Observing the Consumer Shift with Data and Audience Insights

The number one question that arrives at Google is what the trends are and what is happening.

Whilst the world was disrupted and shut down, there was the contrast of very intense activity happening online. The number one question that arrives at Google is what the trends are and what is happening.

Whilst the world was disrupted and shut down, there was the contrast of very intense activity happening online. The number one question that arrives at Google is what the trends are and what is happening.

Google Search is not only the biggest search engine in the world but it's also one of the primary sources of information for travellers. Up until 2020, it is one of the categories with the highest registered growth on Google. It was constantly on the rise and even people booking travel offline were still returning to Google Search to understand more about the destinations, the providers and helping them to plan their trip.

People wanted to know all things travel-related, from "Where can I travel?" to "Where can I get the best travel deal?". Pretty much any aspect of the visitor journey is visible on Google searches and this is something that has built up over time.

One of the biggest upticks has been specialising travel searches tailored to specific audiences. People were interested to know "What are the opportunities as a member of the LGBT+ community?", "What about family travel?" and so on. These shifts have been growing year on year.

Turning to YouTube, we know that this kind of content has been growing in video format too, whether it's vloggers sharing their experience or how to guided tutorials.

What remained present is the interest in the dreaming stage, which survived strong throughout the pandemic. But whilst interest in things like theme parks, city breaks and other areas dropped, interest in things like outdoors, nature and other factors rose - which isn't surprising given the strong need of people to getaway.

March: We're not travelling, we're not interested in travel, we're just trying to understand what's happening.

Summer: Increase in interest in how and where people can travel, trying to figure out the opportunities.

November: Returning back to March, with people searching where they can travel, asking questions like "Is it safe to travel?" and "What requirements are needed in order to be able to travel?".

All of this shows us that search is a very powerful research tool to understand how consumers are reacting to the moving form of the pandemic.

Typically October and November is a time when you would expect to see searches for winter holidays, Christmas travel and everything related to the season. In contrast, options growing are those related to the local experiences such as road trips, parks, gardens, zoos, extended hotel stays etc.

The interest in big cities and destinations that are top of the list are declining severely. Instead, small cities, secluded places and those off the beaten track are now gaining relevance.

People seem to be prioritising safer and more practical opportunities closer to home, from camping grounds and rural tourism to activities such as horse riding and hiking.

The pandemic has shown us an enormous amount of data coming from a wide range of sources. We've all seen the array of data and insights from different sources. It's worth keeping in mind, however, that survey data and what people 'say' is also compliment by search data. What people say and how they respond to surveys should also be corroborated with what people are really searching for and what's really happening online. Any strong research strategy should consider both of these aspects to get a fuller picture.

Looking at trend data, we can see that users want a relaxing experience and they care about safety but they haven't forgotten about deals and incentives. More than ever right now people are conscious fo the monetary value and the motivation for travel. Whilst we're seeing a gradual increase in booking and searching for vacations, we also see searches intensifying on health and hygiene as well as recommendations for going off the beaten path alongside offers and deals. So if you're thinking about what your strategy should entail as a service provider or DMO, it must include considerations of these trends.

The industry has dramatically shifted virtually overnight. Destinations that are within easy reach by driving are seeing new opportunities. Things like flexibility have all become major priorities for consumers and this itself means the traditional planning cycle and seasonal planning timeframes has become completely disrupted.

So what does this all mean for us? Recovery planning is not turning out to be as straightforward as we expected or hoped. We thought early on that it would be in three stages; lockdown, post-pandemic and long-term recovery. However, we're now seeing that it's much more complicated than that and we may see a lot of back and forth between open and close.

This new mode of operating is probably here to stay. The consented instability and volatility surrounding the pandemic actually call for two critical components of marketing and our own organisation. This requires agility and precision, they're reflected in different things but if we are to hone in on some of those, this is where we can see it from a Google perspective.

On agility, we need to consider the importance of giving up the traditional approach to research that so many of us have built up over time. Now we have search data which is recent, up-to-date and real-time. We need to base our decisions on that and this is really critical. The situation is changing so dramatically from month to month. It depends on where the pandemic is and whatever was relevant a month ago will no longer be relevant today. This is a total mindset shift that needs to happen in how we use research.

Agility should also be reflected in how we approach our organisation when it comes to content creation. Before, making sure everything was very on-brand was very important. The fact of the matter is that today, messaging can become outdated in just a week. This means needing to rely on more dynamic assets with the help of tech tools that can be quickly adjusted, thinking about working with YouTube creators to leverage user-generated content and tap into more topics and more voices very quickly and the use of automation to deliver messages adapted to the real-time data.

The approval processes that we are so used to needs to be replaced by some form of testing on the go; flexibility in messaging is meant to ensure we can adapt and reflect it to the current knowledge about users and what they want to hear.

Before the pandemic mass reach or large-scale segmentation and targeting made a lot of sense. The pandemic has really fundamentally changed the travel scene and the pool of potential travellers. We still don't understand who the people who are going to travel tomorrow are and why. Instead of relying on a broad-brush approach to audiences and who you're targeting, be precise, less generic and flexible in changing these audiences as needed as you go and as the market changes.

Thanks to Google you can really identify different audiences and really understand these people who are in the market and likely to result in actual travel.

The other areas requiring precision is messaging. We need to consider how we can respond to the specific questions, concerns and needs that people are asking. Before, we used to go for generic messaging, travel cliches or simply 'having a good time'  but now more than ever responding to what people need to hear is more important than ever.

Lastly, let's not forget the measurement. Rather than having a robust long-term measurement framework, using extensive live measurement capabilities and a very granular approach to messaging to understanding what works and what doesn't is the way to go. Thanks to the capabilities of digital platforms, advertisers and brands can today understand true reach and engagement and read their marketing effectiveness and understand proactive actions that come out of their messaging. Don't go for what was right before the pandemic, but use the tools that are available right now to understand if the content you're putting out there is delivering the results you're trying to achieve.

In a situation characterised by very high volatility, ambiguity and uncertainty, digital platforms allow you to successfully navigate the fast-moving environment. It does require a very significant organisational change and environment, especially for those who have been working one way for many years, but it shows that those who are able to leverage the tools, opportunities, insights and precision of digital has really paid off. Capturing the demand that exists out there today is extremely important and that can only be done by precise targeting rather than with a broad brush.

Key Takeaways

1. Small cities, secluded places and destinations off the beaten track are now gaining relevance. Destinations that are within easy reach by driving are seeing new opportunities.

2. People prefer safer and more practical opportunities closer to home, like camping or hiking.

3. Corroborate data collected via survey, with market insights and other data before making the wrong assumptions. Verify that what happens online actually reflects the real world.

4. Users want a relaxing experience and they care about safety but they haven't forgotten about deals and incentives.

6. Apply agility and precision.

7. Agility should also be reflected in how we approach content creation. Rely on more dynamic assets with the help of tech tools that can be quickly adjusted.

8. The approval processes that we are so used to needs to be replaced by some form of testing on the go

9. Instead of relying on a broad-brush approach to audiences and who you're targeting, be precise, less generic and flexible in changing these audiences as needed as you go and as the market changes.

10. Messaging also requires more precision. We need to consider how we can respond to the specific questions, concerns and needs that people are asking.

11. Use the tools that are available right now to understand if the content you're putting out there is delivering the results you're trying to achieve.

Published on:
December 2020
About the contributor

Iva Kutle Skrlec

Iva is the Global Destination Marketing Partner at Google and prior to that, she has been with Google Dubai for over 5 years managing some of the company's biggest travel and tourism clients including Emirates Airline, Dubai Tourism Board and Expo 2020.