As a national tourism organisation, hotel chain, airline or tour operator in Asia Pacific, how can you take advantage of new media?
The explosion of digital technology and distribution channels has empowered consumers. They now have unprecedented power over how, when and where they consume their information and entertainment. For destination marketers, the decision of where to place their marketing messages, never an exact science at the best of times, has become more complicated.
The traditional channels are still there: newspapers, magazines, TV, radio. But joining them, and indeed morphing into them so that the definitions of ‘TV’, ‘radio’ and ‘newspaper’ start to blur, are newer formats and distribution channels – Weblogs (blogs), podcasts, RSS feeds, ‘Wikipedias’, iPods, mobile phones and BlackBerries (see New Media Glossary next page for definitions).
So how will new media figure into your business or organisation’s marketing mix?
There is not likely to be a definitive answer any time soon. Even if your marketing metrics are advanced, the channels you use and the message you convey will reflect your brand and marketing self-image as much as your business objectives – legacy airline or low-cost carrier? Reclusive mountain kingdom or unsleeping neon city?
Whatever your destination or business niche – travel sector or otherwise – you will have to deal with the following trends: technological convergence, consumer empowerment (and self-service), the increasing importance of consumer-direct ‘deals’ online, customisation, personalisation, tighter margins, and the expectation that you can deliver your service faster and better (or cheaper) than the competition. The digital revolution is a curse, a challenge and an opportunity in equal measures.
Content for new media is no longer the exclusive domain of journalists and editors. Anyone with a computer and an online connection can create a blog or add one to the online pages of an established and prestigious Web site belonging to a newspaper, an airline, or a travel portal. (Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” has become 15 megabytes of fame.)
The consumer’s opinions in a blog or podcast are pleasant to listen to if he or she says good things about your company or destination. But sometimes they don’t. Peter Smith, Vice President E-commerce at Amadeus’ Asia Pacific offices in Bangkok says that many companies and destinations waking up to the role of blogging are surprised by the sheer number of references to them on the Internet. “Just go to a search engine such as Google, enter your company’s or destination’s name and ‘blog’ and read how your company or destination is being portrayed,” he says.
Opinions and ‘facts’ stated in blogs are often picked up by journalists in mainstream media. That’s when companies or destinations can quickly find out they have a bushfire on their hands.
Corporate blogging has arrived
Companies aware of the power of new media have not been passive to respond. They interject their own corporate opinion or ‘take’ on the story into the bloggers’ debate. Corporate blogging has arrived. Indeed, experts say it is no longer a question of ‘if’ companies should blog, but only ‘when’.
Writing in the March 24 edition of Media magazine, Edelman’s President for Asia Pacific, Alan VanderMolen, said companies can adopt one of four positions on blogging:
- Forget about blogging (“Possible, but unlikely.”)
- Adopt a monitoring position. (This is the “minimum recommendation,” he says for companies that are seeing blog content starting to appear in mainstream media such as newspapers.)
- Engage the bloggers. (You will need someone in your company, “or transparently on behalf of your company,” to advocate your position on relevant blogs.)
- Create your own blog. However, if this is not done well and transparently, it can backfire.
VanderMolen says that the main purpose of a corporate blog is to create a dialogue with stakeholders about topics of mutual interest. “Conversations about your company are happening on blogs everyday. They will continue happening whether or not you decide to participate.”
The corporate decision to blog makes public relations sense because doing nothing while a debate rages can badly damage you, your company or your destination’s reputation. Equally, an insensitive corporate statement can ignite the ire of the blogosphere. Earlier this year, German advertising firm Jung von Matt’s advertising campaign aimed at countering negative PR about the country’s sluggish economy collapsed following ridicule by German bloggers. When Mr von Matt called blogs the “toilet walls of the Internet,” the uproar forced him to apologise. The campaign’s fate was sealed.
