September 11, 2019

Rethinking the (Broken) Travel Marketing Funnel

Today's travel marketers are investing heavily at both ends of the marketing funnel: up top to drive awareness via channels like display media, TV and out-of-home advertising and down below to close the deal through channels like branded paid search and affiliate deals.

Unfortunately, that leaves a vast stretch of marketing territory - the mid-funnel, where influence and intent are built - that's been largely neglected and greatly underfunded.

As the digital media landscape continues to shift, it's in the mid-funnel where travel brands stand to gain the greatest competitive edge - but only if they move quickly to rebalance their budgets across the entirety of the customer journey.

Let's take a look at why the mid-funnel is becoming of greater importance in the travel space, and how marketers can take advantage of this crucial time of transition.

Reuniting and redefining the funnel

A lot happens between the moment a potential customer learns about your brand and the moment that person makes his or her first purchase - and it all happens in the mid-funnel. This is the stage at which individuals are researching and beginning to form their opinions and preferences leading up to a purchase, and it's a crucial time for travel marketers to be educating and influencing these potential customers.

While content marketing is a key component of the mid-funnel, these efforts also include lesser-discussed paid tactics like unbranded paid search, sponsored listings and native ads.

While the mid-funnel has always been important for advertisers, it's taking on new weight in travel marketing for the following reasons.

Inefficiency is rising. Marketers today are losing efficiency at the tops and bottoms of their sales funnels as the brand-to-customer relationship redefines itself in today's ever-evolving digital landscape.

While TV and other traditional media spend at the top tends to be massive, it's also becoming increasingly disconnected from the digital-first behaviors of today's consumers. Meanwhile, costs are rising at the bottom of the funnel as more and more brands compete for those last clicks within the metasearch, branded search and social realms.

As such, marketers must reallocate more of their budgets to the mid-funnel, where smart plays can help to improve efficiency throughout the customer journey by capturing more awareness up top and requiring less spend at the bottom to drive conversions.

Competitors must be challenged. Competition has never been heavier in the travel space, and luring customers away from competitors at the bottom of the funnel has become an increasingly difficult (and expensive) proposition.

It’s in the middle-funnel, particularly through sponsored listings and native ad activity, where a travel company stands a better chance of shifting a person's focus from a competitor's brand to their own.

Attribution has become essential. Top-of-funnel attribution has always been a challenge for marketers, and this ROI uncertainty is becoming increasingly unacceptable for travel marketers. Investments in mid-funnel tactics are infinitely more trackable and can be tied directly to lower-funnel conversion events.

That's not to say brands should neglect the tops of their funnels - certainly not. But they do need to give greater thought to how they shift investments so that the awareness is driven through display media, TV and other traditional channels can be better captured and tied to sales outcomes.

Reallocating spend to the mid-funnel will improve attribution across the customer journey and help marketers better optimize future efforts.

Breaking down barriers in the mid-funnel

Of course, it's one thing to say we need to rebalance our media spends across the entire customer journey. It's quite another to actually do it. One main reason for this is that, at many travel companies, responsibility for mid-funnel tactics like sponsored placements and native ads fall into a gray area.

Typically, teams focus exclusively on either upper- or lower-funnel tactics. So who handles the mid-funnel? There isn't a right or wrong answer to this question. Marketing leaders simply must ensure that the question has been addressed and that the lines of responsibility are clear.

Also, many travel marketers might be daunted by the idea of shifting budget away from "tried and true" channels, particularly in the lower funnel where strong ROI is still being seen.

However, this "set it and forget it" mentality neglects the continued evolution of digital media and the rising need to drive more opportunities with in-market travel shoppers, and to do so earlier, as competition at the bottom of the funnel grows.

As digital media consumption and travel advertising spend patterns continue to evolve, the forward-looking marketer needs to take a holistic look at the marketing funnel and ensure the dots are being connected across the customer journey.

For most, that means doubling down on less-saturated yet highly attributable mid-funnel tactics. Those that fail to adjust during this critical shift in our industry are at risk of getting left behind.

Copyright 2019 Northstar Travel Media LLC. All rights reserved. From https://www.phocuswire.com. By Bill Chase - Koddi.

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