Why Luxury Escapes sees social media as a sales channel

Luxury travel ecommerce player shares how it's utilising Facebook and video to build a direct sales pipeline

Facebook is no longer just an engagement channel for high-end travel destination business, Luxury Escapes, it’s a sales environment generating as much as 12 per cent of attributed revenue to the bottom line.

Speaking to CMO in advance of the SocialBakers Engage Bali Conference, Luxury Escapes general manager, Blake Hutchison, shared how the fast-growing business has used Facebook and its live broadcasting capabilities as part of a wider and more “personalised” marketing strategy generating hard returns.

Luxury Escapes, part of the Lux Group, was launched five years ago and now boasts of more than 2 million free members, the majority of which are Australian. More recently, the group has been building a base in South East Asia and a Singapore presence, appointing a dedicated head of growth marketing in that region.

Lux Group also struck a strategic deal with fellow ecommerce player, Catch Group, to swap its Brands Exclusive and TheHome.com.au properties for Catch’s BonVoyage and Scoopon Travel divisions, ensuring its place as a pure-play travel business.

Hutchison said the initial brand aim was to build a big base of customers, which it strives to talk to in unique ways and via various channels, including social media. He described the overarching marketing strategy as one of simplifying the value proposition for its customer base in the face of a highly fragmented and competitive online travel market.

Blake Hutchison, Luxury Escapes
Blake Hutchison, Luxury Escapes

“What we reiterate through the team is the simplicity of our offer, which is great deals, amazing places,” he said. “Regardless of whether we’re buying an inexpensive product or the most expensive car, we’re all in the business of getting a good deal for ourselves. People are more value-based than ever before, regardless of capacity to pay.

“The other part is amazing places which is about luxury – it’s a relative term, but it’s generally assessed as being of high quality in that market.”

Underneath this, most of Luxury Escapes’ marketing activity is orientated around the travel deal itself.

Because 80 per cent of its customers are in the 55 years and over age bracket, newspaper advertising was an important first step in building brand awareness and reputation, Hutchison said, and print spend in national mastheads continues to this day. “That group still trusts and sees mastheads as a reliable source of news and travel inspiration,” he commented.

About 70 per cent of revenue today, however, is generated via Luxury Escapes’ daily email. “That’s because travel is so emotional,” Hutchison claimed. “Something that lands in your inbox with beautiful shots of destinations, gorgeous rooftop bars and everything else inbetween, makes for a content marketing strategy where the subject matter is a lot easier to execute on. It’s why we put so much importance on continual growth of the database, and why we also spend a lot of time optimising for email marketing.”

When it comes to digital, Luxury Escapes has two main priorities: Google Ad Words and Facebook. And it’s in social where the business has arguably seen things shift the most.

“Facebook, depending on the week, is around 8-12 per cent of attributed revenue, which means it’s no longer an engagement channel, it’s a sales environment for us,” Hutchison said.

“When we think about the way we communicate through that channel, it’s less showing customers something that’s beautiful, and it’s more about imagining yourself here, consider buying it now. It’s less so a nod to engagement, and more so a nod to sales conversion.”  

However, that doesn’t mean the brand isn’t investing heavily in content as part of its approach. A major component of its social strategy is a Facebook Live weekly TV show, launched in 2017 as a way of bringing further personality into the brand.

Hutchison described Facebook Live as the modern-day “home shopping network”, and a place where the group talks about its latest offers, brings in guests and staff from hotels, interviews destination experts and allows the community to ask questions and put the brand to task.

“When you’re building brand, it’s important to have conversations with customers more so than pushing a brand down their throats like it may have been done in decades prior,” he said. “We’re trying to use that to have genuine conversations with customers. Building a brand via Facebook and Instagram has become palatable as an approach and it’s not expensive. Brands should use these environments not just to tell customers what it is they are and sell, but have an active conversation.

“We have had cases where a customer asks in a live environment something that’s completely unrelated to a topic. For example, they may be trying to use a gift card and say ‘no one getting in touch with me, tell me how to do it right now’. I could be mid-sentence in our live show, see that on the screen and address that concern right then and there.

“Some brands might be a bit spooked by it, but we think transparency is better, honesty is first and we can have those live communication channels to drive that in a fast way.”  

User-generated content versus community building

The nature of user-generated content, meanwhile, and how it relates to Luxury Escapes’ engagement plans, is also evolving. For Hutchison, the emphasis is less on reviews and opinions, and more about fostering a community.

As customers have taken more trips, they’ve started using Luxury Escapes in their travel vernacular, Hutchison claimed. “People have become advocates, and they like to talk about these experiences,” he said.

“I do think there is role not necessary for old-world definition of UGC – having an opinion, writing a review. It’s more about a community that bands together, helps each other and networks together.

“What we know from service teams and customer surveys is that customers literally meet fellow travellers and engage with them on holidays, but more so than that, they become friends when they go home. The role for user-generated content therefore is related to a community of Luxury Escape travellers, where they can engage online through a Luxury Escapes.com environment. They can communicate and help each other make decisions on where they travel, why a particular offer is right for them, the types of destinations and help each other through the planning process.”

Hutchison pointed out travel planning remains the most convoluted part of booking a trip. “Google told us last week customers go to 32 websites before making a flight booking. That’s why community is so important,” he said.  

Facebook feed

With the recent news that Facebook will shake-up the consumer news feed, promoting less media and public content and putting the emphasis back on content from families and friends, brands are going to need to keep a hard focus on content and community if they want to continue to be seen.

While Luxury Escapes does have the benefit of travel experience, Hutchison said the key to continuing social success is to address the customer’s desires and pain points.

“Find that what the problem is and understand that problem in a way your product is trying to solve, then communicate around that,” he advised. “The problem we are solving is there is a lot of choice in the marketplace. We are curated, and handpick the stuff that’s the best, then communicate hard and aggressively around that on a regular basis.”  

Hutchison’s top tips for social success

  • Set out communications plan, specifically how often you will communicate with the community. Then have a plan around what the differences are in the messaging each time.
  • Start to get some data. Communicate for a week, have look at how posts are trending and how ads are converting and connecting, and what are you measuring – is it subscribers, in which case you need to know what your path to purchase is after that, or are you measuring within a period of time a click to book. That’s what we are more interested in now, and we’ve moved from subscribers to advertising to buyers. And it’s important to think about what it actually is you’re paying for: Is it for someone to look at your website, or to buy?
  • Use video. Facebook and Google are prioritising video because they see it as engaging the community. Start thinking about how to build a fast and reliable content pipeline.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Content creation is still challenging for a lot of people, but generally it comes down to not being as perfectionist as you would be in a traditional publishing environment, and figuring out a way to do it with some level of cadence. In our case, it’s three time daily post to FB and Instagram. It’s a KPI.
  • State your window of measurement to be accountable for. Our team is measured on how content engages with the community but also the return on ad spend, and that comes down to a 30-day measurement window.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu 




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