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Travel brands: Use data to find Your audience – and tell your story

Published on By Tara Schwenk

We were approached by a luxury tour operator that was struggling to get the right kinds of direct bookings - this is how we helped.

We were approached by a luxury tour operator that was struggling to get the right kinds of direct bookings. They were doing amazingly well with agents – but wanted to promote their culturally-immersive tours through web and social content, and digital PR – and ultimately, attract more direct bookings.

So far, the emails coming in from their lead generation efforts were a bit hit and miss; people looking for group tours, not having the right kind of budget. Their marketing clearly wasn’t right and wasn’t attracting the audiences they actually cater to.

We were going to change all that.

The brief

- To attract more direct business
- To promote the tour operator’s culturally immersive tours through web and social content, and digital PR
- To get more of the right kinds of leads

What we did:

Using a combination of CRM and email data, website analytics, social data, qualitative interviews, and an SEO driven competitor analysis, we were able to build a complete picture of their online audience.

Our team used a data-driven approach to discover the operator’s true targets: their ideal client wasn’t so much defined by their nationality, household income or other superficial demographics, but by their shared common passions and values.

We were able to get insights into what led to a conversion – and what led to a lost sale.

We found out exactly who books their tours, their average spend, and the common questions they would ask the sales team.

What were the results?

By fully understanding the client’s existing customers, the way they use their website and social media platforms and identifying the intersection of similarities and differences between these two groups, we were able to make accurate content recommendations: ideas that speak to their target audience and drive search no matter where in the world they were.

We focused not on location demographics, but on interests and passions, because their customers are truly global.

We then used our research and analysis to create:
- Core content pillars for messaging
- Key content changes to the website, blog and newsletters backed by evidence
- Social channel recommendations

But before we went all-in on data, we needed a human-centric view of what was happening.

Human insight + data insight. Why did we take this approach?

We always start with human insight before moving onto data, because humanity runs through everything that we, as a species, do.

Most people make emotional decisions for absolutely everything – where to go on holiday, what to have for lunch, which school to send their children to – everything. Despite what we’d like to think about ourselves, our choices are rarely analytical, logical decisions.

The magic comes when you bridge that gap and identify our human needs through data.

Our clients are human, too. We need to know what they want to achieve, and what is important to them. How do they want to be seen by their customers? What kind of customers do they want to attract?

Humanity comes before data. Once we understand the people at the centre of our goals, we move onto finding data that supports them.

Here’s how we did it…

Using a combination of data sources, we built the truest representation possible of the client’s target audience – but we started with the needs of the client, on a human level.

Immersion workshop

We started by getting to know the client personally, separately from their brand – because the two aren’t always the same. We wanted to come away from this exercise with a full understanding of who they are, internally and outward-facing.

So, we spent the required time getting to know them, understanding exactly what they wanted to achieve – and why.

Why is it important to them?

Their biggest struggle was that they had to spend a lot of time qualifying leads that weren’t appropriate before they even got to the sales team. This showed us what we needed to focus on; ensuring that the content was more correctly positioned to the target demographic.

Data-driven audience insights

In this phase of the project, we were led entirely by data. We wanted to discover, without prejudice or preconceptions, exactly who was viewing their website and social media profiles and going on to make inquiries.

We love this part of the discovery – is who the client thinks their audience is really their audience? Clients – in particular smaller travel brands – usually have a relatively good understanding of their clients, but often there are surprises. The data often reveals opportunities nobody has thought about.

The gold nuggets, the opportunities are usually found where there are seeming discrepancies or gaps between what the travel brand knows about their customers and what the data tells us. Gaps mean one of two things usually: you’ve either missed a golden opportunity – or you are barking up the wrong tree. It is our job to find out which one it is.

Some of the data is more reliable than other data – what to focus on

We started with the client’s internal first-hand data, converted bookings followed by sales enquiries. Those two are the most reliable data sources.

Yes – there is a data hierarchy.

Not all data is created equal. Some forms of data are more reliable than others. Empirical data is not always absolute, and without context – it can be completely meaningless. Qualitative data can be misleading if collected poorly, but it adds specifics that are otherwise impossible to know.

At the top of the hierarchy, converted sales data and properly conducted human interviews are the most reliable. These carry the greatest weight in analysis.

Second, CRM data and sales enquiries (where it’s clear to see lost leads and why they were lost) provide the next most valuable insights.

After this comes website and Google Analytics data, followed by first party social data.

Finally, third party data. This is where you find untapped business opportunities. These can be unearthed by a combination of social listening and SEO tools, like Semrush, AHRefs and Moz.

To get all of our data for analysis, we followed this process. We:

- Studied multiple email chains of lost and won leads, categorising them by common threads and themes
Analysed the internal CRM data to make general conclusions about things like age, gender and spend, by averages
- Used the client’s email ESP data to look at who was opening and engaging with their sends, and why
Watched hours of interview footage from those who had converted or already been on a trip, to discover what motivated their decisions
- Spoke directly to those who had already converted to test our theories. What did we get correct? And where hadn’t we fully understood what motivated customers’ buying decisions?
- Google Analytics was next – which showed us how people were using their website. Where were they exiting the user journey? What pages were they landing on from Google Search?
- SEO data: What search terms were they using to find our client, and why did our client get the click?
Social data: After that, we studied their social media data.

