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The travel industry has long been a fan of email marketing, but according to a new survey from StrongMail, it looks like marketers are not taking advantage of the vast information they're collecting from their customers. According to the survey, 70% of travel companies don't track customer behavior or subscriber preferences to serve more useful marketing.

Considering that consumers who have willingly agreed to receive such emails are often looking for a place to spend their travel budget, marketers are leaving money on the table by not listening to what their customers are looking for.

The survey asked email marketing executives about their companies' email marketing efforts and found that marketers using email marketing applications in tandem with targeting are contributing nearly twice as much corporate revenue from their email programs than those that are sending un-targeted mass messages.

Fifty‐five percent of travel organizations surveyed use on‐premise technology.  However, nearly half of these marketers (26%)  use custom‐built homegrown solutions that often lack subscriber targeting capabilities that could increase message relevance and deliverability.   

List churn is the biggest challenge for email marketers across verticals. Especially in the travel industry, consumers often travel sporadically and neglect to update their email addresses. Nearly a third (32%) of the travel industry cited churn as their biggest challenge. Other challenges include email deliverability, managing email frequency, appropriate knowledge to optimize mailings and lack of integrated data.

Of those surveyed, 38% consider improved deliverability as a top priority for 2010. Other goals are social integration (37%), segmentation (33%) and centralizing customer data (28%).

Social is also gaining more sway among travel marketers. 28% of travel email marketers are analyzing the social influence of their subscribers and targeting subscribers based on social influence.

Paul Bates, UK managing director at StrongMail, tells Econsultancy that social influence will be increasingly important to email marketing:

"The ability for marketers to measure and leverage social data can improve targeting and reduce acquisition costs by leveraging brand advocates. The ability this offers to improve message relevance, particularly by including social influence behavior in segmentation schemes, is an imperative tactic for marketers to embrace."

What are travel marketers doing to encourage repeat business? About 64% have started sending loyalty statements and thank‐you messages after customers complete trips, but only 1/3 are sending messages before and throughout those journeys.

The big issue is that travel marketers are sending un-targeted offers. 38% of travel email marketers state that they send general un‐targeted offers, which is more than the number of marketers including targeted offers (35%).

Meanwhile, only 30% of travel email marketers are using subscriber preferences or behavior to target offers in pre‐ and post‐stay email messages.

According to the survey:

 "Marketers using an email marketing application that employs targeting are nearly twice more likely to drive greater corporate revenue from their email programs than those that 
don’t." 

Travel marketers (41%) using email marketing applications and targeting their messages say they generate more than 3% of their overall corporate revenue from their pre‐ and post‐stay email programs. Only 28% of marketers that do not target their messages can say the same thing.

Says Bates:

"While email marketers are beginning to connect their email and social marketing programs, few are using the necessary subscriber segmentation tactics that can improve message performance. A significant number of marketers still use custom-built homegrown solutions, which typically lack the subscriber targeting and infrastructure capabilities to properly advance message relevance and deliverability."

Increasingly, marketers have tools at their disposal to reach consumers in more granular and useful ways. Especially in a vertical like travel, where customers often have specific interests and plans for their time and money, marketers would be wise to listen.

Chart: StrongMail

Meghan Keane

Published 13 May, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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