How to Use Data-Driven Travel App Marketing to Accelerate Growth

By John Koetsier January 1, 2017


Mobile apps are rapidly transforming the ways that people interact and transact in digital, especially in the travel category. While just a few years ago the mobile app space was completely dominated by games, now travel apps are becoming very popular. More and more travel businesses around the world are relying on mobile apps to drive engagement and sales.

The Breadth and Depth of Consumer Travel Preferences

One of the most interesting aspects of the travel business is that two people sitting next to one another on a plane, in identical seats, may have radically different preferences for travel services and amenities. Here are just a few of the many important ways that their needs may differ:

  • Purpose: Business or pleasure occasion?
  • Costs: High- versus low-price-sensitivity?
  • Class: First or business or coach class?
  • Brand: Brand preferences and points programs?
  • Ambience: Luxury, trendsetting or utilitarian venue preferences?
  • Environment: Urban or suburban location?
  • Amenities: Need for on premise restaurant, pool, fitness center etc.?
  • Time Urgency/Flexibility: Flexibility on departure and return dates?

Travel was one of the first verticals to get serious about collecting customer data as a means of anticipating the needs of a traveler. The OTAs as well as the leading travel brands now have extensive databases of information about travelers, preferences, frequent destinations, mobile usage, brand affinities, price sensitivity and more. Data they use to deliver tailored PC and mobile web marketing.

Making Travel App Marketing Consumer-Centric

By contrast, data-driven travel app marketing is only in its infancy. Techniques that are common online are only now becoming available in the mobile app arena. But now that they are available, travel companies should start taking the same sorts of data-driven approaches to app marketing that they take with consumer touch points that take place on other screens.
In the pages that follow, we will be providing ideas and tips to do just that. We hope that these insights and recommendations will help you make your travel app marketing more effective through a focus on leveraging the power of data to create richer and more personal customer relationships.

We’ll be discussing:

  • How to define the data collection strategy for your app, including which types of consumer actions you need to track
  • How to correctly evaluate your various marketing partners — to measure their relative abilities to drive your KPIs
  • How you can apply seven use cases and strategies to start driving rapid growth in your travel app business immediately
  • How you can convince more mobile app users to buy within the app rather than taking their transactions to the PC web

Travel App Data Collection Strategy

When you are just getting started with in-app measurement, the most important things you need to decide are which consumer actions to track. In the mobile app measurement industry, we call in-app consumer action ‘events’. By tracking events, we gather the data necessary to understand the effectiveness of your marketing programs. We also gain a granular view of exactly what each consumer does inside your apps.

  • Validation Events: Actions that help identify the user (anonymously, of course)
  • Engagement Events: Actions that indicate “involvement” with the app, and presage long-term usage
  • Intent Events: Actions that indicate that the user is considering and preparing for a purchase
  • Conversion Events: Completed transactions

Validation Events are important for anonymized user identification. They help us identify the device on which actions take place, so we can associate all an individual’s behavior to a single ID or profile. Here are the most crucial events/data points to track:

  • Email Address (Hashed): A hashed email can be used to link purchases and other actions that take place in one environment to those that take place in other environments. For example, hashed email can be used to link in-app purchases to e-store purchases and CRM activity. When we unite all that data, we create a more holistic understanding of the customer.
  • Device Advertising ID: Many media partners will pass the Device Advertising ID (e.g., IDFA, Android Advertising ID) to advertisers. This helps us identify a user’s device so we can link marketing activity to consumer actions. Device Advertising IDs can also be helpful in associating a customer’s activity across devices, because Device IDs are far more persistent and mobile-measurement-friendly than other identifiers, like third-party cookies.
  • Social IDs: Because the social networks have extremely sophisticated algorithms to spot fraudulent users and activity, social IDs can be used to help ensure that an app was installed by a real person. In addition, social IDs can be the foundation for retargeting and other re-engagement efforts on social networks.
  • Custom Advertiser ID: Some advertisers use their own customer IDs to identify users who log in, make purchases, etc. A custom ID is a great way to link transactional behaviors across devices and platforms.
  • Age and Gender: These are useful, non-personally-identifiable attributes that help with basic segmentation.
  • Latitude and Longitude: Most industry people expect location-based marketing to grow in importance. To prepare for that eventuality, we suggest that advertisers record phone longitude and latitude when users install.

Engagement Events tend to be category-specific. Here are some examples of some of the engagement types that travel companies should track.

