Creative Cage Match: Travel Edition

The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer … and vacation is on my mind. Luckily, I have a trip planned for June to trek off to the Adirondacks, but that leaves plenty of summer days to do more traveling. And my inbox agrees.

Travel DogeThere’s a reason that pro-wrestling is so popular — and it’s not just the juicy drama and bespangled costumes. People love a good fight, and have for millennia, dating back to the gladiators of Rome and beyond.

So, once a month I’m going to select two marketers and toss them into a Creative Cage Match. I’ll be looking at everything ranging from email to direct mail, website to mobile site. It’ll be a mix of objective and subjective, and each time a marketer will walk out of the ring triumphantly.

The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer … and vacation is on my mind. Luckily, I have a trip planned for June to trek off to the Adirondacks, but that leaves plenty of summer days to do more traveling. And my inbox agrees.

In this corner, weighing in at 16 years old and chock-full of user generated content by way of customer reviews, we have TripAdvisor. The site is home to robust travel forums, Best of 2016 lists and a selection of apps. TripAdvisor claims to have more than 60 million members and over 170 million reviews. That’s a lot of vacations.

Across the ring we have 8-year-old travel and hospitality juggernaut Airbnb, disrupting the industry in ways that delight travelers — and home owners — worldwide. The startup site allows hosts to list their properties for rent and provides travelers with the opportunity to rent lodgings and “live like a local.” Airbnb has more than 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities in 190 countries. Talk about options!

Email vs. Email

First, let’s look at TripAdvisor, which hooked me with this subject line: “And the new #1 island in the world is …” Ooh yes please. I want to know this.

Tripadvisoremail_topTripadvisoremail_bottomAs you can see, this email is PACKED. Let’s unpack it:

  • The tease for the No. 1 island (including a bunch of clues on the form of images and review snippets).
  • Call to action to book a hotel in TripAdvisor.
  • Locations for the 25 best beaches in the world.
  • Airfare rates for a selection of cities — some I’ve been to — from my local airport, PHL.
  • A bunch of special offers for hotels and resorts.
  • The call to action “Where’s this?” (Sadly the link wasn’t working for me)
  • And one more call to action about finding and booking a hotel on TripAdvisor.

It’s a little overwhelming, but if you want to cruise through the email and click on the content that is most interesting to you, it’s easy because everything is neatly compartmentalized.

(Oh, and that No. 1 island? It’s Maui … some place I have yet to go!)

So from gorgeous images to teasing text and plenty of content, TripAdvisor’s email gives you something to spend a little time on. Now let’s look at Airbnb.

Converting Your Social Media Triple-Fs: Friends, Followers and Fans

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

Well, in my opinion, they’ve won only half the battle …

It’s fantastic that they have a following on social media—people who seem to be interested in their messages (posts) and their overall philosophy. They can certainly cultivate these relationships to assist in their marketing efforts. However, I remind these gurus that the “fans” are following them. It’s a passive relationship. And there’s an awful lot of background noise in a news feed that can distract their fans.

If you don’t have fans’ email addresses, then you cannot have one-on-one communications with them. Building and cultivating a list is a fundamental business strategy for sales growth.

In the publishing world, a list (email addresses of free or paid subscribers) is sacred. It’s one of the most valuable things you own. You protect it and treat it with care, because your list is your financial bread and butter. It’s made up of people—customers and subscribers—who can make or break your business through their purchasing power or lack thereof.

Your list is also your leverage—what you use when reaching out to other synergistic publishers and friendly competitors to do reciprocal JV (joint venture) swaps and revenue share deals.

So, if you’re an online publisher, guru or business owner who has social media followers but no list, you’re at a disadvantage. Initiate a plan to capture your fans’ email addresses immediately and get permission to open up the personal lines of communication.

I recommend that you make a special conversion effort to encourage social media followers to give you their email addresses, or, as we say, “opt in” to receive your marketing messages.

