Meetup Summary

Do you have a proven marketing strategy that gets results or would your marketing strategy be best described as “random acts of marketing”? Our guest speaker has personally helped nearly 100 companies with their marketing strategy and has found three key principles, that when applied, consistently lead to increased bookings. Watch this meetup to learn how to get more bookings from people already visiting your website, attract more people seeking out the experience you offer, and nurture interested visitors until they are ready to book.


Carl Lefever, Founder of Accelerate Tourism and Digital Marketing Strategist at Improve & Grow

Video Recording

Key Takeaways

  1. Dangers of “random acts of marketing”
    • There are many good marketing tactics, but not all are good for your business
    • Need to consider your target audience, marketing objectives and budget
    • It’s good to test, but with that, must also evaluate and cut or change what doesn’t work
    • Whatever you do, your marketing should be intentional and aligned with the buyer’s journey
  2. Thinking of the Buyer’s Journey as a Sales Funnel
    • The buyer’s journey is often not linear
    • But it does move thru stages
    • It is a marketer’s job to align their marketing with the buying cycle
    • Doing so will improve your marketing effectiveness dramatically
  3. Principle #1: Get more bookings from people already on your website
    • Improving your ability to convert interested buyers to paying customers is the key to return on investment
    • You can dramatically improve your bookings with the audience you already have by focusing on this
    • See last weeks’ meetup for ideas on how to improve your website
  4. Principle #2: Attract people seeking the experience you offer
    • Broad campaign to cold audiences are not nearly as effective as focusing on people already seeking what you offer
    • 4 of 5 consumers use search engines to inform their purchase decisions
    • Search marketing for tourism companies can be tough as the first few pages of Google are usually taken by third party websites such as directories, social media platforms and media sites
    • Finding ways to partner with these sites will result in increased visibility and highly qualified traffic
    • While third-party sites often require some form of investment, the return on investment can be very good
  5. Principle #3: Re-engage interested people until they are ready to book
    • Most users dont’ make a purchase on their first exposure to a new brand
    • You’ve already invested in acquiring your audience, so you need to find ways to re-engage them until they buy
    • There are many forms of re-engagement; re-targeting ads and email marketing are typically the most effective
    • Retargeting ads are usually very cost effective and greatly increase chances of conversion
    • Email marketing is still the highest converting medium, so make use of your list with highly targeted emails

Resource Links

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Meetup Transcript

Topic Introduction

[Sam] Well, good morning. So we’re gonna, we’ve covered a lot of topics over the last couple weeks. Everything from social media to video marketing to paid advertising to search marketing, search engine optimization, even blogging and content marketing. And we realized that in reality, that all just kinda scratches the surface of what is all contained within digital marketing or marketing in general. But with all of these tactics that are available, even beyond the ones I mentioned, things like TV, radio, billboards, the OTAs, the digital marketing, the destination marketing organizations, the running Google ads, running Facebook ads, Instagram ads, SEO, email marketing, it just, there’s so many options of things you could choose to spend your time and money on. But the problem becomes that if you don’t have a, if you’re not thinking about it strategically, you could end up just sort of landing in a place that we like to call random acts of marketing, where you’re just kind of cherry picking some things that maybe you’re a little bit more familiar with so you decide that you’re gonna go down that route, or whatever the situation may be. But we just, we’ve begun referring to these things as random acts of marketing just because they just feel random sometimes. And especially they can feel random when you’re not getting the results that you want. So that’s what we’re gonna start with today is, Carl is, Carl Lefever is with us. He’s obviously our host typically. We’ve sort of switched roles here. He’s the owner of Improve and Grow, founder of Accelerate Tourism here. And Carl, the first thing we want to talk about is why are these random acts of marketing so dangerous, beyond some of the things that I mentioned?

The Dangers of Random Acts of Marketing

[Carl] Yeah, thanks, Sam. So like you said, there’s a lotta different marketing tactics. And many of them are effective in the right place, at the right time. So the reality is the opposite of that means that not every one of these tactics is a good fit for your business. It’s important that you go into your marketing with intentionality. You’ve gotta consider your target audience, you’ve gotta consider the objective that you’re trying to reach, and you’ve got to consider your budget. Just as an example, if you’re trying to really reach Millennials who don’t already know about your product, social media is probably a really good platform for that. Particularly maybe Instagram with the age demographic that’s typically on that platform. Whereas running a lot of traditional TV or radio spots probably isn’t gonna do very well because that age segment is watching streaming TV and using online radio and might not even be on traditional radio or TV very much. So that’s just one example.

And as a business, it can be tough to know which strategies are going to work, what’s gonna be the best combination. So the temptation is to test a bunch of strategies. And I’m a big fan of testing. I don’t necessarily know exactly which strategies are gonna work either. We’re gonna share some things later that we’ve learned that we think tend to work and tend to form kind of a recipe for tourism focused businesses. But we don’t claim to have cornered the market on that. So I’m a big fan of testing new platforms. But when you commit to testing new things, you’ve also got to commit to evaluating and testing them and being willing to abandon the ones that aren’t working, keep the ones that are, and even when they are working, continually looking at them and tweaking them. So where I think people end up in this, what I call random acts of marketing, is where it’s not connected. They’re doing some Facebook. They’re doing some Google Ads. They’ve got their website. They’re doing some print advertising. But there’s really no connection between them other than maybe some commonality with branding.

And obviously this session is about kind of the antithesis of that, which is going into it with intentionality, having a plan, coordinating things together. So in an ideal world, whether online or offline, all of your marketing is coordinated, you’re aligning your marketing with where people are with the right messages at the right time. And just, it’s important no matter where you are in your marketing journey to evaluate this. I’ve worked with some very established businesses that had built up a lot of different marketing strategies over time. And this is an extreme example, but I worked with one business where literally 80% of their marketing spent was completely being wasted. They actually had a pretty successful marketing program, but when we dug down, they were only measuring the overall results. When we dug down into campaign by campaign and tactic by tactic, what we discovered was that less than 20% of what they were spending their money on was driving nearly 100% of the results, whereas all that other stuff they were doing which was 80% of their budget could be completely set to the side. So if you think about that, they were able to save 80% of their marketing spent while retaining the same results. So that’s another big benefit, is it really comes down to money. Using your money wisely.

