Have Media, Will Travel

In your online travels to find advertising opportunities that allow you to connect with frequent and highly engaged travelers, you’ll likely come across a plethora of placements. Online newspapers, contextual placements on travel-themed sites and blogs, and resource guides like Frommer’s, Fodor’s, and LonelyPlanet all offer access to your target market and will likely deliver agreeable results.

Let’s say you’re looking for something a little different, a placement that will enhance your ability to communicate with travelers online and expand promotional options. For that, you must look to a travel site that’s both unconventional and compelling — to advertisers and consumers alike.

I came across Toronto-based Zoom and Go early this year, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Based on the concept of consumer-generated media (CGM), the site gets its content from consumers, including hotel and resort reviews, images, and video clips that can be viewed online or downloaded to an iPod.

Consumers are compensated for submissions in points that can be redeemed for cash, a few bucks for a video, for example. They’re encouraged to submit as often as they’d like. The idea is to provide a more authentic analysis of travel destinations around the world. If you’ve ever been fooled by marketing-speak and enhanced shots of a hotel that turned out to be a dump, you’ll appreciate the appeal of such a property. I’ve not only used the site to research trips but also submitted reviews and pictures of my own travels.

Maybe it’s because I secretly dream of a life as a travel writer, but my experience with Zoom and Go has been quite satisfying. Clearly, others feel the same way. Since fully launching last year, the site’s received over 10,000 videos and over 50,000 pictures. It currently boasts about a million unique visitors per month, split fairly evenly between Canadians and Americans. According to the site’s founder, Jonathan Haldane, it’s one of the largest on the Internet, with nearly half a terabyte of information.

Zoom and Go is also appealing to advertisers. There’s the display advertising you’d expect from a travel site, and access to such an active and engaged audience of travelers certainly has its perks. Think of it as similar to advertising on a blog; even more than content, it’s the active, engaged visitors that make the buy worthwhile.

Zoom and Go’s additional marketing opportunities are a little less conventional. If you don’t have a Web site of your own or are looking for a new distribution channel, for example, the company will build and host a site for you within its network for an annual fee.

Hotels and resorts can use the property as a staging area for e-mail campaigns by uploading their guest lists and deploying HTML messages that encourage past and recent guests to fill out an online review.

To me, it’s like the next generation of comment cards. The survey information hotels glean can be used to analyze the service provided by their staff, even inform décor decisions. Haldane relays a story of a hotel that was resisting purchasing new bedspreads — until a guest not only complained but also posted unflattering images. New linens were in place by week’s end, pleasing the guest and allowing the hotel to save face.

The microsites can even be a conduit for additional e-mail communication and CRM (define) initiatives. Results can be comparable to a standard online or e-mail media buy. Marketers are still communicating with their target audience; the difference is the conversation takes place after the initial transaction, as opposed to leading up to it. With this approach, marketers have the opportunity to retain customers — a technique that tends to produce more revenue than customer acquisition initiatives alone.

Marketers can also post brochure and promotional information on Zoom and Go so long as it’s clearly marked as advertising. Since so much of the site content is third-party provided, the company must ensure it’s clear to consumers what’s sponsored and what isn’t.

With access to ad opportunities on blogs, blog ad networks, even message boards, most media buyers are already well aware of the potential benefits of associating oneself with CGM. This unique site offers some incomparable media buying and marketing opportunities. Yet before you look into it, be warned. You may go in a marketer, but you’ll likely come out as another one of its loyal users.

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