How AI can drive better travel customer interactions
The travel industry is no stranger to using artificial intelligence. For example, travel chatbots that learn customers preferences, personalise travel recommendations and simplify bookings have proliferated rapidly. However, AI can do much more for how travel marketers can gain competitive differentiation for the offers and experiences they promote in a digital landscape in which customers quickly switch between websites looking for the best deals.
The challenges and opportunities are huge especially as the travel industry is becoming digitised. Online booking of travel and holidays is valued at around $765 billion globally today and is forecast to be worth $1,955 billion by 2026.
Travel industry marketing leaders are explicitly tasked with driving business growth in this digital environment. This is a complex challenge that includes analysing disparate data points, building a positive team culture and understanding the value of new technologies and vendors.
Yet often, when it comes to the contribution of individual campaigns, revenue contribution can come down to just a few words.
Travel industry marketers are looking to emphasise offers and experiences that will differentiate themselves and drive loyalty for leisure and business travel. The choice of words for interactions, that are mostly online and sometimes sparse, is critical. For example, repeat purchases are very important given the multitude of choices available to consumers.
The choice of words can “make or break” that repeatability when the brand needs to convey a value proposition with consistent, emotionally appealing interactions. The choice of words may vary for different segments of customers, and at the same time it needs to fit with the overall brand value proposition and narrative.
Crafting the right creative permutation of copy and images that generates real returns in revenue and loyalty is a challenge for all industries including travel. Last year, the Nielsen CMO survey reported that 71% of CMOs don’t believe in their creative’s ability to drive results. What’s more two thirds of CMOs also said they are not hitting their business targets.
For the travel industry knowing which creative could perform better is crucial. Consider these two marketing phrases: “these deals are our way of giving thanks” and “you’ll love this trip?” Both may appear to be effective copy, yet they are quite different in terms of construction and, ultimately, effectiveness. The first line of copy evokes a sense of Gratitude, while the second attempts to encourage Excitement.
Research done by our AI-augmented analytics reveals that first message would be most effective because of how it most strongly harnesses emotions to engage with a customer.
Between January 2016 and February 2019 our teams of data scientists and linguists ran a series of experiments on 300 million marketing message permutations to discover the most impactful emotions, descriptions and calls to action for the travel industry.
The top line result from the studies was that travel customers feel more emotionally connected to — and therefore engage more with — messages that stimulate a feeling of Gratitude than those that convey Excitement.
Understanding, continually learning and applying these insights in real time and across multiple marketing channels and huge ever-changing data sets cannot be simply done by humans. Indeed, much of the issues with creative marketing copy for CMOs is that too much of the decision on which creative will be most effective is based on guesswork. Machines and machine learning are best placed to do the complex correlations and then provide the insights to assist digital marketers own work on creative copy.
AI can be harnessed to support digital marketers in their choice of marketing copy for product descriptions, CTAs, formatting elements and positioning, as well as email and other direct response marketing.
How gratitude works in travel digital marketing can be seen in how one international airline used AI-augmented analytics to run their campaign copywriting. The goal was to get entice existing customers to buy tickets to new flight destinations. The original copy line was “Take advantage of our best fares for new destinations!” Through using AI analytics, the airline’s digital marketing team learned that their audience responded to Gratitude the best, resulting in this top-performing subject line “As a token of our appreciation, enjoy low fares on new non-stop routes!
Applying this marketing message generated a 17.92% uplift in opens, which led to a massive 57.43% uplift in click-through rate to see what the new routes were. In this instance, how AI chose a message that emphasised gratitude worked in two ways: the airline’s customers are loyal to the brand, and the brand is delivering on its promise of providing excellent service and expanded destination coverage. It’s interesting here to also note that even though the original message highlighted a superlative (“our best fares”), the optimised message still performed better when using less exclamatory language (simply “low fares”).
The capability of AI analytics to improve marketing creative extends well beyond just email marketing. Here are some other findings:
- Web Pages and Banners – For web pages, functional language (the call-to-action) is the most important element. AI can help marketing teams get more creative with their CTAs, which often wind up being “learn more” when drafted by humans alone.
- Facebook – Formatting, which includes stylistic elements such as bold or italicised fonts and emojis, is critical to attracting engagement on the crowded Facebook platform. Emotions ranked a close second — harnessing the precise emotional language helps a brand sound more relatable.
- Display – The contribution of elements for display ads is the most equally spread out of any channel. Functional and emotional are the top two, but descriptive and formatting aren’t far behind. Positioning (the placement of the ads) ranks fifth but still contributes 10.83% to message effectiveness.
For travel marketers pinpointing the precise words, phrases and images that work for each element of a marketing messages is imperative. This is because travellers respond most strongly to highly personalised emotional messaging and content that speaks to their unique profiles, loyalties, and destinations. Choosing the words that will drive engagement and conversions while reinforcing the brand promise is extremely difficult when done in siloed channels like email, web, social, paid search and others. AI not only helps win each customer interaction with mathematical certainty, it can also stitch together the brand story and promise across these interactions running on many different channels.
Written by Marisol Sanchez Leffler, Vice President at Persado.
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