[Sam] So if random acts of marketing is obviously what we want to move away from, how do we move away from that? What are we moving towards?

Think of Your Buyers Journey as a Sales Funnel

[Carl] Yeah, good question. So it’s, I want to introduce the concept of buyers journey. It’s interesting. I don’t think anyone would maybe consciously admit this but I’ve often run into two kind of big myths as it relates to the best way to market. And it reveals that we kinda have some misconceptions about the way people buy. The myth number one is that if I just run an ad campaign, I’m gonna get more bookings. And the myth that’s there is an assumption that, let’s talk about search ads, if someone’s searching and I’m running an ad for those keywords, the general experience is gonna be they search, they click on your ad, and then they buy your product or service or they book your experience. And the reality is it’s usually not that simple.

Which leads to the other myth, which is, the other myth I run into a lot is hey, I don’t understand how any of this works. So I’m gonna use the spray and pray method. I’m just going to try a bunch of different things and if it seems to be working, great, I’m gonna keep doing those things. If it’s not working, I’m just gonna throw it all out because I don’t understand how this all fits together.

The reality is a lot more messy, as you’d imagine. The reality is that the buyers journey is a long winding path. It’s got many stops along the way. And that can sound discouraging, but it’s also important to remember, there is a process. There are phases that buyers move through. There are decisions they run through. And it is, to a degree, predictable. It’s just not as predictable as this linear search, click, buy type scenario that we often distill things down to.

So when we think about the buyers journey, we think about it as a funnel. And there’s lots of different ways to characterize the stages of the buyers journey, but the most common is to break it down into three main steps. There’s the awareness step, there’s the consideration step, and there’s the decision step. And the reason that we refer to this as a funnel is because not everybody that starts at the top, not everybody who visits your website or who sees your ad or who’s in your target audience is going to become a paying customer. So the reality is at each points of this stage, people are gonna fall out of your funnel and into someone else’s, or maybe fall out of the market altogether.

So just to use an example, my wife and I are thinking about a getaway, and we don’t necessarily have a destination in mind yet. But we’re thinking it’s about time we have a little getaway. So we’re in the awareness stage. But there’s a couple of places that we’ve been thinking about going, and there’s one in particular where we’re really thinking about visiting, particularly now that businesses are starting to reopen. So we’re kinda moving into that consideration phase. So in that awareness stage, we might just be having discussions. We might not even be doing anything where we’re gonna even put ourselves in a position to see advertising or things like that. We’re certainly not doing any searches. But as we move into that consideration stage, now we might start doing searches like, what’s there to do in Philly this weekend, as an example. Whereas when we get into the decision stage, well now we’ve made a decision on a destination. Maybe we’ve even made a decision on some things that we want to do while we’re there. And now we’re doing searches for, where can I buy tickets for this tour, or, where can I see a show in Philadelphia this weekend, that kind of stuff. So just wanted to use that as a simple example as you think about each of your experiences and your destinations, and that buyers process or the specific questions they’d be asking and the platforms they’d be using as they move through those decisions are different.

But again, this is where I say, even though it is a long and winding path, it moves through these predictable phases. And as marketers, we have to realize that it’s our job to align with that. The reality is, that buying process exists whether you align your marketing with it or not. And so this is, again, where the funnel is helpful because if your marketing is not aligned, you’re gonna have a leaky funnel, where you might get lots of people at the top of it if you’ve got ad campaigns running, but you’re getting very little out of the bottom of it because your marketing’s not aligned. Versus if you have very targeted marketing that’s hitting people at the right time and the right place, you can have a very wide funnel where you’ve got a lot of people coming through it.

[Sam] It’s kinda, that was a lot. And it sounds like it’s, obviously, like most things, easier said than done type of situation. But let’s just get into it. So how do we get started?

Principle #1: Get more bookings from people already on your website

[Carl] Yeah, great question. So I agree with you, it is easier said than done. I mean, I think I mentioned, where we mentioned in the description for the show that we personally, in our organization, we’ve worked with nearly 100 different companies, and we’ve tried lots of different things. Some have worked, some have not worked so well. Some are working fine but could be better. And the benefit that we’ve had with working with so many different companies is that we’ve started to be able to distill down some commonalities. Particularly in the tourism industry. Again, I want to reiterate that the successful recipe could be very different for a product-focused company or an e-commerce company or a health-focused company. So a lot of these principles have been specifically refined or tested primarily for the tourism industry. But for those of you that maybe bleed out into other industries or have other companies, many of these principles hold true for other industries as well. So what we’ve got for you today are kinda the three core principles. We’ll unpack them and we’ve got some examples.

But the first one is, and this I want to stress, is the most important. And as I start to talk about this, it’s probably gonna remind people of last week’s session, for those that were on it because principle number one is get more bookings for people that are already on your website. If we think about this funnel, this whole topic or this concept is very squarely focused on the people that are already aware of your brand, they’re already visiting your website or visiting your store or checking you out in a brochure. These are people that are deep down in the funnel. They’re in the decision stage. So these are people that are ready to buy.

So you might wonder, why do we start with this as the principle? Those are the people who are already ready to buy. They’re either gonna buy or they’re not gonna buy. Why should I focus on them? The reality is, if we just use your website as an example, some websites, like we talked about last week, are difficult to navigate and make it hard to book. Other websites are really easy to understand, easy to find what you’re looking for, and have a really fluid and easy to use booking experience. So it stands to reason that even when you have someone that’s ready to buy, if you make it difficult to buy, if you make your product or service hard to understand, if you make it hard to get questions answered, if you make it hard to make a booking, there are going to be people who give up. There are going to be people who move onto something else.

