Interview: Take risks to exploit the power of digital, says Yahoo’s travel head

Interview: Take risks to exploit the power of digital, says Yahoo’s travel head

Travel has the most to gain in a post search obsessed digital environment where brand building is just as important as driving traffic, according to Yahoo’s Emma Jowett.

She became Yahoo’s first director of travel for EMEA just over a year and a half ago when the firm restructured along more classic media agency lines to reflect the key industry verticals it works with.

Sitting in Yahoo’s central London offices within sight of its big search rival Google’s multicoloured and flamboyantly decorated London HQ, Jowett understands the task the firm has persuading travel firms to exploit its various platforms.

However she is able to point to a number of travel success stories. Just up the road, the third member of a travel media triumvirate in the locality is Travelzoo, who Jowett says has seen impressive results working with Yahoo. Others travel clients include Sandals, Monarch and Accor. VisitBritain is also held up as a shining example of how to use Yahoo to drive engagement.

“I’m just really interested in this industry,” said Jowett who, before accepting the travel role had a global position across many industry verticals which brought her into contact with some key travel brands.

“Travel was an area I wanted to learn more about. I think I have a good understanding of the major challenges in this industry for travel firms and how Yahoo can plan their digital journey.

“Digital has been seen as a bit of a scary place for more traditional travel brands. My background allows me to navigate their way through the digital landscape. Yahoo has a lot of brilliant opportunities for the industry.

“When we realigned around verticals travel was the one I really saw the opportunity in. Travel partners were really strong in search but digital activity did not go much further than that. I saw the breadth of opportunity open to travel brands was huge.

“The way that e-commerce has been set up I think travel brands could easily see return on investment and start to build a business based on digital just as through search. The point is that search only takes those brands so far.

“Brands are starting to realise that search is a very cluttered market place and it costs a lot of money to drive business purely through search marketing and there has to be ways to differentiate themselves. More brands who are thinking about brand building are coming to us to do more broadcast, traditional display activity.

“We have evolved our product. We have a search product which is growing share and we also have a very valuable audience – it was always a really good place for travel to be. Yahoo search is 80% more likely to drive a purchase of a product or service online than the market. We did not necessarily have the scale but now we are growing our share.”

Yahoo has been at the forefront of pioneering what is known as native advertising – commercial messages delivered in a not-overtly commercial way through professionally created and curated editorial and rich content.

Jowett said mobile is now also behind everything Yahoo does, its recently launched biddable Gemini marketing platform empowers brands to exploit this more effectively, allowing them to pay to place advertising in personalised content streams.

Yahoo offers a range of digital properties from email, to blogging site Tumblr, photo sharing site Flickr and its news and weather services. Gemini is bringing a search style marketplace model to this more brand-centric form of online display advertising.

Jowett said mobile native advertising is much more intuitive, personalised and targeted, and Yahoo’s scale offers advertisers access to a wealth of data on potential customers.

Everyone is talking about data but it’s at the heart of our business. We are a very trusted brand and we can create an amazing picture of our users and across devices as well. Sixty percent are logged in at any one time across devices so we can track behaviour throughout the day on PC, mobile and on tablet.

“Relevance and personalised advertising is really important. Targeted activity is where we are seeing great performance. Our users are much more accepting of this kind of contextual relevant messaging.

“We take data from all Yahoo touchpoints so we have proprietary data that we do not give to any body – that’s really really powerful. That sets us apart from others in the market who are buying their data. We have data that can highlight search intent and we can send an ad related to browsers’ behaviours. That’s very valuable for brands because we are helping them connect with the right person. Smart advertising is where everyone is hoping to go.

“Everything we are doing is about enhancing the user experience which in return delivers value for the advertiser, rather than upsetting our users. I want travel brands to think that they have not finished planning digital once they have switched their search on. That’s just one part of the journey their customer is going on.

“We know the one place everyone is turning to before they go on holiday is the internet. When they are looking for inspiration, they are online. I want more brands to feel that they can have a presence in that whole process.

“It takes between 12 and 14 weeks for the average holiday planning cycle and a user will visit on average 18 different sites, it’s important for the industry to have relevant messages for each part of that process and it does not end with the booking – people are still connected on holiday.”

When Jowett talks about digital being scary she’s highlighting an issue that all online travel retailers are facing today – how to wean themselves off the search traffic heroin they have become so accustomed to treating like a tap. You pay for traffic, you get traffic and convert as much as you can, you stop paying and the supply dries up.

This requires firms to rediscover or even find for the first time their personality, to create content that will be exposed to the court of public opinion and either ignored, slated or liked and shared. Jowett believes too few travel firms are being brave enough to do this, despite operating in a sector and selling a product that perfectly fits this kind of approach.

“It’s about thinking about the different content you can create. The kind of content has moved on, it’s no longer static images, it’s animated giffs or video. Mobile is very visual, it’s image based which lends itself to the travel industry. Video is the cornerstone of our business moving forward.

“We have an amazing product to showcase video but I don’t really see that being exploited in travel, maybe because television had been beyond the realms of their budgets. Travel has such an amazing product it should take a few more risks.

“You have to evolve content creation and take full advantage of the way people are browsing for that content. On mobile it’s not relevant to write 300 word articles when you can carry that message in an amazing cinemagraph with a caption.

“We are seeing much more emphasis on brand building, that’s why search cannot be your only digital choice because that’s not giving you personality beyond a blue link on a page. Brands need people to love them. This is a big shift. It’s always been about price and price comparison but because everyone was playing in the one space brands are now trying to differentiate themselves.

“You have to have a point of difference in this market. It’s the big guys and the niche players who are doing really well but the challenge is for the guys in the middle who do not necessarily have something unique.”

With sophisticated targeted marketing that cuts down on marketing spend wastage, Jowett says even small travel agents can find their voice online without needing the deep pockets of the giant global players in the travel industry.

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