Blogs need not hurt your company. If you listen to blogs, you can enhance your company’s products and services. For example, Langham Hotels International tracks blogs to get candid feedback from guests and travel industry operators. “We monitor blogs in the general community if they make reference to us,” says Brett Butcher, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing at Langham. The company also monitors more mainstream blogs such as tripadvisor, a popular blog-style site with hotel guest comments (trademarked slogan: “Get the truth. Then go”). “This customer feedback is the most candid we can get,” says Butcher. “It is great for monitoring our product and service-level objectives.”
The irony is that blogs and podcasts allow marketers to better exploit two very fundamental (and pre-digital) marketing techniques: word of mouth and direct consumer endorsements. “Word of mouth continues to be key,” says Lisa Halim, Director of Leisure and Online Marketing at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Asia Pacific. Indeed, with technology advances, Starwood will be encouraging more direct consumer feedback channels.
Consumers who are informed and opinionated are potentially your biggest ally says Butcher. “Word of mouth is the best possible advertising there is. That is why blogs such as tripadvisor.com are so important to us – to understand what customers are saying.” Butcher says that “word of mouth” in today’s environment should be called “word of the Web”.
Protecting your company or destination’s reputation is one thing. But should travel companies spend money to advertise in blog or podcast sites? Proceed with caution, says Avenue A/Razorfish Inc, an interactive marketing and technology services firm in the US. In its “2006 Digital Media Outlook” report, it gives the following warning about the blogosphere: “Content remains unpredictable, site quality varies wildly, and relatively few blogs have meaningful traffic numbers. There is, however, promise in consumer-generated content, corporate blogging and complementary technologies like RSS.”
Your web site: Are you brave enough?
Opening consumer-focused Web sites to bloggers has started to break down the ‘them and us’ mentality. Companies that previously lectured to an audience are now in conversation. Opening the doors of participation has energised Web sites and marginalised blogless ones that merely act as an online brochure of products and services. As RSS feeds, SEO and meta-searches become more important, URL names are diminishing in importance, says Russell Johnson, President of California-based TravelMedia, which hosts a trade site at travelmedia and a consumer site at connectedtraveler
“A significant percentage of traffic [now] comes to keyworded internal pages, audio and video files through search engines, rather than through the [Web site’s] front door,” he says. “The Web is becoming a collaborative mesh of activity rather than linear portals.”
The new media mantra is: if it’s not linked, it’s not content. Visitors to your Web site should be increasingly landing on inside pages of direct interest to them – not necessarily on your ‘homepage’. Tomorrow’s surfers and bloggers will also have an increasing aversion to log-ins and subscriptions as these act as barriers to connectivity and the free-flow of information.
While blogging gives subversive power to people to ‘push’ opinions and insights up onto the Web, RSS feeds give people the power to ‘pull’ down exactly what they want, how they want it, when they want it. For example, by using RSS, business travellers can choose to be notified only if there are delays at certain airports they will be travelling through. When finished, these parameters can be modified. In addition, RSS protects the anonymity of the recipient who may not want to submit his or her profile to a corporate entity.
Blogs and RSS aside, how useful are podcasts to the travel industry? Johnson argues that audio and video podcasts by destination marketers are now “extremely viable” because on-demand podcasts can be spread ‘virally’ – for example by e-mail. However, podcasting, he argues, “isn’t for standard advertising or destination promotion videos – unless they are so humorous or compelling that they serve as entertainment in their own right.” People won’t download podcasts of straight marketing pitches to watch or listen to at their convenience.
By such criteria, Tourism Australia’s recently launched campaign, “Where the bloody hell are you?” is a success. The original campaign (wherethebloodyhellareyou) is deliberately engaging. Consequently, it has been ‘virally’ propagated around the world and has boosted awareness of Australia.
New digital media creates more opportunities than threats. Each new communication channel creates faster, cheaper or more effective ways to educate consumers or the travel trade about your product or service.