I’m a statistics kinda guy, so I like to look at the math. Let’s say your website’s getting 10,000 visits. Depending on the size of your business, 10,000 might be relevant for your annual website traffic. For other businesses I know on the call today, 10,000 visits a month might be relevant. And there might even be a few where you get 10,000 visits a week. So whatever timeframe we’re looking at, what I want to talk about here is your conversion rate. So last week, we talked about principles or best practices for improving your website. We didn’t talk about the statistical side of that. So when we talk about a conversion, we’re talking about someone who takes a desired action on the website. This is someone who fills out a form. If you’re a non-profit, they’re donating to you. This is someone who places a call to make a booking or someone who directly makes a booking online. When we talk about a conversion rate, we’re talking about the number of people who visit your website. How many of those actually take that desired action? And this might be shocking to some of you, but a good conversion rate is 5%. 5% or better is considered good. So that means that five out of every 100 people that visit your website are taking one of those desired actions. That would be considered a good conversion rate. So what’s average? Average is two to 3%. Now, what we know about an average is that 50% fall below, 50% fall above. So the reality is a lot of websites are actually below that 2% mark, and it’s been very common with people that I’ve worked with that haven’t done a lot of intentional improvement on their websites or intentional digital marketing, for them to have conversion rates that are 1% or less.

So if we just kinda look at that scenario, if you’ve got 10,000 website visits, whether it’s week, month, or year, just using a kinda rounded number, if your conversion rate today is 1%, that means you’re getting about 100 bookings over whatever period of time that 10,000 visits is coming through. And that might actually be pretty good for your business. I don’t know. But if you think about that, if you were able to get your conversion rate to just the industry average of 3%, you’d triple your bookings. And I don’t know about you, but it’s not my goal to be average. If I’m investing in marketing, I don’t want to be getting an average return. I want to be getting a good return on that. So if you could get your conversion rate to 5%, now you’re talking about 500 bookings. And what’s really powerful about that is that’s on the same traffic. So this is without investing anything additional in driving more people to your website, running more ads. This is just investing in your website. And many of the things we talked about last week you could do on your own or with a little bit of investment. So I know each of you, your experience is varied. Some of you have experiences that are 20, $30 ahead. Some of you have experiences that are three, $400 ahead or maybe even more. But if we just assume in this scenario that the average booking’s 200 bucks, that’s a difference of $80,000. So same level of marketing investment, ongoing marketing investment, $80,000 more in revenue because of improving your website. So that’s why this is principle number one.

[Sam] So just to kinda pause here. And I don’t want to go back and rehash what we talked about last week but can we look at some examples maybe of how to improve that conversion rate? I feel like that would be helpful at this time.

[Carl] Yeah, sure. So I do want to say that last week, Sue asked for some examples, and Sam did a really good job of putting together, I think, almost a 20 minute video walking through each of the seven points and giving, I think, five or six different websites as examples. So we’ll put a link for that video at the end of this, and we’ll send it out with the recap. So I’m not gonna go as deep as that video did ’cause we’ve got that resource there and we’ve got other points we want to cover today. But I do just want to give you a couple examples. And Nicole from Twin Pine, if you’re on the call today, just want to give a shout out to you. I hope you don’t mind us using your website as an example.

One of the principles we talked about last week is just make your offering clear. Or the way I worded it here is make a good first impression. So having consistent branding, having compelling messaging, having engaging images. I look at this, just the homepage of this site here, and I can tell this is a professional company. They’ve got good branding. A luxury Lancaster County bed and breakfast. More than your ordinary B&B getaway. That kind of grabs my attention. And then every image that’s on their website, but this one here is an example, just kinda draws me in and shows me what kind of experience we’re gonna have.

Same screenshot, but a couple of different points I want to emphasize is making it easy for users to take an action. So we talked about last week, using strong calls to action, making those calls to action consistent in terms of color and phrasing, and making them easy to find. So what you see on this website, I know the screenshot’s a little small but the phone number is very prominent. The Book Now button’s very prominent. The color we used for the Book Now button is very consistent. And then there’s also prominent calls to action in the content. So wherever the user is on a page on this website, when they’re ready to book, it’s gonna be very clear what to do. And there isn’t any page you can go on this website where the user’s not being called to take that action. And for someone who prefers to call by phone, it’s super easy. And in fact, on a mobile device, that phone number is clickable, so they can click on that and call without even having to dial the number. So those are a couple examples.

The other one I want to emphasize is social proof. So building testimonials into your pages. Pulling in testimonials from Google, from Facebook, from TripAdvisor, and promoting those not just on a single page of your website or not on your social media profiles, but directly on the pages of your website homepage, and if you’re a bed and breakfast, the lodging pages. If you’re an attraction, your booking pages. Wherever the user could be, that’s a great place to weave in some testimonials. So again, there’s a lot more, lot more best practices to follow for improving your conversion rate. I’d encourage you guys to check out that video or the recording from last week’s session to get more detail on that.

[Sam] My question then is, and it all sounds good. I’m sure there’s gonna be some people who felt a little overwhelmed about that. That’s why we send out the recording. And you can obviously re-watch it as many times that you need to. But going back a little bit, so you said about the traffic, and you used an example of 10,000 visitors at a 1% conversion rate ends up being 100 bookings. But if my website is only getting 100 visitors a week or a month or whatever it is, the point is, it’s a lot less traffic. Let’s just use the 100 visitors a week. Even with what we are saying is an outstanding conversion rate or a better than average conversion rate at 5%, that means I’m still only getting five bookings from those visitors.

Principle #2: Attract people seeking the experience you offer

[Carl] Yeah, exactly. So that’s a great question, Sam, because that really pinpoints that there’s two core problems for a business. One is not having enough of an audience or not having enough people. The other is not getting a high enough booking rate. So principle number one is really focused on that booking rate part. And it assumes that you’ve got a certain audience that you’re working with and that you could improve your booking rate with that audience. And I think that’s generally true for most people on the call. But even if that’s generally true, improving from 1% or 3% to 5%, those are some pretty significant changes. But to your point, if you have a low volume website, you may still be leaving potential bookings on the table because what about that audience that you could develop. And so that’s a good segue to principle number two. And so principle number two is all about driving more traffic to your website. But it’s not just about driving any traffic. So the specific principle is you want to attract people who are already seeking the experience that you offer. And that may sound too good to be true. Yeah, find me those people. Find me the people that already want to book with me. Don’t take me too literally there, but do take me somewhat literally.

