I've been doing quite a lot of research around social media in the last few weeks - in particular because I was presenting at WTM. If you're interested, my presentation Social Media for Travel Marketers: Unpicking the 2.0 hype is available to view on Slideshare with detailed notes too.

One of the issues that I find particularly interesting is the way that whilst brands are desparate to engage with social media - social media is making brands increasingly redundant.

Marketers see social media as the next great opportunity to grow their businesses. And it's not hard to see why when you consider that Facebook now has 350 million accounts worldwide and Twitter is growing exponentially too. Some 40% of online sales are influenced by social media already (McKinsey stats -  more of this kind of stuff in the presentation).

But these very tools that travel marketers want to embrace are in some ways killing the brands they sought to build up - with vast expenditure and effort - over previous decades. Back in the old days pre the social web, big companies couldn't
communicate with all their customers on an individual basis. So they
sought to create 'personalities' - to put a friendly face on the front
of their products and companies so people could 'relate' to them. Sounds weirdly ridiculous doesn't it? But it kind of worked. The
whole discipline of brand marketing was born - humanising a faceless
company. Often they'd use 'brand personalities' - so Michael Jackson
endorsed Pepsi, Rutger Hauer came to personify Guinness and Nicole Kidman is the face of Channel No.5. Here were
real people - people like us (remember the Bisto family?) or else people we'd like to be like.
Absolutely tons of cash was pumped into this kind of marketing. (Interestingly I can think of no examples of travel brands that did this.
Can you?)

it was all broadcast. "This is what we want you to believe about our
company and its products" was the message. And your could control the medium so it was no problem - TV, print ads, advertising billboards. But social media isn't one-way... customers can talk back, customers can broadcast for themselves. It's a multi-channel conversation and anyone can join in.

I often think of social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) as being a bit like the pub. There's chat going on about all kinds of stuff. It's between like minded people and friends usually, it's relaxed and informal. They could well be discussing how cheap their new mortgage deal is or where the best resort for family holidays in Spain is. But can you imagine some bloke in a suit from say Halifax suddenly intervening with a sales pitch for his mortgages or a travel agent jumping into the conversation to suggest their latest deals for family holidays to Mallorca? (Despite the fact that the information they have to offer could actually be of genuine interest.)

Absolutely not. And that's the problem.

The old days of broadcast marketing, building a brand and pumping out your message could well be over.

So how does say First Choice or Thomas Cook get themselves into that chat in the pub about everyone's next family holiday? Could you ever see a place for a big travel brand to engage in these far more conversational and personal on-line environments?

(I have a few ideas which I'll share... but I'd be fascinated to hear what other people think!)

8 thoughts on “Is Web 2.0 killing travel brands?

  1. I don't think it's killing travel brands, or even the branding that has been built up over the years of broadcast marketing - unless of course that brand is significantly different from the reality! I think social media does move the brand beyond the sole control of its owner - opening it up to be defined as much by customers - but I don't think that's a bad thing, because it places the emphasis back on the product. If the product is strong, the word of mouth is strong and the brand is strong. And it's not just customers who want a strong product, it's what we all strive for Jeremy - even us marketeers!

  2. Social media is only like a pub (nice analogy!) so long as it remains free of advertising. But, with the ad-led media model that's been foisted upon us, the public, for the last hundred years, that won't last: expect to see ads infiltrating our 'pub conversations' pretty soon. In fact, what Web 2.0 may do is make the ad industry even more intrusive than it already is, by forcing ad creatives to figure out ways to get in under the wire of the 'pub conversation' - think of the ways that viral ads of today (or the Guinness ads of yesteryear) got seemingly EVERYbody talking... and what are they talking about? The Product. Hooray, say the execs, as they pump another hundred million into the global marketing spend.

    I'd be delighted if social media were to kill off brands altogether - and with them, advertising too - but that's ascribing too much influence. Brands work - and the number of clever people tempted by the kind of money available in the ad industry means that brands will simply find new ways to market. Web 2.0 will get commercialised. Somehow. Like just about everything else...

  3. It's an interesting thought, Jeremy, but I would argue that social media is changing travel brands rather than killing them.

    It's true that anyone can join in the conversation and whilst that breaks down some of the walls around a business, those organisations that actually practice what they preach will find their brands enhanced by this.

    Without wishing to be a rabid self-promoter, I did a blog post on this topic fairly recently here:


    It's an interesting topic for discussion, certainly!


  4. One very possible result will be an increase in existing advertising/PR 'black ops', where employees masquerading as Joe Public pop up with recommendations, links and positive product reviews.

    This phenomenon has already been observed in the geopolitical arena, sometimes referred to as 'info wars'. In this case, newspaper comment boards sites are the battleground rather than online shopping sites or user forums.

    But we've all found reviews on commercial sites from Dave in Dagenham that are just a little too structured and a little too polished unless Dave does a bit of copywriting in his lunchbreak.

    On a freelance board, I read a guy talking about existing PR software which scans the web and records product mentions so they can evaluate brand perception.

    Surely it's only a short step from that to algorithmic-based auto-commenting, spotting mentions and placing fairly generic responses?

    E.g. "I have only had good experiences with my own Acme bagless vacuum cleaner cum-cocktail maker machine. I'd recommend it to anyone - in fact you should buy one for every room! Yours insincerely, Server unit QXp.1.17.07a"

    Or maybe we'll see discreet payments to blogging consumers who are 'unaffiliated' but just happen to like doing product reviews?

    Speaking of which, I'm just your ordinary man in the street; but I'd really like to recommend something which has revolutionised my life. Since I bought my Acme solar-powered salt dispenser on a website called...

  5. Great discussion.

    If you have 30 minutes or so (err, yeah, right!), it is worth watching this episode of the Gillmour Gang from a few weeks back, when Dick Costolo (COO of Twitter) was interviewed by Michael Arrington.


    The subject of advertising within Twitter comes up a lot and you can almost feel in Costolo's responses that although Twitter needs to do it (to make money) it is reluctant and really not quite sure how it is going to be perceived.

    The American stock answer for everything, whether it is or not: "It's going to be awesome!"

  6. Probably what I would do in their situation is setup a facebook page get a small number of people to join then choose the one with the most friends and give them a free holiday. And announce at the same time that next week your going to do the same. Next week I'd do the same but with a couple of the "highest friended" and another few at random. Rince repeat and use the announcements to push the best offers I've got available that week.

    People block out and ignore ads because they take actual time and mental effort to consume and even more so people are incredibly good at spotting what an ad is. However do as I suggest be completely upfront that your going to send one facebook msg a week detailing winners + the very best offers you've got and probably people will take an interest if they are ever going to take an interest at all.

  7. Interesting post, Jeremy. I suppose an alternative take on the situation is that social media could actually help travel brands grow if they are able to be responsive to the needs people express in these spaces - either via a customer service function on Twitter for example or, even better, through adapting products and services in response to these needs.

    American Airlines used James Gandolfini in its tv ads but, like you, I'm struggling to come up with any more examples.

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