We could now see that all their customers had the same reasons for booking. And not only that, but the same three core beliefs about themselves, and what kind of traveller they believed themselves to be.

This gave us the three core content pillars we knew we should be building around to speak to this demographic.

We used Google Analytics to see what content was really working, by looking for pages with low bounce rates and long dwell times.

If you’re new to analysing content performance, let’s quickly explain why those metrics are important. A “bounce” is when a user quickly goes back to search results after clicking through to a webpage, making no further interactions on that page.

Dwell time is just that – the time actively spent with the window or browser tab open on that page. Using event tracking or tags, you can even see things like scroll depth and button or link clicks – but even without those advanced features, the combination of low bounce rates and long dwell times is usually a pretty good indicator that the person viewing that particular piece is really engaged with the content.

High engagement means you’ve got someone interested.

And if someone’s interested in your content, there’s a greater chance they’ll become a customer.

Being able to see that user journey in full allowed us to draw sizable conclusions on where content should sit on the website, and how it should be positioned. It also made us think about how people were using the website: were they on a desktop computer, doing in-depth research with intent? Or just browsing on mobile?

Each would require a different strategy.

Armed with data, here’s what we now knew

We now understood:

- What matters to the customer and what makes them book
- Why leads were lost (and what the sales team needed to do differently)
The kind of content that drives traffic to the website (so we could exactly recommend to the client what they should be making more of)
- The content that puts people off – and should be removed from the website (because it also dilutes the brand and attracts the wrong kinds of customers / bad leads)
- Content that causes users to bounce – could it be adjusted to work better?
- Gaps in the client’s content (i.e., opportunities to grow the business – opportunities for new packages)
- The formats of content that resonate: video versus text
- Whether we should advise the client to focus on TikTok over Instagram, on newsletters over blog posts, on PR or more on SEO.

There were some quick, practical wins, too. We advised them to put more trust markers on the website – awards, press logos, expert spokespeople and testimonials.

We also studied the calls to action on the website, social media platforms and newsletters – whether they were in the right position, too frequent or infrequent – and advised on better alternatives.

With a solid understanding of what their customers wanted, we could now position the client’s website more effectively to the right audience.

But what were their competitors doing – and could we learn from them?

Competitor analysis

We wanted to understand who was in the same space and doing it well. How do they challenge the client’s market position?

We looked at brands that were on the same level as the client’s brand, and then identified the market challengers in the segment the client wanted to be in. The range of competitors we studied was huge; from major international brands to small on-the-ground operators in the local area.

We evaluated their digital estates – their website, content, tone of voice – to see what lessons we could learn.

We saw some really interesting things and came out of the analysis with some excellent takeaways. One key finding? The competition was already creating content that aligned with the three core pillars we had identified in our prior research – so we knew we were on the right track.

But we also found two opportunities that drove huge search volumes, but none of their competitors had identified as yet. We had first mover advantage to capitalise on this segment for our client.

Now came the task of organising the content that we already had into what’s working and what isn’t.

Content audit

A content audit involves analysing all owned digital assets: blog posts, social media posts, press releases, company news, videos, images – everything the brand has created online.

The purpose of this is to find out what kind of content drove business.

The task is to go through each piece of content, and assess its value based on website traffic, search visibility, engagement and how well it represents the brand.

We split the website content into different silos:

- To be updated – with new keywords, or content tweaks to change the tone
- To be removed – because it was pulling in the wrong audience
- To be kept – because it was working well

We made a priority list of easy wins and low hanging fruit, which consisted of simple word changes, or moving around content to showcase certain elements of their offering. We used what we’d learned from the interview stage – people’s reasons for booking with the client.

Want to know more? Learn how to do a content audit.

Content plan

Now, we knew what content worked and why, and we knew exactly who our target audience was.

It was time to put it all together.

For the content plan, we put together a full strategy of content to create and promote, including where to promote it. Based on our findings, we recommended key social media channels to focus on, and advised how to speak to their demographics on these platforms. We also advised on the best format – visual (Youtube) vs written (blog) vs audio (podcast).

It also became clear pretty quickly that, while the client had a good travel PR agency, the agency didn’t understand Google at all – or how PR can influence search visibility.

We advised that we should reclaim lost links; making sure that brand mentions get converted into links to improve both brand awareness and search visibility.

Finally, we suggested building a PR strategy aimed specifically at themes that we now knew their customers are interested in, but where they had gaps in coverage and awareness. We also suggested an international digital PR campaign in an area that neither they nor their competitors had realised was an opportunity…

Data-led marketing strategies for travel brands

Any good PR, marketing and sales strategy should really start with understanding the psychological motivations of customers, based on data. It should look at where the gaps are, and for opportunities that neither the client, nor the competition has considered.

This is what Lemongrass Marketing does best.

We are a specialist PR, content marketing agency for travel brands that uses data-driven analytics to devise award-winning PR and content strategies – based on insight, not guesswork.

Let’s start a project. Call +44 (0)1865 237 990 or email