My meeting with Sojern: Towards a new approach of concerted destination marketing

One my way back from the IAAPA Attractions Show in Orlando I stopped over in NYC to meet a few people and companies I had come across in my past research work on the new trends in online travel. One of them is Sojern; although based in San Francisco I met with their NYC team in their very cool Soho office.

Sojern started with boarding pass advertising. They later saw an opportunity in leading data-driven marketing in the travel industry and invested massively in developing data treatment systems and platforms. Today the company is huge in the US, working with most key travel stakeholders on multi-million dollar campaigns.

At the origin are data partners who share precious data (cookies, IP addresses, emails) in exchange for a fee. Such partners include airlines (e.g. Delta, United), OTAs (e.g. hipmunk) and online retail companies. Then Sojern will create traveler profiles and work with clients to engage them with media channels. Essentially they are identifying the best audience for their clients and then bidding on media channels to display rich content in real time, allowing a much better campaign result.

I was interested to hear what Sojern does for destinations. They told me that they “engage potential visitors to a destination during the early planning/dreaming phase of the travel cycle”. Sojern’s ability to identify intent in travelers’ behaviors, including travel preferences (e.g. length of stay) and past trips, allows destination marketers to follow search and book patterns to influence decisions and destination choice.

Sojern is also banking on geolocalization. They are increasingly working with destination clients on their drive market. For example, Sojern can identify San Diego residents and serve them relevant, destination-specific ads from LA.

Then I asked about their attractions clients; I was told they don’t have any. Although a bit surprised I quickly realized it’s because attractions probably don’t have the same budgets to spend as tourism boards or big travel companies on big online advertising campaigns.

This took us to an interesting discussion about collaborative campaigns at a destination level, incorporating attractions and other stakeholders (restaurants, events, etc). One example would be for DMO’s to use rich content (pictures, videos) provided by the attractions to serve ads to different audiences based on preferences and then track views, therefore providing some sort of accountability for their efforts to promote attractions. I see a win-win proposition here with DMO’s being offered great content and destinations stakeholders getting visibility from a highly targeted audience.

What do you think? Could this approach work in Asia?

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