With new digital media, the destination marketing rule book is being rewritten. “You must master these channels or risk being mastered by them,” warns Tom Barnes, CEO of Mediathink, a consultancy specialising in media and marketing. In the September 7, 2004 edition of MarketingProfs.com, Barnes warned: “Just as radio, print and TV work best together for effective advertisers, e-mail, Web sites and RSS work best together – not exclusively or in opposition. You must generate valuable content for every relevant channel you can afford, or you will be displaced in the minds of consumers by those who do.”
So what are destinations and companies to do? Avenue A/Razorfish (avenuea-razorfish) says companies should have ten digital media strategies for 2006, straddling both ‘art’ and ‘science’:
- Make an emotional impact with digital creative. Give it the time, care and thoughtfulness that a 30-second spot receives. Consumers know the difference.
- Pursue bipolar branding. Don’t underestimate the influence of the Web’s ‘long tail’ (see references following).
- Use video. And make it interactive. Internet video will see explosive growth in the next year, and it shouldn’t be supported by TV ads dumped online. It’s called interactive for a reason – make it so.
- Invest in your Web site. In a world plagued by sameness, a new site should be considered for most marketers. It can and should be the central expression of a brand.
- Embrace advanced media. Mobile, IPTV, gaming and other new media opportunities hold great promise, but lack scale. That shouldn’t be an obstacle. Testing today positions companies for success tomorrow.
- Invest in business intelligence. Data is easy to collect, insights are not. Insisting on the former and ignoring the latter is a mistake.
- Attribute conversions properly. ‘Last exposure wins’ isn’t always the right answer.
- Breakdown the silos. Separate data sets for display, search and the Web site puts a marketer a step behind.
- Optimise the site experience. Once a good site is built, measure it with the same tenacity as a media campaign.
- Embrace targeting. The hype is tiring, but the promise is real – relevance reigns.
Destinations and travel companies cannot sit back and take a ‘wait and see’ position. “If you do that,” says Smith, “someone will come along and steal your lunch.”
New Media Glossary
Blogging: The term blog is a blend of the terms ‘Web’ and ‘log’, leading to Web log, Weblog, and finally blog. Authoring a blog, maintaining a blog or adding an article to an existing blog is called blogging. Like other media, blogs often focus on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or travel. Some blogs function as online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary): Web users using RSS can select subjects of interest and have headlines and hyperlinks sent to their desktop at intervals that the user defines. The user then decides whether to follow the link or not. It therefore allows consumers to better control the content that is sent to them. It puts users in charge of the flow of information. And, because end users can filter and control the RSS they receive, demand for it has grown rapidly. RSS is very popular in major online news sites such as CNN, BBC, Reuters etc. RSS is now also popular on travel sites such as LonelyPlanet.com.
Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programmes or music videos, over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Podcasting’s essence is about creating content (audio or video) for an audience that wants to listen or watch when they want, where they want, and how they want. According to Forrester, a US-based research company, there were approximately just over one million podcast subscribers in North America at the end of 2005. It predicts 12 million household subscribers by 2010.
A meta-search engine is a search engine that sends user requests to several other search engines and/or databases and returns the results from each one.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a set of methods aimed at improving the ranking of a Web site in search engine listings, and could be considered a subset of search engine marketing.
The BlackBerry is a wireless handheld device, introduced in 1999, which supports push e-mail, mobile telephone, text messaging, Web browsing and other wireless information services. It delivers information over the wireless data networks of cellular telephone companies.
The iPod is a brand of portable media player designed and marketed by Apple Computer. Like most digital audio players, an iPod can serve as an external data storage device when connected to a computer.
Note: All the above definitions, with the exception of ‘RSS’ come from wikipedia website. ‘RSS’ summary is by the author..
New Media: Recommended References
MarketingProfs website – numerous articles on RSS from the marketers’ point of view.
2006 Digital Media Outlook by Avenue A/Razorfish (avenuea-razorfish website).
“A Survey of New Media”, The Economist, April 22, 2006 (economist/surveys).
“The Long Tail”, Wired magazine, October 2004, by Chris Anderson. Reproduced at:
Wikipedia – the world’s unique participatory online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit.