3 Ways Travel Advertisers Can Put Their Best Creative Foot Forward

Susan260For travel advertisers, it’s easy to think that simply having a desirable location – emerald green waters, white sand beaches, an average of 320 days of sunshine a year — is enough to entice consumers to hop on a plane and invest their vacation budget in your area. But beauty only takes you so far in travel advertising, especially online.

With so many beautiful destinations (including lots of beaches) to choose from, there’s plenty of competition for the consumer’s attention. Fortunately, there are a few tricks travel advertisers can leverage for achieving great online campaigns that attract a consumer’s eye and entice them to visit your destination.

Test and optimize the ad’s creative

Many advertisers, from travel and tourism to consumer package goods brands, will often develop online display campaigns using one piece of creative. It makes sense, because brands want a unified message across all their advertising. But online doesn’t have the same built-in costs for changing creative like print does. And, truth be told, beautiful travel destinations can’t possibly be captured in just one image or banner ad. All advertisers should use different creative to test the ads that get the best consumer response and then optimize to put the best messages forward as the campaign goes on.

Using one piece of creative leaves you with nothing to compare to other than past campaigns. So while you may have better results than the previous campaign, there’s no way of knowing if the results could be even better in the active flight. Serving and optimizing multiple versions of creative within the same campaign drives the best performance possible for each audience, media partner and device.

Don’t be afraid to mix objectives across screens

While we’re on the subject of devices, don’t be intimidated by the growing intricacy of the web. In 2013, the Panama City Beach campaign involved complex cross-platform rich media, which can be tricky when it comes to correctly tracking and consistently evaluating performance. Fortunately, we had a partner to help us (more on that later), but the biggest piece we learned was that different screens require different goals.

Our main communication goal was to showcase Panama City Beach as the ideal vacation destination during the spring, summer and fall seasons, with a business goal of increasing travel to the area. In order to achieve those goals, we planned to address three stages in the travel conversion process: awareness, connection and activation. Paid media was the key influencer for the first two stages, while owned and earned media drove activation. Each stage was assigned a corresponding metric to ensure measurability against each objective.

For awareness, we focused on impression delivery to increase consideration and ensure the audience put PCB on their list of desired destinations. When consumers moved on to connection, we provided engaging creative and tools that would aid in their trip planning. When measuring connections, we focused on rich media interactions, social media engagement, time spent with the ads and site traffic.

At the final activation stage, the goal was to drive bookings. Aside from room nights booked and bed tax revenue collected, we also evaluated website visits and the quality of traffic driven to the site (if there was high time spent and/or a high number of pages visited).

Of course, goals and metrics differ based on not only where the consumer is in the conversion funnel, but also by device. On mobile devices, awareness was the primary objective, with impressions serving as the main metrics. On tablets, the objective was engagement, with time spent, interactions and social likes serving as important metrics. For the traditional desktop, we were trying to drive traffic, using clicks, visits and site goals as measurement.

Lean on established best practices (and a partner)

Of course, as the complexity of our Panama City Beach digital campaigns increase year-over-year, support from our advertising agency, Fahlgren Mortine and, our interactive ad partner, PointRoll, has grown as well. Sure, we know why guests vacation with us, which informs our ad messaging, but we only know about us – that is, most travel advertisers haven’t seen how other messages work online, especially outside of the travel vertical. So while you can test and optimize with relative ease, or use multiple metrics across screens, travel advertisers can also spare themselves some work by getting an outside opinion on their creative and their campaign planning.

In collaboration with Fahlgren Mortine, PointRoll has helped review ad concepts up front and provide recommendations for improvement based on what they’ve seen and learned in the past. Sometimes, these differences can be so subtle that you’d hardly think they make a difference, but they do. For instance, PointRoll advised PCB on whether to use “roll to expand” or “click to expand” functionality in the ads, when to have sound auto play, and when and where a call-to-action should appear within a banner ad.

When you’re advertising across multiple screens, those insights can be the difference between a website visit or a booked flight and an ad that gets ignored. Companies steeped in digital advertising have the best practices down pat — don’t be afraid to turn to an expert to help you rise above the competition.

Susan Estler, formerly VP of marketing at Panama City Beach CVB, is now executive director at Lackawanna County CVB.