  • Instructions/Tutorial Viewed? If the mobile app has instructions or a tutorial, whether a consumer reads it/watches it is a strong indicator of their depth of interest
  • Input of Travel Rewards Numbers: By choosing to commit this information to the app, the user gives you a strong indication of their interest in long-term use
  • Input of Travel Preferences (Airlines, Hotels, Car Rentals, Time of Day, Class of Service): Preferences like these offer a treasure trove of insights you can leverage to tailor marketing programs and experiences to individual users
  • Destination Searches: When you collect and retain details about past searches and trips in iPhone and Android apps, you can later use these facts to tailor offers and packages to the individual user
  • Wish Listing: A considerable number of consumers like to wish list “dream” items. Analysis here can help you define programs and experiences that may be relevant to each individual user. In addition, you can (with permission) share these lists with other connected users as gift suggestions
  • Rating/Reviewing: By recording these opinions, you can craft richer marketing programs and recommendations that better reflect what each individual use wants and needs
  • Content Sharing: Noting the content that a user shares can provide valuable data to use in codifying someone’s preferences and interests
  • Did User Install Updates? This is a great indicator of the depth of interest an individual has in an app. Each update is a concrete demonstration of their commitment to an app.

Intent Events are a rich source of information on whether an individual is committed to transacting in an app. Further, by analyzing which items the person appears to be interested in buying, you gain important insights into their interests insights that power effective individualized communications.

  • Check Availability: Not surprisingly, this is an extremely powerful indicator of interests and likely future purchases. This action can also give us insights into an individual’s lifestyle and other factors that may drive future purchase preferences
  • Add to Cart/Shopping Bag: Tells us what the person is really interested in buying. Committing to a cart is, for most people, a strong indicator of likely future purchases
  • Begin Booking (and Every Other Stage of the Booking Process.): Find out which steps a user takes in the process. Tracking every step is a must to identify buying process bottlenecks that may be impeding your conversion rates
  • Input Credit Card Details: Another demonstration of serious interest. And, in these days of security concerns, brand trust.

With Purchase Events, it’s critical that you record the specifics — or “parameters” — of what the individual has just bought. Parameters are the details from each event that help us develop a richer customer profile. Here are some parameters we highly recommend tracking for the vertical:

  • Hotel Reservations
  • Total Revenue
  • Destination/Location
  • Hotel Location
  • Quantity of Items
  • Quantity of Items
  • Departure/Pickup Date
  • Check-In Date
  • Return Date
  • Check-Out Date
  • Carrier/Company
  • Hotel Brand
  • Taxes Levied
  • Class of Service
  • Class of Room
  • Bought on Discount?
  • Size of Discount

For travel apps, parameters are invaluable as a source of individual user insights. Make sure you pass all relevant parameters with each purchase so you can better understand your business and create personalized communications for each user.

2. Evaluating Your Vendors Based On Revenue and ROI KPIs, Not Installs

You and your brand probably expect more from your app than “just” a colossal number of installs. You likely need to drive strong bookings and realized revenue. Given that, it’s a bad idea to just use install counts and CPI as the only measures of media partner effectiveness.

One of the most frustrating things we see from our view into hundreds of app businesses is that lots of mcommerce companies still optimize to cost per install instead of revenue per marketing dollar invested. Doing so often drives exactly the wrong allocation decisions.

Media companies that drive dirt-cheap installs often deliver the lowest quality users. That’s because the least expensive ways to drive an install (like incentivized downloads, sideloading, and APK) tend to garner lots of “users” that have no interest in what you sell.

An example: If I agreed to download your app in exchange for an hour of free Wifi, am I likely to be a high-potential-revenue user? Probably not. If it sounds too good to be true from a CPI perspective, it probably is.

That’s not to say that every incentivized install program is bad. But you should dig deep to find out whether it’s realistic to expect quality users from a program before you sign the contract. Given this, should travel apps then focus solely on men? NO!

Liftoff reports that women buy the majority of travel offerings, so acquiring female users may make more sense. They may cost a little more to acquire, but they will generate lots more revenue.

Net: always evaluate vendors based upon the extent to which they help deliver your KPIs, not surrogate measures. Ensure that the measurement tool that you choose can provide a precise measure of the return on ad spend for vendors and campaigns, not just basic CPI metrics.

3. Seven Data-Driven App Marketing Use Cases

Once you are collecting the right data on key customer events, it’s time to put that data to work. Use individual and audience insights to power segmented and customized marketing programs.

Here are seven key use cases in which customer event data can play a huge role in improving revenue, customer engagement rates and profitability:

  • Optimized Vendor Allocation
  • Broad-Based Mobile Retargeting
  • Broad-Based Cross-Device Retargeting
  • Reactivating Cart Abandoners
  • Bringing Lapsed Customers Back to Buy
  • Advanced Lookalike Modeling
  • App Cross-Marketing

Let’s examine each of these below:

Optimized Vendor Allocation: Collecting data on all the paid and organic events that drive installs and other desirable actions is the first step toward having the information you need to assess vendor performance and efficiency. Analyze the results of each of your media partners so you can deliver the right mix of media to maximize return on ad spend.
In addition to enabling you to allocate your spend in the ways that are most accretive to your revenue goals or other KPIs, you can also ensure that you don’t pay multiple vendors for the same install. “Deduplication” can drive a savings of 20% or more on your overall CPI. The more partners you use, the greater the potential for duplication.