It is possible to position your marketing in a way where you ensure that you’re getting in front of people that are already pre-dispositioned to buy, and specifically, the kind of experience that you offer. So it’s important to understand that not all traffic is good traffic. And again, this presentation is pretty focused on the digital marketing side of things, but I do want to reiterate that this same concept of a sales funnel, this same concept of a buyers journey, and all of these principles that we’re talking about, are just as applicable in the offline world. So the point here is not everybody visiting your destination is a good candidate for your experience. Not everybody visiting your website or everybody online is a potential customer for your business. They might be a potential customer, but let’s say they’re not a highly, not everyone is a highly qualified customer. So the key is is we want to figure out how to focus on attracting people that are already seeking the experience you offer because with more qualified traffic, you’re gonna get more bookings with a higher ROI. And another day, another time, we can talk about the concept of building demand, which is building your own audience, increasing your reach, and developing an audience within your overall target audience or population. But most of the experiences you offer, there’s already an audience for that. Every day, there are people looking for something to do, places to stay, places to eat, in or around your destination. And so principle number two is all about getting in front of those people that are already there, already searching and positioning yourself in front of them.

So one of the big places we focus on as it relates to this principle is search engines. And the reason is the fact that’s here. Four in five consumers use search engines to find local information. Source for that is Think with Google. I know it sounds funny to build research off of Google when we’re talking about what happens on Google, but I promise you, this is reputable research. It’s compelling, the percentage of people that are using search engines. Even people who are making their bookings by walking into a store or picking up the phone and calling, they’re still doing their research online. Even people who are seeing billboards or a TV commercial or a radio spot, they ultimately go on the website to check it out before they make a decision and make a booking. So when we look at this, so search engines and being present on search engines, I should say, should be a number one priority for anyone on this call. And I don’t think it would be too much of an argument for it to be a number one priority. The rub comes into, yeah, but it’s hard. And this particular example on the screen is actually a good one.

So I did a search this morning for things to do near me. And what pops up on that screen is roughly 20 listings, and we’ve got ads. So people are paying to be at the top of that page. And then we’ve got organic listings. But every single one of the organic listings on that first page are not a attractions website. So the next four listings on this page are all directories. So one of those is TripAdvisor, actually, one of those is Yelp, two of them are TripAdvisor actually, one of them is a local DMO. It’s actually Discover Lancaster. Sarah was on one of our earlier calls. The next one is Lancaster PA, which I don’t know if Gordie or Jen are on today but they manage that site. And then almost everything else is a combination of coupon sites, blog articles, and what we call resource pages. So a resource page would be a local business that has a page on their website that says, here’s some other places you should check out, or, here’s some places that are in the area. So what’s really astonishing about this particular search result is this would be the prime keyword for a local attraction. Get in front of people who are looking for things to do in your destination. And every single listing on this page is not an individual business.

So the reality is to compete in search as an individual business, you’re gonna have to do one of two things, and we would typically recommend a combination, and that is advertise using by targeting specific keywords that you want to be in front of, and partner with some of these other websites that have already invested the money, time and resources to rank on these pages. So that would mean getting yourself listed in online directories, whether that’s national directories like Yellow Pages, Google My Business, we had a session on that, Yelp, TripAdvisor, those kinds of directories. That would also include local directories, like your DMO or tourism promotion agency, like local community websites, those kinds of things. And we’ll put this resource later, but I see a lot of businesses that don’t really understand how critical it is to be listed in those business directories or how important it is for those listings to be complete and accurate. One of the free tools I’ve mentioned here on this slide, we’ll put it in the resources at the end. is a website with some free resources, and one of those is a tool you can use to check your business’ presence in some of the top online directories. I’d encourage you guys to check that out. You’ll get a report that looks something like this with a lot more detail on it that actually shows how you’re being represented in the business directories or whether you’re not there, and gives you some actionable things that you can work on. And with an hour or two worth of work, you can greatly improve your presence on those directories.

Another key source would be what we call referral traffic. So we had a whole session on DMOs and TPAs, which are typically a key source of referrals for travel and tourism businesses. But I would broaden that to the OTAs, local resource pages, industry association websites, community event calendars, industry blogs, local blogs, news media sites. These are all the kinda sites that typically show up on the first or second page for queries like things to do in the area, places to stay, those kinds of things. And they’re powerful because they already rank on the first page of Google. They can help you establish your brand presence. I think when we talked about SEO in one of our past sessions, we talked about how links from other websites can really help your website rank better. So these websites that are already ranking on the first page of Google, when you list on them and they link back to your website, they help your own website show up better in Google. Plus they help drive referral traffic to your website. And that’s really the point I want to emphasize here. I should’ve made that bold. Because when you’re getting traffic from your local DMO website or you’re getting traffic from TripAdvisor or you’re getting traffic from Yelp, the reality is that user has already, they’ve gone to that website, they’ve gone to that website’s category page where you were found, they saw you among a list of other people, and then they chose to click through on your website. That click or that visit is worth gold because those people have already gone through two or three gauntlets, if you will, and they’ve chosen to visit your website. I would argue that those are some of your most qualified buyers or visitors because they’ve already kind of gone through those stages and now have chosen to visit your website. In fact, I’ve seen conversion rates with referral channels be closer to the seven to eight to nine or even 10% conversion rate, and it’s because those people are already very highly qualified.

[Sam] So I mean, just to kind of recap that. It sounds like the opportunity there is to have a presence with local visitors centers and things like that. Local or even industry related magazines. Obviously investing in search marketing and partnering with OTAs like TripAdvisor. I’m not even, obviously, I’m not even a tourism operator. I’m on the marketing side. So I know this just as much as a business owner here. Those things end up being more on the expensive side to, to get a listing or whatever it is. They cost a lot of money though. I mean how, is there still opportunity there? How should we react to the fact that it’s gonna be a bigger out of cost expense?

