Social media has had a profound effect on the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. Our recent report, Bridging the Gap: Consumer & Marketing Perspectives on Content in the Digital Age, explores the content that consumers find the most impactful versus the content that marketers are actually delivering. We found that, more than any other content types, people look to user-generated content (UGC) as the most influential throughout the booking lifecycle.
For real-world insights into how user-generated content impacts today’s travel marketing strategies, I reached out to Louise Percy, Digital Marketing Manager at Globus.
Q: Our report found that consumers and marketers agree on the importance of authenticity but disagree about what types of content are actually the most authentic. Consumers are 2.4x more likely to say UGC is most authentic compared to branded content, but marketers are 2.1x more likely to say brand-created content is most authentic. Were you surprised by this discrepancy? If so, why? What are your thoughts on the authenticity of UGC vs. branded content?
LP: Yes and no. Stock imagery is so widely used and has been for such a long time so I can understand it being difficult to change mindsets internally – especially if the marketing team is not as digitally savvy. Some companies may struggle to get UGC over the line with traditional stakeholders and legal departments who put it in the “too hard basket” before they have even had the chance to learn about the tools available to easily manage consumer image rights. However, it’s not uncommon to see multiple brands using the same image and, as marketers, we should not only be looking at ways to differentiate our brand in the marketplace in order to avoid blending in but also at what attracts the consumer to a brand. The shift in design style across all industries from business-led to customer experience-led has gained a lot of traction over the last 5 years, so it’s surprising to see that content strategies aren’t keeping up with this trend too.
Q: We showed the two photos above to consumers and asked which one was more authentic. They overwhelmingly said the photo on the left (the UGC image) was the most authentic, most likely to make them trust the brand that posted it and the image they’d most likely image click on if it were featured in an ad or social post. Are you surprised by this result? How would you have answered?
LP: A real person, having a real experience, with a real smile — we can relate to this person in the photo on the left. We can see ourselves here (although I probably can’t jump that high) and so we are able to aspire to be there and to have that experience ourselves. If they can do it, you can too, right? The photo on the right looks like a model and much like with actors we see in films, we know it isn’t real life and therefore don’t feel that it’s authentic. So no, I am not surprised by the result and would have answered the same.
Q: Our survey found that the influence of authentic traveler images has grown over the past couple years: 86 percent of people have become interested in traveling to a location after seeing photos consumer-created social images, 60 percent said UGC is the most influential when planning travel (up from 42 percent in 2017) and 52 percent say they’ve made plans to visit a specific destination based on UGC on social media (up from 43 percent in 2017). How is your brand tapping into this authentic content to inspire and impact all stages of the booking cycle?
LP: We are currently using UGC at the beginning of the customer journey — the travel inspiration stage — across social media, our blog and our websites. We’re already seeing a huge pickup in engagement by using “real” photos over stock imagery. This is only the start of implementing our UGC strategy. We still have a lot to do and are excited by all of the opportunities there are.
Q: Sixty-three percent of marketers feel pressure to constantly produce greater amounts of content at a faster pace, and traditional content sources and production methods are often costly and time-consuming. Does this resonate with you? What steps are you taking to create engaging content at scale?
LP: The frequency of content that a brand needs to put out through their channels is constant in order to stay relevant and engaged with B2C and B2B consumers, as well as with search engines. We recently hired our first (awesome) content and social specialist (how did you survive without one, I hear you ask!) and the difference it has made to our team is worth its weight in gold. I, therefore, obviously believe in having a resource dedicated to content production in a marketing team. Other steps to create engaging content at scale include tapping into employees across the business for content creation (you may have a hidden photographer in a Customer Service role, or a budding Bill Bryson in Finance); repurposing content (a social post could be reframed multiple times to appeal to different audiences at different times in a year); and leveraging the masses of content being produced by consumers. We are lucky in the travel industry because everyone loves to travel and everyone loves to share their experiences with the world. Instead of using big chunks of our budget to do our own photoshoots, why not use content that is already out there being produced at scale everyday and is the kind of content a consumer wants to see anyway?
Q: Sixty-seven percent of consumers (and 73 percent of Gen Z) say that brands must deliver personalized experiences. What does meaningful personalization look like for your brand? Which channels are you prioritizing personalization for?
LP: The right message, to the right person, at the right time. Consumers want the experience to be all about them – it’s now a baseline expectation that we use their name in an email and know what products they have bought and so we are looking at ways to go beyond this. However, personalization must be done well. My biggest fear is getting it wrong because if it’s done badly, it becomes a worse experience than not doing personalization at all! So testing is a big part of our personalization plan. It is difficult to prioritize just one channel for personalization as they are all part of the mix and need to be considered in parallel.
Q: What other content marketing trends do you see evolving over the course of 2019?
LP: The search for authenticity will continue to evolve over the years. We’re even seeing the authenticity of social influencers come into question and instead, we’re seeing the rise of “micro-influencers.” Brands will become more savvy about tracking the effectiveness of this influencer activity too. The need for fast information in our mobile-first world will continue and more focus will be put on the likes of “ShopSpots” for images.
To learn more about how user-generated content fuels travel marketing strategies, download our free eBook, Influencing Travel: Turning Lookers into Bookers.