Do you use a voice assistant to help you boil an egg, search for local restaurants and businesses, or plan your next holiday? If so, you are not alone. 36.6% of the US population owned a smart speaker device in 2021, and a 2018 study from Juniper Research estimated there will be eight billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023. The opportunity for voice-activated marketing has never been larger.
Over the past three years, TripAdvisor has recognized this frontier as a vital part of its communications strategy. The online travel company has created a unique audio experience for its audience on Alexa smart speaker devices. Audience members are taken on a customized voice tour (of Orlando or Abu Dhabi) simply by saying “Alexa, launch Visit Orlando.”
At a time of travel uncertainty, Tripadvisor’s audio-immersive experience leveraged first-party data insights to ensure content was credible and relevant. It kept audience members engaged for an average of over four minutes. It was also a campaign that delivered a high ROI. The incremental cost per visitor averaged $0.62 over the length of the Visit Orlando campaign.
We spoke with Justin Reid, Director of Media, Destinations, Hotels, and Growth at Tripadvisor to discuss how this pilot campaign was established and how Tripadvisor achieved such a successful beginning to a new era of travel planning.
Building an audio-immersive experience
Tripadvisor wanted to make voice activation a crucial part of the overall user planning journey. Beginning with Orlando and Abu Dhabi, the two pilot partners, the team assessed what audio experience potential customers might enjoy for the destination.
It was an iterative process to establish who Tripadvisor was targeting and what voice-activated marketing it should target them with. First-party data, AI, and a simple real-time survey all played a part in aligning these two components to ensure a powerful audio experience was delivered.
Defining who to target through first-party data
First-party data highlighted which users were in the browsing phase, i.e., looking at competitor destinations, but were yet to make a booking. Tripadvisor continuously uses these insights to assess who to target and whether its messages are working for these target users.
“As the biggest travel website in the world, our first-party data is just immense. We don’t have to look too far beyond the first-party data we gather. It tells us exactly what the population is looking for, what they end up purchasing, how long it takes them, how many sites they visit along the way, how many destinations they look at, and what they see as competing destinations.”
“We’d spend our marketing dollars going after those people who hadn’t booked to go to a given destination. We aim to convert the unconverted.”
But not all data are equal. Tripadvisor captured each point at which the customer would enter or exit the funnel and used AI to score data based on the relevance of that customer. If the customer exited the funnel having not made a purchase decision, its significance would be down scored in the overall intelligence gathering.
“We trace them down through their buying cycle. Naturally, the final purchase, which is booking a hotel, experience, or restaurant, gets a heavier weighting owing to its effectiveness. These weightings run in the background of our algorithms as we assess which messages work, and which do not.”
It was broadcast messaging but to a very targeted place. The message might appear on the website, but also by email with the corresponding voice-activated command, for instance, “launch Visit Orlando.”
Creating effective voice-activated marketing
The user needed to hear the right message once they had been redirected to begin their journey on Alexa. This was an iterative process.
“We test and see what truly resonates. We wanted to create an interaction where a voice-activated unit takes the user on a journey. For example, our Abu Dhabi journey is stylized to make someone feel as though they were walking through Medina. They could get the sense of what it would be like to be there.”
To iterate quickly, Tripadvisor built a simple one-question survey into the User Journey, such as ‘was this useful?’ This revealed an immediate insight into the utility of the messaging.
“We wanted quick and easy responses and as many as possible. Because it’s a new medium, we weren’t sure how popular it was going to be. Single question answers enabled us to do rapid road mapping and instantaneously feed it back into our user journey cycle. It had to be seamless to avoid disrupting the goal of making a booking.”
Alongside message utility, Tripadvisor tracked three further areas to assess how its audio-immersive experience was performing.
Which voice-activated marketing metrics to track
- Length of engagement: Average of four minutes per user
Like a website bounce rate, it was important to ensure people were willing to listen to the content. Listening to 15 seconds before exiting would be the equivalent of a bounce. A four-minute average per user showed audience members were immersed in the audio messages.