[Carl] Yep. So it’s a great point. Most of these platforms, you can have a free listing on TripAdvisor, but if you really want to get attention or be featured on TripAdvisor, you’re gonna have to join in with TripAdvisor Experiences, which means you’re paying a commission or if you can submit, like Sarah and Louise, when we had the DMO and TPA call, they talked about how you can use their free community event calendar, and that can be a great free way of getting exposure, but the majority of the traffic on their websites are coming from those category pages where businesses are listed. And even when you’re listed on those pages, it really takes featured ad spots to get higher up on the page and get prominent. So yeah, those things become costly.

I want to just kind of go back to the point I made earlier about the quality of that traffic. So there’s a reason that those platforms can charge money. It’s because they’re getting a ton of traffic and it’s highly qualified traffic. So it’s not a slam dunk. I’m not saying, hey, just throw your money away for all these places and don’t ever check it, don’t worry about it, it’s all good. Not every one of these platforms are created equal and not every one of them are just as effective for every single business that advertises with them. So I’ll go back to the point I made at the very beginning which is test these things, but check them as well and make sure they’re working. So yeah, just to come back around to maybe a more concise answer to your question, Sam, yes they are usually have a cost and they usually are on the more expensive side, but that’s looking at it from just purely what is the cost of this advertising mechanism. Where it becomes much, I would actually argue they’re usually more cost effective because if you look at the cost to get a booking, with the higher conversion rate that you get from these sources, the cost per booking or what you’re paying to get that booking is usually actually a lot less than most other advertising mechanisms.

[Sam] Okay. Okay, yeah, that makes sense. So just to kinda tie this a little bit together. Obviously, we’re looking at improving our website and specifically the conversion rate of our website. And then focusing on driving more quality traffic. But as I was thinking about this, the adage I think of in marketing is that a person needs to engage with the brand multiple times. It’s like five, six or seven times before they are actually convinced that they want to buy from you. I think we have a way to talk about that and what we need to do there. So what are some ways that we can make those multiple touchpoints with a potential buyer?

[Carl] Yeah, absolutely. And Sam, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna back track just for a second ’cause I realized I didn’t hit Next soon enough. I don’t want to forget about social media. We had a session on social media at the very beginning. Social media can be a very effective platform and very cost effective for most of you, and can be a very targeted way of reaching specific segments. I eluded to earlier that Instagram, for instance, is a great resource for the younger crowd. Facebook has become a place where you can reach that crowd, but more dominantly, more the middle-aged crowd. And it also gets down into behaviors and things like that. So getting too detailed into which platforms and what audiences and what’s most effective for each platform is a little bit out of the scope for today. But the point I want to make is don’t forget about social media in this whole mix of getting in front of people that would be good for your target audience.

Principle #3: Re-engage interested people until they are ready to book

[Carl] So to get back to your question, Sam, yeah, I agree. In fact, I quote that statistic here in a subsequent slide. This goes back to the first myth that we talked about where most buying transactions don’t happen on the first visit. It’s not search, click, buy. It’s search, click, search, click, check out another website, search, click again, maybe sign up for emails but don’t make a purchase yet, and eventually, you’re gonna come back and make that purchase hopefully. So principle number three is built on this whole idea that not everybody, even if they’re interested, not everybody is gonna buy right away.

So you need to have as part of your marketing strategy a way to re-engage interested people until they’re ready to book. So this is all really, another word for this is nurturing. So some of you who have seen other webinars or read books on marketing or gone to school on marketing or just kind of done your own research, you may have heard of the idea of lead nurturing. And that’s really what this concept is about. So again, to reiterate, most people don’t make a purchase on their first click. I mean, think about the last time you went to a new destination or you were searching out something new to do. Even when you found something you were interested in, did you actually make the purchase on that first search, or did you talk to your spouse about it? Did you make plans with a friend? Did you check out some other things and then maybe come back to it later? So Sam had already quoted this, but research shows that it can take seven plus interactions to get to a purchase. So you as a marketer, you’ve paid the money or you’ve paid the sweat and tears to build that audience, to get them to your website. If you don’t have a strategy for re-engaging them and keeping in touch with them until they’re ready to make a purchase, the reality is you’re leaving it up to chance. Now you’re back to random acts of marketing. You’re leaving it up to chance for them to maybe come back and think about you. Or maybe when they’re really serious about taking the trip, they start a new search and now they end up on someone else’s website. They end up visiting your destination but not through your experience. So what this principle is all about is finding strategic ways as a business to re-engage those people that you’ve already worked hard to build an audience with.

There’s lots of different strategies for doing this, by the way. And when I say lots, there’s a small handful. But there’s two particularly that I’m gonna focus on here. Again, because this presentation is a little more weighted towards the digital marketing side, but also because these strategies are very much under your control. They’re very cost effective and they are not as cost intensive or labor intensive as some of those other re-engagement metrics. Just to throw out an example. You could cold call everybody. You could call everybody in your target audience and keep calling them. But that’s gonna be very labor intensive, it’s gonna be very costly, and frankly, it’s gonna be pretty annoying. So the two strategies we’re gonna talk about today are email marketing and retargeting. And again, the whole concept of this is if you can create a strategy for re-engaging these people, you’re gonna capture bookings that you would’ve missed. So just to, again, I’m a math guy, so let’s talk about why we emphasize retargeting and email as the best re-engagement strategies.

Benefits of Regargeting Ads

Click-through rates on retargeting is usually 10 times or better than that of a normal banner ad or display ad. We tend to stray away from general banner advertising or display advertising because they’re generally good for awareness, but in terms of click-through rates and conversions, they’re typically pretty low. But not so with retargeting ads. Retargeting ads, which is anybody who has gone to a website and then later saw an advertisement for that brand in their social media feed, you now have been re-targeted. So that’s what we’re talking about with retargeting, if you’re not familiar with that. So what we’re saying is the normal click-through rate on a display ad is .2%. Sometimes even as low as .1%. But the typical click-through rate on a retargeting ad is often 1% or better. So they get tremendous click-through rates because they’re much more targeted. And website visitors who are re-targeted with display ads are 70% more likely to convert. And that’s not a statistic I just made up. There’s research to back that up.

