Social and video marketing technology specialist’s founder tells Lee Hayhurst why a test and learn approach to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp is vital for travel firms
An experimental approach using data science is vital if travel firms are to exploit one of the biggest developments on social media since the emergence of the news feed.
That’s the view of the founder of Adphorus, a specialist travel marketing technology company, which was acquired by programmatic marketing specialist Sojorn in 2017.
Volkan Cagsal, chief executive of Istanbul-based Adphorus, said growth in Facebook and Instagram is being driven by their Stories platform, which first emerged in 2016.
He said for brands looking to tap into this powerful new format everything is being driven by and reacting to changing consumer behaviour and so everyone, even Facebook itself, is trying to play catch-up.
This is where experimenting, testing and data science come in because only those brands that truly embrace this ethos will catch a wave that is shifting the balance online from traditional search interfaces to social, says Cagsal.
“What we realised was that major travel brands were big partners with Google but there was a huge dependency on one channel and the only other one that made sense was Facebook, because of scale.
“Facebook was growing really fast while growth was getting to saturation point in ecommerce branding. Facebook wanted to crack new verticals and travel was the obvious one.”
Adphorus, which emerged from a traditional digital agency, was so convinced about the potential of travel on social that it dropped all other verticals and now specialises in technology that takes travel firms’ existing content to create videos optimised for Facebook and Instagram Stories’ vertical format.
But Cagsal said the firm positions itself as more than just that for its clients. “We are trying to add value on top of the infrastructure that Facebook is launching and making it relevant to travel.
“The biggest thing is data science. The second important thing is that technology is mostly commoditised. Providing a platform is not enough. Some clients were succeeding and some were not. We realised that the bigger companies are better at marketing for one specific reason; they have a test and learn mentality. They are testing ideas.
“It does not matter where the ideas are coming from, they are not going to spend money on assumptions. But to take a data science mentality requires resources. Small companies do not have that.
“Today, everyone wants to say that they are doing data-driven marketing. But I ask a simple question: how many experiments are you running? If you do zero you are not doing data-driven marketing. Everyone is still making assumptions about what will work for their brand. They understand the concept of data-driven marketing but don’t have the resources to do it.
“So we said let’s give an additional scientific service to our customers, something on top of the platform. We are helping our customers to run experiments. We have become their data science team and they have started to see when you run experiments as opposed to working on assumptions you get better, regardless of scale.
“We are a tech company but I do not think that the tech is enough. You, the client, do not need to know about this stuff, we will do it for you. It’s kind of a cultural shift as well – your CMO’s ideas may not work out.”
Adphorus has given its artificial intelligence powered marketing assistant a human personality. It’s called Marvin and ‘he’ uses data to optimise campaigns and offers daily insights and analysis of ideas. Cagsal said clients now regularly ask what Marvin thinks.
Cagsal was talking to Travolution as Sojern launched a major new study into global travel marketeer attitudes and strategies that found many firms are looking to bring programmatic marketing skills in-house, and travel firms of all sizes are now shifting marketing spend towards social and Facebook, which are increasingly seen not just as branding platforms but channels that can drive direct conversion.
Advertisers are trying to move away from the competitive world of search and are following consumer behaviour as they move from search to Facebook and on to Instagram and more immersive, visual, story-telling formats, something seen as perfect in a sector like travel that is aspirational, emotive and rich in content.
The Sojern study, however, found that the biggest challenge for travel firms, particularly in Europe, was delivering personalised ads on what are highly personal and therefore sensitive devices and channels while complying with rules on data use.
Cagsal said this is why it’s important for brands to understand the consumer behaviour that is driving the evolution of these channels. “The thing with Stories was, no brand ever created vertical videos simply because there was no need, but people started to take vertical videos themselves because it made sense. The mobile phone user behaviour is defining the product, everything flows from user behaviour. This is why Facebook works – they listen to the users.
“It’s probably not optimal to read text on mobile. Video took off because everyone wants to watch video on mobile. It’s easy to see consumer behaviour shifting. Facebook and Instagram are super-responsive, that’s why they are really growing.”
Cagsal said Facebook’s recent announcement that it will merge Instagram and WhatsApp messenger onto a single platform is important for travel because instant, direct communications is another important trend. He added Facebook will not rush the integration because it won’t want to disrupt the user experience but he said “we will see what works and what does not”.
“This is going to be important, especially in travel. If my flight is delayed I don’t care if I’m speaking to a real person or not as long as it solves my problem. If I am communicating with all my friends in this way why should I have to use a different platform to communicate with brands.”
Cagsal added: “It comes down to having a full funnel approach for Facebook and Instagram. Everyone has their own view of how Facebook and Instagram works for them, whether upper funnel branding and awareness or conversions. But what see see is there are 2.3 billion users and they are travelling so it’s a part of the funnel and it’s more about how can we make it work.
“This is unchartered territory, it’s early days but a testing frame of mind really works. If you are not using [Facebook and Instagram] Stories this year it’s a missed opportunity. If you are still not using Stories in two years you are going to be in big trouble. Users do not care what brands are doing, they are having fun and using it.”