Broad-Based Mobile Retargeting: Retargeting is the fastest growing sector of app marketing, and among the fastest growing for digital and mobile app marketing in general. And the reason is because it works outstandingly well. By concentrating on high potential segments, you increase your share of voice with these “consumers that matter,” and can deliver customized messages geared to need states. After all , it is much each to drive a transaction from a current user than to convince someone to visit the app store, install, and then buy.

Here are four examples specific to travel apps:

  • Apps can target segments of their users who explore destination information but have not yet demonstrated intent to transact. This engagement state often represents a very big chunk of travel app users – one that can be cost-effectively reached with tailored messages that drive deeper engagements. OTA apps can target mobile app users who have transacted for a low margin item, like an airline ticket, but have never used the app to make a higher margin hotel or rental car reservation
  • Cross-Device Mobile Retargeting: Through partnerships with device graph companies, it is now possible to anonymously target individuals across screens by connecting third-party cookies from the PC and mobile web with device advertising IDs from the app world
  • Cart Abandon Reactivation: This use case is one of the key drivers of the effectiveness of retargeting. By reaching out to users who have demonstrated strong intent signals but have not yet transacted, it is possible to drive a significant portion of these users back to transact. The percentage who return depends on at least six criteria: category dynamics, how fast retargeting starts after abandon, price point, size of discount offer (if any), whether it would be a user’s first or a repeat purchase, and how many retargeting messages are received
  • Bringing Lapsed Users Back to Buy: As we all know, the number of apps on a typical mobile device far exceeds the number that are used regularly. Recent figures from Nielsen in the US show that the average smartphone bears about 100 apps, of which about 15 are used regularly. Many apps lose more than 80% of their customers in just the first month after the install. Given those dynamics, it is critical to keep your app top-of-mind, and one way to do that is to remind users after N days of inactivity. Understanding past travel exploration and booking patterns is critical here; it obviously makes a lot more sense to remind a lapsed user who books a trip every week than one who only books a few times a year.
  • Advanced Lookalike Modeling: Travel companies have been leveraging lookalike modeling for acquisition efforts in the PC realm for years, so it should come as no surprise that it is a fast-growing area for app marketing. Likely, many of the app media partners you work with are already leveraging lookalike models on your behalf. Look-alike modeling is most effective when a brand collects and analyzes all its installs and customers FROM ACROSS ALL MEDIA VENDORS, to understand the complete picture of its customer base. While sophisticated media partners can do a good job with lookalike modeling using only the installs that they drive, there is no substitute for the broadest possible view. Another key element of brand-centered lookalike modeling is the opportunity to identify more target audience segments. By arming your media partners with ALL the segments, you will empower them to drive even better results for your brand
  • App Cross-Marketing: Users of your related apps are a natural place to start prospecting for new users/ customers. First, the cost to acquire them for the second app will likely be much lower. Second, the strong customer profiles that you have for the first app will help you segment users to identify ideal targets for your new app. You’ll be able to do so by examining app usage patterns, interests, lifestyles, and ropensity to make in-app purchases

How you can convince more app users to transact in-app rather than taking their transaction to the PC web? Many users of travel apps switch to the PC web to complete their transactions. Lots of experts have theories about why this is so common. Some of the most popular are outlined below:

  • Travel tends to be a high-ticket item, and people have security concerns regarding mobile transactions
  • Travel is often a well-considered purchase, and users avail themselves of many different types of connections to access information. But for transacting, consumers still like to use a PC to comparison shop
  • Travel booking sometimes requires significant data entry, which is made easier with the full-sized keyboard of a PC

Here are a few ideas to improve your chances of success:

  • Communicate Available Offers: Make sure that you communicate available offers clearly and prominently
  • Create Urgency: If offers are set to expire, give consumers a reason to transact now by communicating deadlines aggressively
  • Allay Safety Concerns: Make sure you provide assurances that transacting in-app is very safe. If you work with assurance solutions like TRUSTe, make sure you feature those relationships in your checkout process
  • Simplify the Data Entry: Make sure that your buying experience leverages any contact information you have already in pre-fill forms etc
  • Offer Pricing Guarantees: Very few of us have relied on only one website for travel pricing. We check around, or use services that do this for us. If you offer a price guarantee, this can likely improve your chances of in-app conversion
  • Get Creative About Differentiating In-App Purchases: You and your team may be able to identify ways to differentiate the value of buying in-app

Final Thoughts

Travel marketers are among the most creative business leaders around. After all, the need to romance experiences and optimize buying processes is part and parcel for success in your industry. Few industry analysts disagree with the idea that apps will become an increasingly critical channel for the travel industry. The time is now for travel marketers to devote their strategic and tactical acumen to the challenges inherent data-driven in-app promotion and business building.

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