Benefits of Email Retargeting

And let’s talk about the email side. I would actually tell you, you’ve seen things like email is dead, nobody opens emails anymore. Hands down, email is still the most effective from a conversion rate perspective digital marketing strategy there is. Or I’d even argue marketing strategy in general. The challenge with email is if you don’t have a big email list, it’s not gonna do anything. And the other challenge with email is if you don’t have a good strategy of segmenting and targeting your emails, you’re not gonna get good responses from your emails. So whether we’re talking about retargeting or email, they can be super effective. I mean, just look at some of these statistics here. Automated email workflows have 309% higher open rates, 455% better click-through rates. Email sequences, like when someone signs up or when someone takes an action and you have multiple emails that are spread out over a period of time, 63% more sales capture. So there’s some pretty compelling statistics there.

Retargeting Ad Types

So let’s talk about retargeting. There’s, what I’ll call it three types of retargeting. General retargeting is simply serving a display ad, like a branding ad, to someone who’s already visited your website. So it’s relatively simple to set up. You create an ad, you set a target audience for people who visited your website using Google Analytics or a retargeting pixel if you’re talking about Facebook or LinkedIn, and then anybody who’s been on your website now sees your branding ad. So that can be a great way of reminding them that you’re there, reminding them to come back and visit your website.

An even more sophisticated strategy would be what I call segmented retargeting. So this is now, we’re not just showing them an ad to someone who has visited our website before, but we’re showing them an ad that’s specific to the page of the website that we visited. So let’s say you have multiple experiences you offer. Like maybe you offer trips to different areas of the country or different types of tours. So if Person A visits Tour Page A and Person B visits Tour Page B, with segmented retargeting, you can actually show Person A an ad that’s specific to Tour A, and Person B an ad that’s specific to Tour B.

And then the next step would be what I would call retargeting sequences, where this is recognizing that people are in different stages of the funnel. So someone who visited Tour A’s page and then left the website is maybe still in that awareness consideration stage, whereas someone who visited Tour A and then went to your booking page or your pricing page or your FAQ page, that signifies that they’re further down in that decision making stage of the funnel. So you can actually tailor what messages you’re sending through retargeting. That person who’s maybe still kinda kicking tires or just browsing, you can kind of create some intrigue or create some interest with your ad campaigns. That person who’s already been on the pricing page or maybe they’ve even started the checkout process and then abandoned, you can be a little bit more aggressive and more direct with those people and say, hey, come back to the website. Complete your booking. Those people who are further down in the sales cycle are also more likely to respond to an offer. So with retargeting sequences, you can be much more specific with your ads. And the more specific you are, and this will be true about email too, the more specific you are, the better results you’re gonna get.

Email Retargeting Examples

So let’s talk about email marketing a little bit. Many of the same concepts that we talked about with retargeting would apply with email. The key difference here is you can’t send someone an email if you don’t have their email address. And if you want to comply with rules and things like that, which you should, you can’t send them emails if they haven’t agreed to receive your emails. So you can go out and buy lists, but it’s pretty spammy to just send emails to people that haven’t asked to participate. So the challenge with or the key difference is with retargeting, you can re-target anyone who visited your website. It’s anonymous. And that’s why I emphasize that one first because you can start retargeting people that you don’t yet know. But once you know them, once you have a known contact, email is hands down a more effective way of retargeting. And again, it’s another thing where I wouldn’t say one or the other. I’d say combine the two. Do retargeting and do email marketing.

So just some quick examples that I think probably most of the people on this call are doing something like a monthly newsletter or sending out promotional emails. And those are good things to do, but what I’d suggest to you is think about being more targeted, think about sending emails to more segmented lists, and think about sending them based on time-based triggers or action-based triggers. So just some examples. Send an email to a user that abandoned a cart during your booking process. Depending on the booking platform you use, they might have a built-in way to do that. Someone who was in the booking process and then abandoned, they might have just forgotten their credit card. They might have gotten interrupted. They might have realized they need to confer with their spouse. But they were already in the booking process. So a simple email saying, hey, we saw that you were making a booking. Did you run into a problem? Click this link to return to your booking and complete it. Those can be very effective emails. Very high click-through rates and very high conversion rates. Send an email when a known contact returns to the website. So if someone who’s on your list and hasn’t purchased for awhile is back on your website, that’s a great time to send them an email. Now you might say, how would I know they’re onto my website? Well, depending on the email marketing system you use, some email marketing systems integrate with your website so that you can actually see when someone who’s on your contact list visits a particular page of your website.

Other examples. Send an email the month before the anniversary of their last stay at your property. So a lot of you have establishments where people come back year after year after year. But the reality is people have choices. I mean, my wife and I, for instance, we take a lot of, not a lot of trips, but we take a few trips a year. We don’t always go back to the same destination. We might forget how good of a time we had at one destination. But it’s pretty common for people to take trips around the same time as they did before. So back that up a month or two, send them an email and say, hey, we really enjoyed last time you were here. Maybe it’s time you come back again. Send people an email on their birthdate. If you collect their birthdate as part of your booking process because you’re trying to verify age or something like that, use that as a way to send them a birthday offer.

[Sam] Yeah, I mean, it is one of those things where we all have so much spam in our email that we wonder, why does anybody bother? But I think when we all actually, if we start browsing or being more aware of when we’re browsing our email, we’ll see that we open specific emails for certain things. And it’s a huge opportunity that’s out there and you have to do it well. And I think those are some really, especially some of those automated ways are really effective ’cause they essentially, it’s a one time setup. You might have to look at it every now and then but you can kind of automate it in a lot of senses. I think we’re kinda getting to the end of our session here. We obviously want to leave some time for Q&A. If anybody has any questions, please, I think we’ve got a couple questions that have come in, please post them to the Q&A. And Carl, while people are doing that, do you have some examples that you could share quickly with what we’re talking about?