- Number of engagements: Average of seven questions answered per user
By tracking the number of questions users answered, Tripadvisor could assess how engaged in the audio journey the users were. This ensured there was a balance between personalized journeys without users exiting their journey.
- Cost: $0.62 per incremental user
For every $6 that was spent by the destination, ten additional people that had not previously booked with Visit Orlando went through the full user journey. As the ROI of channels such as Facebook continues to falter, this low-cost-per-user shows the impressive power of meeting customers on its voice-activated devices.
Shifting sands: The changing landscape for travel and voice-activated marketing
Increasing willingness to travel
Tripadvisor ran a long-running survey in conjunction with Qualtrics. It assessed how consumer attitudes towards travel have been changing over the past few years. The survey went out to the USA, UK, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and Italy every quarter. Each survey went to a minimum of 2500 people.
The survey found that attitudes have evolved from fears and hesitancy around travel to plans for domestic travel, and eventually to international travel. People were prepared to pay more of a premium for their holiday on their average booking per night. Reid shares how Tripadvisor’s core message has adapted to this reality.
“The main message we’re trying to get out there is about catching up on two years of missed adventures. Now’s the time to catch up on relationships and see the places you always wanted to go to. You might have to do things slightly differently but the destinations that you always wanted to enjoy will be there waiting.”
Increasing consumption of audio content
Audio content is increasingly popular. An estimated 162 million people aged twelve and over in the US have listened to a podcast. Tripadvisor recognizes this reality and chooses to meet its audience through this medium.
“It’s all about engaging people in the areas and the places that they feel most comfortable with. Our message to tourism board partners has always been to put energy into your content rather than your website. Put that content where people are naturally listening or naturally consuming such as on Tripadvisor.”
“Likewise, if we want to engage with people beyond the Tripadvisor platform, we need to put our content and our partners’ content in the places where people are consuming that. Increasingly this is audio content, and the Alexa Skill journeys allowed us to do that”
Increasing use of voice-activated devices
The rise of smart devices and voice-activated speakers is linked to increasing audio consumption. It is estimated that a third of the US population owns a smart speaker, nearly three-quarters (73%) of which is an Alexa. Tripadvisor opted to partner with Alexa on this basis.
“It also timed with the rise of voice-activated devices, and in the case of Alexa, activating different skills and types of media by voice. Devices like Alexa and Echo moved from a simple few snippets and music delivery into consuming a wider range of content.”
“The most adopted voice-activated platform that we saw within the marketplace was Alexa. They were keen to see a partnership where we could investigate expanding the adoption of voice-activated content. We identified the various platforms that could address our needs and looked at the most popular platform that we would take that content. We wanted the maximum number of people, size, scale, and adoption. Alexa provided feedback as well as to which snippets of content were working and what tone of voice and background audio had worked in the past.”
Where to next?
The voice-activated marketing campaigns for Visit Orlando and Visit Abu Dhabi were pilot destinations for Tripadvisor’s Alexa Skill partnership. Tripadvisor views engagement through voice-activated devices as a crucial part of its future communications plan.
“Having a presence on voice-activated devices is going to become as intrinsic as having a social media handle or website. For the users, it will become automatic asking ‘Alexa, what’s your holiday recommendation for the month? We plan to have each destination as an Alexa skill brought to the user by Tripadvisor.”
“When websites first appeared, ‘Visit Britain’ was the first to arrive. Each location copied this ubiquitously with its own ‘Visit’ Website. However, people are spending less time on traditional tourism board websites. They want to consume content on the platforms that they are most familiar with and most comfortable with. This is where we need to meet them. These locations now need to replicate the success we have seen for Visit Orlando and Visit Abu Dhabi. Every location should consider what might work for its own Alexa Skill.”
Whether it is a weekend break to Paris or a Summer trip to Tokyo, Tripadvisor plans to invest in giving its audience the audio experience could be hearing if they make a booking to these destinations. It will continue to engage the ever-expanding smart speaker frontier and asks further tourism board partners to join them on its journey. If such partners dare to shift their focus away from their websites and towards voice-activated marketing, they may also enjoy improved audience engagement and ROI.