Travel marketers know that content is essential to any integrated marketing strategy. Dollar for dollar, it produces three times more leads than conventional marketing. But it’s not enough to create a blog or post an occasional YouTube video. You need a strategy that aligns with all your travel brand’s objectives, with a solid plan and schedule for creating and distributing powerful content and an infrastructure to support it.

Across all industries, only 38% of B2C marketers feel their content marketing efforts are as effective as they’d like. Adding to the challenge for marketers who represent travel entities — from hotels and resorts to cruise lines, airlines, attractions and destinations — is the ubiquity of travel content on the web. And that content attracts a good share of armchair travelers along with those more likely to convert. This can make it more difficult, but crucial, to prioritize distribution channels for your brand’s content to make sure it’s reaching people with real potential to book.

To make sure your content delivers, follow these 12 steps to a successful travel content strategy:

1. Perform a content audit.

The first step to creating a solid content strategy is to better understand your strengths and how those strengths can be leveraged to improve the customer experience. A few key questions to ask:

  • What strengths can we highlight through content? Great packages? Proximity to local attractions? Best meeting facilities? Sought-after ports of call?
  • What stories do we have to tell?
  • What topics do our customers consistently find compelling? The best travel content appeals on an emotional level.
  • What are their pain points? Planning travel? Budget?
  • How can we make their trip planning process easier?
  • What questions come up in the booking process?
  • Does your content position you as an authority on your destination, property or attraction?

2. Create an inventory.

Take the time to review assets you’ve already produced that are still relevant and can be repurposed as compelling content. This includes your website, past newsletters, advertisements, press releases, and video and photo libraries. Video, photo and even VR assets, if you have the budget for them, are especially crucial for travel content, as they help your potential guests, passengers and visitors visualize themselves experiencing what you have to offer. Create a library of those assets, organized into clearly labeled categories for easy reference.

3. Clean your marketing database.

Great content means little if it doesn’t reach the right people. Make sure your marketing database is on the mark with a good cleaning — the time you invest upfront will save you far more down the road. Consolidate all your contacts in one place, eliminating duplicates, updating those that need it, and deleting any that don’t belong on your marketing list. Determine if you need one list or segmented lists for various campaigns. Think about how people enter your database — via social media, advertisements or your website — and how they might sign up to receive your new content. Making opt-in fields consistent across the board will help keep your database clean. (And make it clear with those opt-ins what people will receive in return for giving you their data.)

4. Understand your audience.

Monitoring your social media platforms makes it easier than ever to know what your prospects are thinking, what their interests are and how they engage. Having a handle on your audience will help you identify relevant, compelling content topics and ideas.

5. Help your audience find you.

Take the work you’ve done in step four to make a list of the keywords you think people would use on search engines to find your content. Then, use a keyword tool — Google AdWords Keyword Planner and Wordtracker are two — to see how competitive they are. Weaving keywords with low competition into your content will bump it up higher in search engines where more people will find it (and you).

6. Create customer personas.

Developing personas is a proven exercise to drill down and understand the characteristics, interests and motivations of your various audiences: business vs. leisure travelers, opportunists vs. planners, big spenders vs. deal seekers, and so on. Conduct a persona development workshop with key team members — and possibly even members of the groups you’re trying to reach — giving each persona a name and sketching out segmentation details of each. These details include demographics, psychographics, pain points, everyday concerns, aspirations and barriers to booking. As you develop content, use your personas to make sure it appeals to the audiences you’re targeting with that specific content.

7. Take your personas on the customer journey.

Think about your customer journey and what you’d like your target to do. Convert? Share? Use a customer journey funnel to map out the steps you want that customer to take to reach that goal.

8. Assess and align your resources.

Is your existing staff sufficient to create and carry out your content marketing strategy? If not, would the scope of your strategy require a full-time content manager? An editor/writer? Can you line up freelance writers to fill gaps? Or would it make sense to hire an outside expert to launch and maintain your content program, from producing high-quality content to managing day-to-day distribution and metrics?

9. Take advantage of user-generated content.

In the travel arena, user-generated content (UGC) is not only a valuable addition to your strategy, it’s essential. And its influence goes beyond millennials; in fact, the majority of consumers across all ages trust UGC over other marketing sources. So, consider ways to encourage your guests to create content and integrate it into your plan. The bonus? Less content for you to create from scratch.

10. Develop an editorial calendar.

A sustainable travel content strategy depends on delivering different types of content to audiences, varying their experience and consumption, and delivering it regularly. Keeping it all on track is a complex task. And that makes an editorial calendar your best friend in the process. An editorial calendar gives you a visual map of your strategy. It can help you organize content themes and campaign objectives, determine timing and keep that timing on schedule.

To keep your content program manageable, structure your calendar with larger content pieces that can be broken into smaller pieces and repurposed. A comprehensive destination video might be parceled into content around seasons or specific traveler interests, for instance, outdoor adventure, which could then be further segmented into specific sports. And remember that while you want a robust content calendar, when it comes to content that generates results, quality matters more than quantity.

11. Activate your strategy.

Once you have your content, you’ll need to determine the best pace for distributing it. Whether that’s over the course of several weeks or months will depend on how often you think your audience will be receptive to hearing from you.  Also, think in terms of maximizing the impact of your content — express one piece across platforms, embed video from your YouTube channel into your email marketing and so on. And always, always have a strong call to action to drive the audience into sharing their information with you.

12. Measure results.

While attributable sales might be the ultimate end goal, there’s much more to consider in measuring the effectiveness of your travel marketing content. Leads are one key metric — was the call to action strong enough to drive your audience to share their data with you? Engagement is another — is your audience liking, sharing and commenting on your content? And finally, there’s consumption. Do email opens meet or exceed benchmarks? Are page views increasing? Are people watching your videos? Measuring consumption helps you determine which pieces of content appeal to your audience and which do not.

Are you ready to learn more? Contact Mark O’Toole, Mower’s Group Vice President — Public Relations & Content.