Case Studies

[Carl] Yeah, I won’t dig into them too deeply, but just to show you that this process works for multiple types of companies. We work with a local theater who is using these types of approaches, and they’ve seen tremendous growth. So it’s a live theater. They offer live theater productions. And they’ve seen 150% growth in their tickets sales. Now this, I do want to reiterate, all these case studies are pre-COVID. Every company we’re working with right now has been affected to a great degree by COVID. But we are starting to see some resurgence and some of these marketing mechanisms are working really well even right now during and after lockdown. So yeah, this company focused a lot on improving their website and they’re using a very clear retargeting strategy with their ad campaigns that’s driving these sales. And this company was one that we actually really learned the power of using the retargeting sequences because when we first started with them, we were helping them drive what I’ll call one step ads. So basically just pumping an ad out to a cold audience that met their target audience profiles. And we were getting ticket sales, but they were basically just enough to cover the cost of the ad. So not really a very productive ad campaign. Introducing those multiple steps and retargeting to people and kinda pulling them or nurturing them through the process is what really drove the growth that you see here.

Another example would be an outdoor adventure center we work with. We’ve worked with them for a number of years and they’ve seen tremendous year on year growth. You can see here it’s not always perfect. One year they did have a bit of a dip. But every year, typically every year, they’re seeing incremental growth. And it’s through the full adoption of this kind of approach.

And the last one I’ll share is an overnight retreat center. I know there’s a lot of people here that are from bed and breakfasts and those kinds of things. So these same kinda principles work for overnight lodging as well. This particular organization has just seen a ton of tremendous growth all through driving with an emphasis on search engine marketing to get in front of people that are searching for a retreat center, and then retargeting those people until they’re ready to make an inquiry, and then using a lot of email targeting to pull them through the sales process to helping them promote their retreats and increase their group participation to help bump up how many people are actually attending each of those events.

Open Q&A

[Sam] Great. Yeah. Perfect. So Carl, we do have a few questions here. The first one is going back a little bit, well, to where we were talking about websites. And I will say, in the video that I put together for the examples from last time, we do talk about this, but I do want to answer the question now. The question is, why do people say that website load speed is important?

[Carl] Yeah. So I’m gonna date myself a little bit, but the example I like to use is the transition in photo processing phones and Internet speed. If you think about, for those of you who remember the past days, the amount of change that has happened. It used to be cool just to be able to pull up a webpage, and now if I have to wait more than a second, I can’t stand it. So page load time, I mean, there’s been pretty significant studies that show for every second a page takes to load, you’re losing somewhere around 30% of your audience. Don’t quote me on that one. I’ll have to look up that statistic to get the exact stat. But every second your page takes to load, you are losing people. There are people who are on slower Internet connections or who are just impatient, and they’re just gonna hit the Back button and move on to another page.

[Sam] Yeah, it’s one of those things where it is a more of a technical issue. And requires some of that knowledge. So if you have somebody who’s a web developer or somebody that works in that industry, if you don’t feel like you can sort through some of that stuff, reach out to somebody who’s in that space to help try to work through some of those issues, if you think you’re having them. Secondly, we have a question here. This is talking about ad spend and what is a price point we should be hitting for ad spend? And what is a decent price point to have if you’re trying to engage in an agency doing all this? So it’s, how much should we be spending, how much should we be expecting to be charged by an agency.

[Carl] Yeah, good question. Good question. So I think that’s coming from Matt. So Matt, I’ll address this to you, but it’s for the whole group here. So the way I like to think about what you should spend on advertising is a little, might feel a little bit backwards. So I don’t think you should start with what should I pay for an ad or what should I pay an agency. What you want to do is work your way backwards. What is the growth you’re looking to achieve? So let’s say I’m a small tour and I have annual revenue bookings of $100,000 and I’m setting on my sights on growing to 200 or $300,000. Let’s just use the 300,000. So I’d like to triple or double my sales over the next couple of years. I’m trying to generate $200,000 of incremental revenue above and beyond what I do now. I think it’s pretty obvious I don’t want to spend 200 to get 200, ’cause the reality is, there’s a cost to that. So then we’ve got to think about our profitability. So let’s say your overall gross margin on that is, I don’t know, let’s say 50%. So I’ve got $100,000 of profit. Now I don’t want to spend 100,000 to get 100,000 of profit because then I’m just spending money to make money and it’s all going, it’s awash. So my general rule of thumb is any investment I make, whether we’re talking about marketing or otherwise, I want to be able to get, well particularly with marketing, you should be able to get a two to three time return on your investment. So if that 200,000 revenue growth is about 100,000 of profit you shouldn’t spend more than, let’s say, 20 to 30,000 on marketing. I think that that would be a good investment. So then the question is, what’s the right mediums to spend that money on? Advertising can usually be really good. The specific price point is gonna vary on the market you’re in, the specific experience, and how much competition there is. You can figure out some of those things. You can get close to that using keyword research if you’re looking at search marketing. You can do that using audience research if you’re looking at doing display marketing. There are benchmarks online for some categories and types of advertising, although they rarely get as specific as your experience. So keyword research is a great way. I would say as a general rule of thumb, average cost per click in the tourism market is somewhere around one to $2. And so we find you can generally get a good return if your average ticket price or average transaction is $100 or more. So if your average transaction price is $100 or more, you should be able to be really effective with targeted ads. If your price point is lower than that, it doesn’t mean advertising can’t work for you. It does mean you’re gonna have to pay a lot more attention to the performance of those ads and to what you’re paying on a cost per click basis. In terms of agency, I mean, agency management fees vary. Specifically for advertising, I’ve seen them range anywhere from 15% of ad spend to 30% of ad spend. What I would say, Matt, and to the rest of the group, is what you want to focus on is not so much the price point of the agency but, although that’s important, but can they get the results. I mean, I’ve seen some agencies that are super cheap but are a complete waste of money. I’ve seen expensive agencies that are expensive and a waste of money. I’ve seen agencies that are moderately priced and do a really good job. So price is definitely important. But just as important is do they know what they’re doing, do they have demonstrated success, and do they pay attention to the numbers. ‘Cause I don’t know about you, but if I’m investing in a partner, I want to invest in a partner who I don’t have to keep my eye on every day.

