• Deliver ads targeted to usage. Occasionalization enables you to get the right message across at the right time. A user who is on a Quick Check mission verifying the status of a flight she’s booked might be receptive to a relevant banner ad — say, for a valet parking service at the airport. She is not likely to explore a link for a vacation package to the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. But if that same user is comparing prices of vacation packages in a Collecting Information session, she may welcome a pop-up ad inviting her to a getaway weekend. And what better time than a DIY Travel occasion to display a skyscraper ad heavy with information about a time-sensitive promotional rate on a package deal?
• Show a different face to individual users based on their occasion. The digital traveler logging on to a Web site on a Friday evening is likely on a Collecting Information or DIY Travel mission. He has different goals in mind at 5 a.m. on Monday. A page that pops up with his itinerary and weather reports for his destinations that day will be far more relevant than the Asia-Pacific airfare sale he eagerly explored Friday evening. Some airlines are already tailoring their content by access device. United’s Proactive Paging service, for example, allows you not only to retrieve flight information but also to send an e-message to your limousine driver’s cell phone if your flight is delayed. Its EasyAccess service allows travelers to book flights on wireless personal digital assistants.
• Collaborate with complementary suppliers to better serve a particular need. Web sites now offer to book a hotel room or rental car with preferred partners after you’ve completed an airline reservation. But suppliers using occasionalization can take this a step further. For example, an airline attuned to your DIY Travel session search for tickets to the August 2004 Athens Olympics might close the deal by offering you a comarketed sports vacation package with Nike. If you book with that airline, you receive a “swoosh”-emblazoned hat, as well as access to the Nike block of tickets to the events of your choice.
• Advertise when and where it makes a difference. The Quick Check traveler knows the sites and will find them. DIYs and Travel Watchers are more open to influence and more valuable. Tracking them back to their source can open new pathways to new customers.
Finally, remember the potential of online information to influence offline behavior. In July, digital travelers who shopped on the Web spent $675 million in travel offline.
Key to the Future
Because travel planning over the Internet will continue to have mass distribution, it will continue to capture the fascination — as well as the time, attention, and dollars — of the travel industry and consumers of leisure travel. That popularity alone subjects travel marketers to a real and growing risk of commoditization in their industry.
There is also a more practical concern: Will the margins generated by Web-driven travel ever repay the $8-billion-and-rising investment in these services? This will require much more than simply capturing the travel agent’s commission — now capped at $10 per domestic flight. The key will be to create new value for digital travelers — influencing consumers’ choices, extending suppliers’ markets, and optimizing pricing.
If marketers learn to use occasionalization to identify customers and capture their loyalty, we believe that they’ll discover their best chance for creating distinctive, one-on-one branding that’s fully reconciled with mass positioning.
Identifying and embracing digital travelers will help the entire industry profit from its multibillion-dollar investment, one carefully planned trip at a time.