Spring Forward: Optimizing Programmatic Campaigns for Travel

By Wade Kuiken-Rogers, Head Trader, The Exchange Lab

2016-03-24-1458851015-9197043-WadeKuikenRogers.JPGIf you are a marketer in the travel sector, you likely had a very lucrative few weeks leading up to Easter.  With an emphasis on spending time with family and loved ones and people longing for a mini-vacation, Easter is a time when many consumers are looking for great deals on last-minute travel.

Of course, Easter isn’t the only popular travel period aside from Christmas – spring break, summer break, and long weekends are all strong times to target potential travelers. Yet travelers don’t often make booking decisions all at once – it is likely that outside sources including online marketing had their influence in the weeks leading up to booking their vacation. So how can travel marketers take advantage of the weeks leading up to popular vacation periods to craft a timely, effective campaigns? It just takes creativity, strategic thinking and a savvy programmatic partner.

Follow the white rabbit

When it comes to last minute bookings, the numbers don’t lie. In the travel sector in North America, our business intelligence team saw conversion rates increase week on week in the month before Easter 2015, spiking on the Wednesday before the Easter Weekend. Conversion rates on this Wednesday were 420% higher than four weeks prior and 50% higher than the Wednesday before, demonstrating that many people were looking for those last minute getaways. Programmatic specialists can help optimize ad campaigns to make the most of these spikes prior to popular vacation periods.

All programmatic campaigns need to be unique and tailor-made to each individual brand. Programmatic specialists take into account different strategies and tactics based on past campaign performance, budget, and other factors to set campaigns up for success and exceed marketers’ expectations. Leaving out certain demographics and inventory that hasn’t worked well in the past or is not relevant for the campaign ensures that a new campaign is optimized right out of the gate. Specialists then start a campaign by utilizing a group of demand-side platforms (DSPs) and casting a wide but focused net in order to drive qualified users into the conversion funnel.

Based on the audience response to the variety of creatives in a campaign, users can be segmented into different groups and specialists will determine where to shift marketing dollars. Users can then be further segmented into different buckets based on their online behavior, whether it be a click, engagement with the site or took action on the product by placing it in a basket. By segmenting users, they are now able to set up the strategic bidding and optimization platform based on the affinity each user has with the brand. The further down the funnel, the higher the affinity.

While all of this works to target customers when they are most receptive, to really gain strong results marketers need to work with their programmatic partner to ensure they have the best possible data and can work across multiple devices.

Moving down the marketing funnel

Many marketers are starting to recognize the value in their first party data and are opening up to granting their programmatic partner an impartial view to their audience prior to a campaign. A savvy programmatic partner can assume a lot about consumers from other similar campaigns they’ve run, but the more first-party data a programmatic partner has access to, the better optimized the campaign.

For example, demographic conversion data can be leveraged from website engagement, CRM tools, DMPs or loyalty programs to help further segment a programmatic campaign. What sorts of travel offers or destinations are users clicking on in emails or on the website? All of this information can help guide a successful programmatic travel campaign. By using first data and leveraging third party data providers, specialists are able to focus on users who both have the means to travel but are also interested.

It is also important to have a cross-device approach. With users now using multiple platforms for search results, an ideal mix of mobile and desktop environments in a necessity. According to eMarketer, 51.8% of travelers who book trips digitally this year will do so on a mobile device. This is a huge market share, and marketers need to ensure that their programmatic partner is able to target mobile web and apps as well as desktop in order to not miss out on this valuable demographic.

As an industry we also need to stop focusing on last touch attribution and switch to having a proper weighted attribution model that tracks a user’s journey throughout the funnel and cross device. Last touch only focuses on the conversion and does not capture all touch points through the longer decision process of booking a vacation. Employing this robust attribution model will provide the true value of any campaign strategy that is employed and provide accurate insights for the future.

Taking off

The idea of taking a vacation is steeped in emotion – in our hectic “live to work” world it’s not difficult to find people who are anxious to get away. Users do tons of research across different channels to make sure that they find a vacation that suits their needs and is an overall success, and a well thought out programmatic campaign is very similar. Marketers need to analyze all the information available to them prior to a campaign launch to make sure they get the desired results. By having a top-down approach to a campaign, marketers will be able to access a user in each step of the research phase and be there for when they make a decision.

About the Author

With a background in accounting, Wade transitioned into the programmatic space as a campaign trafficker with The Exchange Lab while the industry was still growing up. Years of work at the grassroots level of programmatic operations allowed him to transition into a well-rounded programmatic specialist team lead, a role which allows him to focus on campaign strategy for some of the world’s leading advertisers.