[Sam] And I would say, if you’re engaging an agency to spend, I don’t care if it’s $5, if they’re saying, here’s the plan, and you don’t feel that they’re backing it up with, and backing it up with actual statistics to the best of their ability and you just ask the questions of, okay, how did you get to this information. Just don’t be afraid to ask an agency, if they present you with something that they think is some sort of model or whatever, just ask them, okay, can you show me your work? How did you actually get to this spot? That’s where people can show you as many numbers as they want, but don’t be afraid, and I actually recommend, and Carl, I think you would say this too, is ask them to dig into some of those numbers to further explain how they got there. It’ll be educational for you to be able to learn more about how, as somebody who is paying for digital marketing, it’s worth knowing somewhat about how to justify it. So definitely recommend asking those questions. Carl, do we have time for one or two more questions, do you think?

[Carl] Sure.

[Sam] And maybe I’ll just answer this one. Should I focus on desktop users or mobile users? Yes.

[Carl] I agree. You want to focus on both. I see this question from Marta. So how long should it take for an ad campaign set up by your new marketing agency to start getting results? So I would say, it does somewhat depend on what the advertising platform is, but as a general rule of thumb, once the campaign is set up and running, you ought to be able to tell if it’s getting any kind of results. Like if it’s driving traffic or attention within a few weeks. I would say within no more than three months, it ought to be performing. So that might not be the answer everyone wants to hear, but the reality is, it takes time to dial in a campaign. It takes time to refine the audience, to refine the ad copy, to refine the targeting. It should not take any longer than two to three months. Some other marketing strategies like SEO can take six to 12 months to really be proven effective. It takes time to warm up the search engine. It takes time to build content. It takes time to build links. With advertising, specifically digital marketing ads, I would say no more than three months. And you ought to actually be able to see signs of success within at least a month.

[Sam] Yeah. Great.

Closing Summary

[Carl] So great. Well, for those of you who are still hanging on, I know some people have had to drop off ’cause we’ve hit the hour. Just, we will be sending this out by email. The recording will have the list of resources. But just want to call your attention to the video that has examples of ways to improve your website. Again, I would say these principles are both in the order that you should follow them. They’re also in what I would call the order of priority. If all you did was principle number one, you will be better off. If you add in principle number two, you will be better off. And you add in principle three, you will be kinda running on all cylinders, if you will. Also want to point out, we didn’t make a big deal out of this but we actually launched a website for Accelerate Tourism. We’re putting all of the meetups, the past meetups up there, we have the videos, the transcripts, the list of resources, we’ve got some other resources on there as well. And then I’ll also point out that tool to check your presence on local directories. Again, we’ll put that link in there.

Next Meetup

So let’s talk before we close about next week’s meetup. So next week is June 12th. Most of you are either already open, you’re opening this weekend, or you’re gonna be opening in the next couple of weeks. So next week is gonna be the last of our weekly meetups. We’re gonna move to monthly, like we promised, once everybody’s started to get closer or had opened, ’cause we know you’re not gonna have a lot of time for weekly Zoom calls, like people may have had over this lockdown time. But next week is gonna be a really important one, I think, for a lot of you. We’re calling it Re-Opening Experiences: What to Expect and How to Market. And so the whole goal of this session is we’re gonna invite tourism business leaders who have already had their businesses open to help speak to us about what’s been happening. So what does booking volume look like? What kind of interactions have they been having with customers? What changes have they had to make to their experiences? What effect has that had on their operation? How have they changed their marketing strategy in light of reopening? And just what does it look like? Is it nothing to something right away? Is it taking time to build up? Is anybody getting business? Some of you already know the answers to those questions ’cause you’re in the thick of it. Some of you are wondering the answers to those exact same questions. My goal is to kinda crowdsource this amongst our meetup, all the people who have attended our meetup, just to get some input.

So I want to ask a favor of each of you. And that is you’re gonna see an email come from me and you might see some reminders from me throughout next week as well. But you’re gonna see an email come from me later today asking you to participate in a survey. And I want to ask each of you to take five minutes to respond to that survey because what we want to do is basically share the experiences that each of you have had, or for those of you who aren’t open yet, what you’re planning to do, so that we can summarize that information and share it with the meetup so that people can be sharing their experiences and learning from each other on what the typical experiences have been. And as I mentioned, we’re gonna be inviting some people that are open or that have been open for at least the last few weeks on the call to help provide some ground floor perspective on what’s been happening in the market. So I think it’s gonna be a really good session for each of you. It’s gonna be a little different. It’s not gonna be teaching. It’s not gonna be as much marketing strategy. Those kinds of things. This is gonna be more feedback from your peers on how things are going, perspectives on how things are going, ideas on what they’re thinking, how they’re pivoting. And it’ll also be a great time to ask questions. For those of you who aren’t open yet, it’ll be a great time to ask questions of those who are and just to trade ideas. So again, two requests. One is please respond to that survey. The more information from more people that we can get, the better the results of that are gonna be for everybody. And then number two is please come to the meetup. We want to get as much participation as we can next week.

Thanks, everyone. I hope you have a great weekend and I know a lot of you are opening up today. So just wish you the best and pray for a blessed weekend for you.

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Meet the Author:

Carl Lefever

Carl Lefever, Founder & Strategist

Carl is the founder of Improve & Grow, LLC, where his primary passion is helping businesses grow by improving their online marketing. He leads the team and is involved in developing and executing internet marketing strategies for our clients. Carl's background is in continuous improvement disciplines, focused on sales and marketing operations. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He is a proud father of 4 girls and loves traveling and supporting missions work.