This typically involves creating strong promotional copy and a lead-generation landing page (also know as squeeze page), where the goal is to capture the email address of the friend, follower or fan.

The offer should be something that will resonate with your fan, such as a useful and relevant free bonus. Some popular examples are a whitepaper, e-newsletter or e-alert subscription, audio download, bonus video, webinar or teleseminar..

Some marketers also offer coupon codes or gift certificates in exchange for an email address or the option to be in a “VIP club,” where you’re the first to hear about special offers.

Freebies will vary based on what you have to offer in exchange. Ideally, this is something that has a perceived value and is immediate and relevant. You run the campaign for a two-week period at a time, mixing your conversion messages with your regular, organic daily posts. It’s ideal to drive traffic to specially coded pages so you can track traffic and conversions. You can also make sure your sign up box on your website’s home page is up and ready for stray organic traffic. Then you monitor email sign-ups and website traffic (via Google Analytics), to ensure list growth and traffic source referrals.

Aside from captivating copy, many variables come into play to make sure the effort is successful. These include making sure email collection fields are at the top, middle and bottom of the lead-generation landing page being used, as well as in a static (fixed) location on your website. There should also be links to your privacy policy and an assurance statement alleviating any concern about email addresses being rented or sold to third parties.

It’s also critical to clearly disclose before users submit their email addresses that opting in to receive your freebie also gives them a complimentary subscription to your e-newsletter (if applicable), along with special offers from time to time.

Finally, you should follow up with a series of autoresponder (targeted messages) emails welcoming your new subscribers, reminding them how they signed up, offering strong editorial content and special new subscriber offers.

These emails facilitate bonding; validate that the correct email was sent; ensures that the user is aware of the sign up; helps reduce false “do not mail” reports, email bounces and general attrition; and most importantly, improved life time value.

So before you get enamored with your Facebook following, realize that to monetize these names takes a conversion strategy. Once you start building your list, you’ll add a whole new value to your businesses valuation.

Amid Gloom, eBags Has a Happy Dec. 1

From an e-commerce standpoint, it’s hardly surprising that we can “officially” use the R-word (recession) now. Cyber Monday’s sales pace was considerably slower than it was last year, according to a bevy of reports, which, of course, is unprecedented.

From an e-commerce standpoint, it’s hardly surprising that we can “officially” use the R-word (recession) now. Cyber Monday’s sales pace was considerably slower than it was last year, according to a bevy of reports, which, of course, is unprecedented.

But for at least one e-tailer — eBags.com — there’s some good news to be found. Cyber Monday 2008 sales were up 6 percent over last year for the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based online seller of bags and accessories, according to Co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing Peter Cobb. In addition, traffic was up 23 percent, a company record. The early evening, in particular, was highlighted by three straight record sales hours.

Cobb attributes eBags.com’s success to several Cyber Monday marketing initiatives:

  • negotiated steep discounts with many of its product vendors; as a result, had more than 1,000 products with special deals beginning on Black Friday, dubbed “Web Busters”;
  • temporarily converted its homepage into a Web Busters page showing 15 deals and contained links to 1,000 other Web Buster offers;
  • offered 20 percent off all merchandise on the site on Cyber Monday;
    if customers used PayPal, they received an additional $10 cash back;
  • allowed visitors to view 125 product videos on its site and also promoted a humorous video eBags.com produced explaining Web Busters;
  • sent 1.1 million e-mails to its opt-in members prior to Black Friday promoting the Web Busters sales, Web Busters video and other special offers; and
  • secured homepage placement on CyberMonday.com, a Web site that features special Cyber Monday deals each year; in fact, a big eBags.com promotion was the exclusive deal on CyberMonday.com from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. MST. Eighty-five percent of the CyberMonday.com site traffic was new to eBags.com, Cobb says.

“With all the negative press about the economy and the fact that Cyber Monday is five days later this season, it pushed us to think creatively about offers that would appeal to shoppers,” Cobb notes. “We have more planned to keep the positive momentum going through the holidays.”