Pictured: Steven Seddon
For some, content marketing is just the latest digital buzzword dreamed up by digital marketing agencies who saw dated technical SEO tactics being gradually killed off by Google.
Like most trends there’s a veneer of something new and innovative, but underneath the surface it refers to something fundamentally true and unchanging.
It has always been the case that strong brands tell stories exceptionally well and that relies on good quality content.
This is the maxim driving upmarket tour operator Kuoni’s approach in the UK.
Steven Seddon, Kuoni’s new head of marketing and digital, who joined 10 months ago from Monarch, is on a mission to create content that’s richer, more inspirational and interactive.
He says the firm will benchmark its digital activity against the sort of engagement publishers expect, rather than the more commercial sales objectives travel firms will usually apply.
“We are trying to move to a more personalised approach,” he said.
Work on CRM and a new email service provider will see Kuoni able to more readily communicate relevant information to customers.
“What’s important is rewarding some of the loyalty we see. It’s about recognising the customer because we have data on them.
“I think we can get a lot more value from existing customers. I’m very conscious that the only time we communicate with our customers is not when there’s a sale on.
“We think a travel company should be able to talk with authority about the destinations they travel to. Content is a key part of that.”
The challenge for many travel companies is how they get hold of that good quality content.
Many have gone down the user generated (UGC) route but that is no guarantee of good quality, indeed often it’s a guarantee of the opposite.
Others have spent oodles of cash generating super quality imagery and videos or on writers, celebrities or bloggers but find this is neither scalable nor profitable.
Kuoni sells holidays in 80 different countries, it sells ski holidays and cruise, so the challenge is its ability to showcase its wide range without compromising on quality.
What Kuoni has in its armoury is an array of experts in its stores, its call centre and in partner travel agencies and it is they, and their customers, who will be at the fore of this drive for content.
The firm has doubled the number of ‘trade’ articles to 700 produced by staff, who are now sent on fam trips with GoPro video cameras and an expectation that they will generate content for Kuoni.
A central team appraises the content and decides whether it meets the firm’s brand values, much like an editorial team will do in a traditional publisher.
Staff share their ideas on Yammer, the corporate social networking site.
“Sometimes agents do something they just think is part of their job but I think it’s a phenomenal story,” said Seddon.
These are what Kuoni calls ‘Wow’ moments and agents are encouraged to post them on Yammer.
Each store also has a social media superstar that controls a Twitter account dedicated to that shop.
In addition, agents, or PTEs as Kuoni calls them, will also be tasked with looking out for inspiring customer stories as part of the operator’s ‘Find Your Amazing’ campaign.
A new dedicated UGC site featuring 10 to 12 of these stories is due to go live for the January peak selling period, and although separate to the main Kuoni site Seddon says it will be fully integrated.
One video to be featured is a client from Kuoni’s Liverpool store inspired to travel following the death of his wife, who visited Marrakech in Morocco.
The site will not overtly push the Kuoni brand, but will be full of video, audio, interactive maps and clickable content.
Seddon said Kuoni also intended to exploit Instagram’s new clickable ads from October creating an interactive trip experience by clicking on destination images.
He is also working with a third party developer on pioneering Facebook technology that will allow the Kuoni website to be replicated within users’ posts.
And he plans to place a big focus on video next year saying Kuoni needs to do more with its YouTube channel.
The operator currently has 135,000 views a year on YouTube, but the task is to make sure they work with destinations to ensure they are kept up to date, are interactive and tailored to a UK audience.
As well as its own stores Kuoni has a network of partnerships with independent travel agents, some of which have the Kuoni brand on their shop facias and wear Kuoni-branded uniforms.
They too will be encouraged to join in this drive to create content and because of Kuoni “click and collect” policy underpinned by price parity can expect to have business driven to them.
“The understanding we have with our PTEs and partners is our website is a means to get people in the store. Taking off our online discount was a statement of intent. It shows that we mean it.
“It’s about being right for the consumer first and foremost. For me it’s all about engagement, that’s the key metric, people coming to the site and wanting to come back.
“Because it’s a complex journey, because a lot of times stores are involved we are not blinded by the online CPA (Cost Per Acquisition). The bigger metric is how store footfall is doing.
“There’s a gap between the two and we will aim to close that gap. It’s imperative that we measure effectively online and offline.
“In a saturated market of OTAs selling holidays, of affiliates selling on behalf of OTAs, on behalf of tour operators, we want people to come to our site and say I found a place for me.”