Cree Lawson is the CEO of Arrivalist, one of the first companies to measure offline response to online advertising, which he founded in 2012. Prior to Arrivalist, Cree founded the Travel Ad Network, which catered to online travel advertisers. A former investigative reporter, Cree has also served in several management, sales, marketing, and business development roles.
The MakeGood: What is Arrivalist and how did you determine that there was a need for it?
Arrivalist is an attribution and advertising platform for the travel and tourism industry. We do two things: one is determining what destination-specific advertising a person saw on his way to a vacation that could have influenced his trip, and the other is targeting that person, when he arrives at his destination, with ads that are relevant for a tourist. So, say I’m in Manhattan and see an ad for Atlantic City. If my device (and therefore I) arrive in Atlantic City at a later date, that change in location is a proxy for a conversion—meaning that the ad was effective. We were one of the first to measure the change in location of a device in response to an ad. For a tourism board, that’s the holy grail—for years they’ve been buying ads, without knowing if anyone showed up. They can’t measure the response to their marketing. What we give them is brand-new insight into how effective their online marketing is.
The MakeGood: What were you doing before starting Arrivalist?
My background is in visitors’ guides and travel guides. I started the Travel Ad Network in 2003 and sold the majority stake in 2009. I first became interested in destination marketing organizations (DMOs) through the Travel Ad Network. Airline and hotel advertisers know exactly what their ads are worth because there were they can see which ads influence conversions. DMOs had what we call “proxy metrics”—kind of like CPGs. You don’t click a Bounty ad to buy toilet paper. You don’t click an ad for Atlantic City to reserve a spot at a poker table.
So all of this started with Travel Guides Free. One of my advertisers said he was killing trees and shipping visitor’s guides to the people who requested them through us, but didn’t have a way to know if people arrived after receiving the guide. We started noticing that people who requested guides would open the confirmation email on their mobile devices. We started asking: “What if the mobile device that was used to open the confirmation email arrived in the place covered by the guidebook they just ordered?”
The MakeGood: You’re not originally from New York. Have your own travels influenced your interest in the travel industry?
My parents, community college teachers, were fond of saying that the best part of being a teacher was being able to travel a lot over the summer months. Being teachers, they wanted to see as much of the world as they could, on a limited budget. So I saw 49 of the fifty states from the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, camping along the way, and usually reading a free visitor’s guide we picked up at a rest stop. When I got in to travel marketing years later, it struck me as odd that travel marketers only really looked at travel as a flight-and-hotel kind of experience. That’s not the majority of American travel. I’ve always wanted to illustrate the influence and impact of the great American road trip.
The MakeGood: Who are some of Arrivalist’s clients? What sort of results have they seen?
Well, I already mentioned Atlantic City above. It wasn’t a hypothetical—they were actually our first full client. We started working with them not long after Hurricane Sandy, when the Jersey Shore was hurting for tourism dollars. When I started meeting with the ACCVA (Atlantic City Convention and Visitor’s Authority), to distribute their visitor’s guides I found a group of folks who were eager to measure their marketing and get every dime out of the budget that they had to restore AC to its former glory as America’s playground. I also found a destination with 20+ million visitors who arrived largely by car and bus rather than airline. We had a meeting of the minds. If I could tell them which of their marketing collateral—emails, site visits, guidebook requests, banner ads, etc.—were most effective, they would be able to tune their marketing to the ad spend that was most effective. We quickly found out which media types influenced day-trippers who were likely casino visitors and which ads influenced people from further away who were more likely to stay overnight and have an experience that went beyond the casino.
We’ve also been working with the state of Kansas, helping them to drive awareness and visits during the summer months, and understanding how the various approaches they were taking affected visitation. So, for example, we saw that email campaigns drew visitors from all across the country, while video ads were more attractive to visitors from surrounding states. We could also see which campaigns had the most compelling messages, because they’re the ones that drove the most visitors—and from that, we could see which visitors were the most affordable to market to. Our Kansas clients were also eager to get the absolute most visitation form their marketing budgets and illustrate to stakeholders that the money they were spending was actually having an economic impact. We helped them answer questions like “Is the increased engagement from video ads worth the increased CPM you pay for those ads?” and “Does our marketing in an expensive market like Chicago influence visitation as effectively as ads to the surrounding states?” The results were surprising and next year they can spend smarter and illustrate the impact of their ads on actual budgets, not just clickthrough rates, time on site and things like that.
The MakeGood: What’s next for Arrivalist?
We’re reaching over 20 times the audience we were reaching this time last year, which means deeper insights for our customers. And we’re about to announce a handful of new tourism board partners as well. Some of the biggest travel destinations in the country will be using Arrivalist to understand and market to their audiences.
And that’s just within the destination marketing space. We’ve also been amazed by the incoming interest from advertisers in other sectors who are thinking out of the box and asking us to tell them which of their marketing initiatives are most likely to influence people to show up. In the ecommerce-driven world we live in, the existing paradigm is all about clicks and online conversions (which are still less than eight percent of retail commerce). I believe we’re on the cusp of a paradigm shift. We’re beginning to see marketers realize that a click is nice and a long site visit is even better. But a customer who shows up—who engages with a brand in the physical world—is a much more qualified potential customer. We’re anticipating that paradigm shift and planning to be a frontrunner in the science of measuring which marketing influences customers to show up.