Travel Brands

Marketing buzzwords are powerful ... if you know the customer

How Travel Brands can maintain value in their communication

Matt Walker
May 23, 2017

– First publish on PhocusWire, April 2019 –

Have you noticed how concepts and terms in travel marketing trend (even, megatrend) and then buzz into oblivion?

"Local," "experience," "platform," "storytelling" - many words in our marketing, our industry, are ceasing to communicate value both internally and to the customer.

It has something to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the latest generation of influencers who live in their own “apartment” in their parents’ basement.

Nevertheless, our communication is not keeping abreast of the encroaching buzz, and we need to find ways of salvaging our marketing-speak to forge a shared common ground in the market and industry that is reflected in our language.

Travel: An industry of buzz

As a vast marketplace (approximately 10% of the global GDP), the travel industry is given to buzz, a phenomenon when the terms we use fail to communicate value from misuse and overfamiliarity.

One cannot help but put a hash before every tag.

The world’s data increases by quintillions of bytes each day; intuitive segmenting in our conversations is essential to life. However, what has become apparent in the world of tags, trends and shortcuts is the transience of value in our communication.

As the industry bounces from trend to trend, we have failed to see that the buzz it creates is parasitic in nature. It kills the value it seeks to deliver.

As the industry bounces from trend to trend, we have failed to see that the buzz it creates is parasitic in nature. It kills the value it seeks to deliver.

Notably, a more disconcerting practice in the travel industry is how leading pundits at the higher echelons of journalism are contributing to the high turnover of terms.Industry experts naturally dabble in an element of soothsaying, forecasting months hence. But beware, any discourse of debunking last season’s “words of buzz” is often a preface to introducing a new spring line of terms or coined phrases.

Marketing trades in information, how concepts rise and fall can be a way of controlling the conversation. This practice of “calling out” terms that are becoming cliche perpetuates the very thinning of communication it is attempting to stymie.

Local: How a word buzzes

Let’s get practical for a moment: The word "local" featured on every buzz list of 2018.

Local means that which is restricted to a place and the people or culture of that place.

In the artisanal-makers movement (some call hipster), “local” became a signifier for that which is authentic or sustainable to the community. Authenticity is the consumer sensibility, the buyer’s criteria in an Experience Economy.

An experience is an internal reaction to external stimuli, it’s a personal occurrence, brands can only render the experience of their product as authentic, there are no assurances it will be experienced thus.

And, anything that deals in perceptions or rendering is a form of marketing.

Local became a marketing shortcut, a stamp of approval for customers seeking to consume the authentic, the real, the unique, the one-of-a-kind. As with all shortcuts in an information age, habituation sets in due to a lack of understanding coupled with overuse.

Finding a constant

Oddly, stark definitions do not curb the rising tide of buzz in marketing, and are ultimately unhelpful in our search for real value.

Rather than shore up the common ground we are trying to establish with the customer, they limit the value we can offer, and our marketing gravitates towards one-size-fits-all.

That being said, sustaining value in our communication requires incorporating a constant in the equation.

The customer, in all their fluidity, is the constant we are seeking.

Understandably, brands discovering their product or service is now the variable in the lifecycle has been a traumatic process, a transition few brands have executed well.

Nevertheless, a nuanced understanding of the customer is the last line of defence against the buzz in our marketing.

The process of incorporating the customer

If we incorporate the customer into our definition of local, the term narrows and delivers real value.

When we consider the definition for local as people and proximity, everywhere is local.

When we incorporate the lifestyle preferences of one traveler into the equation, everywhere is potentially someone’s specific version of local.

Furthermore, each destination now supports many versions of local predominantly realised at a neighbourhood level.

In this paradigm, we can determine what kind of local you are, and what kind of local you will want.

This creates a powerful opportunity for the travel brand that understands that the customer purchases travel but consumes the destination at a local or neighbourhood level.

In that conversation of many versions of local, delivering the customer’s unique brand of local is the gold standard of in-destination experience and ancillary retail.

As every generation becomes more digitally immersed and begins to discover their inner snowflake, the process of incorporating the unique parameters - that is the individual customer - to restrict our application of marketing terminology will produce a more robust internal discourse but also help us to rediscover value in what appears to be jaded marketing terms.


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