Offering depth and versatility above many of its sector counterparts, travel data is being touted as the secret weapon for brands and their quest for the single customer view.

The trend of using information captured by travel companies for a range of applications is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that toes the line of basic marketing logic. If someone books a flight, they might require a hotel. If that same person books a hotel in a specific city, they might welcome certain recommendations from businesses within close proximity.  

In business travel especially, where the tagline of ‘creatures of habit’ rings true, it’s common for this cycle to repeat itself on a monthly basis. Plus, it’s not uncommon to see people holidaying for pleasure at the same places they visit every year. 

Whole business models have been based around helping retailers make the most of travel data, with one of the most notable being the California-based ADARA – a company that leverages a rich bank of site views, searches and transactions for generating consumer insights.

A former employee of Yahoo and Electronic Arts, ADARA’s president of media, Elizabeth Harz, spoke to PerformanceIN about the uses of travel data and why marketers mustn’t fold under the weight of their consumer information. 

Being a travel specialist, why are people getting so excited about its data?

Elizabeth Harz: Consumer behaviour in travel is so exciting; there’s so much data in this space that hasn’t really been used that much, traditionally. A lot of marketers have used lots of financial services data and retail data to understand consumer behaviour, and the reality is there’s a tremendous source of consumer insight in the travel vertical.

There’s a couple of factors in travel data that makes it different. First of all, it’s very collectable. So you’re actually able to get the information easily and refresh it in real time. It’s also very synergistic. If someone books a flight, they might want to book a hotel room or car hire, whereas if it’s a flat-panel television, they’re not necessarily looking to make a big purchase for a while. 

Travel data is also very predictable. If you go on vacation, you might go to similar places – the same if you’re going away on business. Travel data actually allows partners to look towards the future instead of just having insights that present a snapshot in time.  

Lastly, it’s huge. There are a lot of data sets you can get into and it falls apart really quickly in terms of scale. 

In regards to what we’re excited about, people are starting to use the data that exists in the vertical for some interesting applications. Travellers are spending a lot in stores; they’re buying technology and even cars, so other verticals are able to look to this in order to shed light on consumer behaviour. 

Collecting data; making predictions – both points surround debates over the ‘single customer view’. Is something like a transparent view of each consumer obtainable at the moment?    

EH: We’re very lucky at ADARA because we work with over 80 travel partners around the globe and collect data attached to searches, bookings, and loyalty programmes. So we actually have log-in data and can connect the consumer across devices.

Sometimes people will be sitting on a couch, browsing on their tablet and looking at beach destinations, or trying to figure out where to go on vacation. But then they go to their desktop to actually book, or on their commute to work they’ll book on their smartphone. Because we have their log-in data, we can talk to that consumer appropriately.  

Imagine you’re doing that search for a beach vacation on your tablet and you go to book on your PC, and you land on a page with a beach scene in the background as opposed to a picture of Hong Kong. It’s all those subtle experiences that will result in a much more pleasurable consumer journey. 

We’re very lucky to have solutions that actually connect with multiple devices. A lot of people talk about it, but we’re able to execute on it.

On the flipside of that, in regards to surveys that are saying companies are being overwhelmed with incoming data, do you think we should be doing more with less?

EH: I understand the frustration. It’s a lot for marketers to get their heads around and they often have a lot to accomplish for the business. Feeling overwhelmed by data is very natural, but as I tell our marketers, don’t cave under the overwhelming nature of it. 

Take the time to find the right people: get a chief data scientist, get people with experience and work with vendors that can translate that data into actual insights. Because the promise of this is coming into fruition. 

You need a lot of stomach to wade through the noise, but we’re really there now. For over 20 years we’ve been talking about using data to better understand consumers and activate business and marketing strategies. But now we’re really there, and I do see people giving up in some cases. 

I try to encourage a lot of people on the data and technology side of things that it’s on us to play a leadership role and help brands digest everything in front of them.

You recently spoke on an Advertising Week panel about the basics of programmatic advertising. With everything that’s been said about us driving spend into this area, do you feel some parties are actually still lacking a bit of education into what it is?

EH: On the panel we started by defining programmatic, because if you were to ask ten executives about what it means, you’d get ten very different answers. Some look at it as simply the automation of buying and selling media. Some look at it as a much more holistic topic around data-driven marketing communications.

My view on this is a bit like my data discussion. It can be overwhelming, and everyone scoffs at the lumascape of mar-tech and ad-tech companies. It can seem very confusing and very off-putting. But the reality is that we are here at the moment; where everything we hope to do is really possible. And if people staff appropriately and spend time on it, they’ll realise that the decision they make today will impact their businesses for the next several years or more to come. 

They need to be thoughtful about it [programmatic] and embrace it, because the implications this has on the business are so much larger than just bottom-of-the-funnel, better ad targeting and automation. It’s about feeding all the data insights throughout the whole business cycle and always refreshing what’s happening. 

It’s the same kind of message: don’t throw in the towel or leave this to a specific person or a specific agency to execute at the bottom of the funnel. Think about using ad tech to really improve your business for the long-haul.