Comment: Target your sales messages for a phased return

Good marketers should know their innovators from their laggards, says Digital Drums chief executive Steve Dunne

There is a saying in the US Marines: Adapt and overcome to survive. And that may well be the theme for the travel industry as we approach the summer of 2021.

While optimism in the country is on the rise with the success of the vaccine rollout and government unveiling its roadmap out of lockdown, consumer confidence is still fragile.

Optimism in the travel industry is on the rise too. Almost immediately after the government revealed its roadmap, airlines, operators and travel agents reported astonishing leaps in bookings and enquiries. Travel bosses were everywhere in the media talking about “pent-up demand” and “consumers desperate for holidays”.

But while better times hopefully lie ahead, it will be a different type of consumer that we’ll be dealing with. Traveller confidence, at least for the next two years, will be the key to success – and travel brands will need to have a flexible marketing strategy to nurture the growth in consumer confidence to travel again.

The consumer, desperate for a holiday, is also exposed to a media that will influence their buying behaviours. In the news, every day, are stories of the pandemic and its effects around the world – and they are rarely positive.

One recent report claimed just nine countries are in possession of 75% of the vaccines; more than 100 countries are yet to vaccinate a single citizen. Italy, in the midst of a third wave, hopes to have 80% of its population vaccinated by the end of September. France, Germany, Spain and many other European countries are casting doubts over vaccine side-effects and are way behind the UK in their rollouts.

Post-pandemic travel adoption curve segments

In marketing, whenever a brand plans for adoption to a new marketplace, it works through a concept known as the ‘adoption curve’. With fragile consumer confidence, travel brands might do well to adapt their sales and communications strategies to this approach over the coming months.

The return of the market is likely to be in phases. And for that reason it may be better to target communications and sales in a more efficient way.

The adoption curve approach says that a typical new market is divided into five segments.

The first comprises what are known as the ‘innovators’ and, on average, they account for 2.5% of any market. Their nature is to take risks. They will not worry too much about safety or new hygiene protocols or who has the vaccine. They want to travel and will do so regardless. They require minimal communication, so we don’t need to get them motivated or give them assurances.

The second group are the ‘early adopters’, typically about 13.5% of the market. They too want to holiday abroad as soon as possible, but only as long as certain boxes around hygiene, safety and ease of repatriation are ticked. They need different messages and sales approaches to the innovators.

Next is the group known as the ‘early majority’, representing about 34% of the market. Opinion leaders and formers play a big role with them. And price will be a big part of their decision to travel abroad this year or next. They need more assurance and guidance.

The fourth group are the ‘late majority’, also about 34% of the market. Travel abroad in 2021 is probably off the cards for them. They want to see the sector up and running, and to know people who went abroad with no problems, before they travel again. Domestic holidays are their short-term aim.

Finally, we have the ‘laggards’, typically 16% of any market. Overseas travel may well be off the agenda for them for some years. They will need much persuading around vaccinations and the state of Covid abroad and, even then, may take time to travel overseas.

There are other factors, of course, such as age, demographic and spending power. But when a brand’s budgets, staff and time are limited, segmenting the market in an adoption curve is the most effective way to communicate with consumers and sell holidays.

As the US Marines say, adapt and overcome – it is the key to survival.


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