Forrester research shows travel marketers are behind with identity

Lori travels at least once a month for business, and she plans a warm-weather vacation for her family every year. She’s a prime target for travel and hospitality marketing.

The problem is that Lori is also a frequent leisure traveler with her family and uses her personal email address for those trips. Although she is a frequent guest of one hotel brand as a business traveler, that travel brand fails to recognize her as a loyal customer when she travels with her family.

Although email is a helpful signifier of who the person is, a single person may have multiple email addresses across business and personal use. Subsequently, travel brands often lack a clear and cohesive picture of a person’s ongoing trips and adventures across their many channels for browsing, planning and booking.

Without a single, persistent view of Lori, they’re unable to provide her relevant offers and personalized experiences. Lori may be fictional, but this challenge is not.

We recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to understand the current state of identity resolution in brand marketing. Forrester surveyed more than 200 brand marketers on their identity resolution strategies and how they apply to their marketing efforts.

The travel marketer responses from the Forrester survey show that travel and hospitality brands are struggling most with identity, despite their unique need for persistent identity over a long buyer’s journey.

Download the research: Forrester Travel Spotlight: Resolve identity challenges to increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty

Travel industry’s identity resolution is lowest in the study

Compared to the other industries surveyed (retail, auto and financial services), travel marketers report more nascent identity resolution programs—only 53% have an ID program that has been in place for at least 12 months.

Travel brands are also twice as likely as their peers in other industries to be using homegrown tools to assist in identity resolution (12% for travel companies compared to 5% of the total respondents). While tools built in house can offer flexibility and customization, it may be harder to make quick adjustments when changes occur in the market. Outsourcing identity technology and services offer an advantage to travel and hospitality brands that are trying to get up to speed fast—and stay there.

With younger, less mature identity programs and more homegrown identity tools, travel marketers are facing challenges with using and activating their data. Top challenges include:

  • Optimizing online campaigns (55%)
  • Proving performance and measurement of marketing (53%)
  • Determining the right audiences for online campaigns (51%)

Travel uses limited identifiers

One of the reasons travel marketers are struggling is their limited use of identifiers. Like we illustrated with Lori, many travel companies rely on identifiers like email, IP addresses or login data to identify people online. These identifiers, particularly email, are very important for identifying people online, but as our SVP of product management, Dave Scrim, describes in this video, there are better methods for identifying people online. They can also be misleading—just think about how many personal and professional email addresses you’ve had in your lifetime or how often you are on a Wi-Fi network that isn’t your own.

Forrester’s report explains that “Over half of brands’ identity resolution programs (not just travel) ignore several important sources of valuable data and insights.” These insights include data like phone number, social media ID or handle, internal identifiers like loyalty program numbers, device IDs, etc.

Travel companies are even further behind other marketers in the study when it comes to using offline transactional data as an identifier (just 22% are using it today compared to 31% of the total survey takers). Although many travel marketers can track online bookings though their website and travel apps, they often miss offline transactional data from call centers and travel agents—a particularly reliable source of quality and accurate information that travel companies cannot afford to ignore. It’s harder to tie offline booking activities to traveler identity, but it is worth that extra effort and ensures travel brands stay connected to their customers across time—not just months but years.

Focused on the wrong goals?

The Forrester survey also revealed that travel marketers may be behind other industries with their identity programs because they are focusing on the wrong objectives. 

The research found that travel companies are prioritizing increasing the profitability of their products/services as one of their top goals. But this is taking a brand- or product-centric approach rather than focusing on the customer and his or her needs and preferences, which is ultimately the purpose of an identity management solution. Having this as the #1 goal suggests that travel brands’ focus with identity isn’t appropriately aligned to the intent of an identity solution.

Customer-focused priorities like winning new customers and satisfaction are also high on travel marketers’ lists, but they’re not at the top for most travel companies. One priority these brands have right is improving data measurement and activation capabilities. Creating a robust identity resolution program that can better identify customers and match them to a product or service will improve both profitability and customer experience.

Visit Savannah gets heads in beds with identity

Visit Savannah, the official destination marketing organization for the Greater Savannah, Georgia, area, was facing many of the same challenges as its fellow tourism organizations. They needed to get heads in beds. But not just any heads—they wanted to attract incremental visitors (those that were not already planning to come), and they wanted to reach more sophisticated luxury travelers, who can be difficult to identify online.

Using a robust identity program to find the right audiences and deliver relevant, cross-channel messaging, Visit Savannah saw a $133:1 return on ad spend from a $182,000 investment using a transaction-based identity solution. They were also able to accurately and granularly measure results from individual visitors’ spend in the area to truly understand the value of their marketing investment.

Learn more about Visit Savannah's campaign.

The opportunity to deliver highly relevant experiences that attract and engage potential travelers is there—if travel and hospitality brands want to grab it. But identity resolution is at the heart of this opportunity. Marketers will need to be able to talk to the Lori’s of the world more effectively. Check out Forrester’s report for more details on the current state of identity in travel marketing, plus three key recommendations for improvement.

Download the full Forrester research: Resolve Identity Challenges To Increase Customer Satisfaction And Brand Loyalty: A Spotlight on Travel