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Analysis - March 16, 2007

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Chronology

March 2007

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Print etourism and technology, Marketing ,

Your client’s friends are your friends

Corporate marketing strategies tend to focus on the following questions: who are we trying to reach, and how and when can we reach them? In other words, a company will base its marketing decisions on the data – mainly geographic or demographic – it has about its current and potential clients. Network-based marketing brings another variable into play, namely “who is in contact with whom?” This is an important question, for we know that a person in contact with one of our current clients is more likely to be interested in our product or service.

The goal of network‑based marketing is to increase (or create) awareness of a product or service by taking advantage of social connections between consumers – through either word‑of‑mouth or viral marketing (see also: Le marketing viral, le bon vieux bouche‑à-oreille revisité). However, over the past few years, a new factor has emerged with the increase of web‑based social networks and the many possibilities they represent.

The proof is in the study results

In a recent study of a telecommunications company that was launching a new internet service, two different ad campaigns were carried out: one aimed at potential clients identified by demographic and geographic characteristics, and another aimed at people in contact with current internet service users. The study showed:

  • The people who were part of an existing client’s network were 3.4 times more likely to adopt the new service;
  • The people who were identified as potentially interested AND who were part of an existing client’s network were five times more likely to try it;
  • People who were part of the existing client’s network BUT who did not seem to be potential clients were roughly three times as likely to choose the new service.

The results of this study suggest, in general, that a company can find more buyers for its products by tapping into the network of its current clients. It is also true that the results of network‑based marketing can be influenced by other factors and may vary depending on the product or service in question. For instance, a new and exciting product is likely to generate more buzz. However, the basic truth is that social networks represent a new avenue worth exploring in the search for potential clients.

Clearly, the e‑commerce company Amazon has grasped this concept (see below).

Amazon_clients_friends1

Web 2.0 opportunities

In addition to traditional social networks, the increasingly popular virtual networks have become a mine of information for marketing experts eager to make a connection between a product and a common interest among internet‑users. For example, social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, and personalized Web pages (MyYahoo) are proof of connections between individuals and hence provide vital information for network‑based marketers. Blogs also attract people with common interests and often provide links to other blogs, thereby creating vast social networks.

Major players have their own means of gaining access to other networks. For example, eBay recently acquired Skype, a free internet telephony and videoconferencing software company, so it can find out who is talking to whom!

Local applications of the trend

Although obviously not all local tourism companies can join forces with MySpace or Skype, here are some action items which will help them take advantage of the network‑marketing phenomenon:

  • In your client database, enter any information on your clients’ interests they have given you: whether or not they ski, like fine dining or are interested in regionally‑produced gourmet products, etc. This kind of information can help you define your position with respect to social networks.
  • Conduct direct marketing campaigns by encouraging people to pass a message on to their friends (such as contests they can invite people on their contact list to take part in).
  • Watch out for instances where people are talking about your company online. Identify the networks and set up a Web presence there.
  • Make sure your clients are truly satisfied with their experience. A significant percentage of your clients will be members of a social network and will probably talk to their contacts about their experience.
  • Go a step further and invite your clients to tell their contacts about you through sites such as TripAdvisor or by sending virtual postcards.

Create your own web‑based social network

These days, marketing is all about innovation, so why not create your own online community? A new business has sprung up which enables tourism companies to do just that, and it may well inspire a number of copy‑cat versions. Holiday Smilers is aimed primarily at resorts and provides a personalized online space where the company’s clients can create their own profile and talk to other clients, whether past, present or future. The site is set up to enable people to exchange photos of their experience, discuss common interests, ask for suggestions, etc. Members can share their vacation experience with friends by inviting them to become members.

clients_friends2

Whether this kind of community is run by a third party (such as Holiday Smilers) or operated by the company itself, it still offers many advantages for a tourism organization. Some of the benefits include client loyalty, the ability to create a personalized vacation product through contacts with other clients (chat forums, organized group activities, photo sharing), the opportunity to e‑mail special offers and, above all, positive word‑of‑mouth referrals.

Resorts are a good example because, due to the very nature of the offer, the buyers of this kind of product tend to meet each other. However, the idea also has great potential for other kinds of businesses as well. After all, as long as people have interests in common, there are opportunities for networking!

Sources:

– Hill, Shawndra, Foster Provost and Chris Volinsky, “Netword‑based Marketing: Identifying Likely Adopters via Consumer Networks,” Statistical Science, 2006, vol. 21, No. 2.
– Hospitality Trends, “Netword‑based Marketing: Using Existing Clients To Help Sell to New Ones,” January 2007.
– Online: http://www.holiday-smilers.com/?&=eng

 

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