks the value potential for our partners which drives more engagement for hotel meta, which is a critical part of our business. It drastically scales our media business, and a key part is our experiences business.
You’ve talked about travel intent data. Is it in the right place so it can be used in a meaningful way?
Our travel intent data is not just flights, it’s hotels, it’s experiences, restaurants. It’s the full multi-category spectrum. Data is key, so you need a platform to be able to ingest that data and then the toolset to slice and dice and parse out that data to take across your martech, your email service provider etc., to really engage with people in a personalized way, so that’s what we’re doing. It’s constant learning and our customer data platform is the key enabler, and we’re continuing to build on it. We’re using it, but we’re not leveraging the full capabilities of it.
Join us in Barcelona June 12-14 for Phocuswright Europe, where Tripadvisor CMO John Boris will join us on Center Stage.