Travelocity Adds Branded Toolbar to Boost Engagement, Loyalty

Travelocity already has a Facebook page and a Twitter account for its Roaming Gnome mascot, but the company hopes its new dynamic toolbar satisfies some of the same goals many brands have for social media efforts. Like others offering similar branded toolbars, however, the travel site may have trouble convincing users to download yet another browser appendage.

Travelocity aims to build its brand and foster customer engagement and loyalty through the new offering, launched yesterday, said Travelocity Online Advertising Senior Patricia Lestig. “This will hopefully extend our relationship with travelers beyond booking,” she said.

Though the goals are comparable to those of some social media efforts, the toolbar has more capabilities than a Twitter account or the average Facebook page. It will serve up the site’s latest flight and hotel deals, exclusive promotional codes, and flight status information, in addition to tools that might come in handy while traveling, such as a language translator and currency converter. Travelocity also aims to distribute its company blog posts via the toolbar.

“Hopefully it will spur some inspiration to travel,” said Lestig.

Using the toolbar platform, enabled by Conduit, Travelocity can update promotions, news, and other content throughout the day. The travel firm plans to promote the toolbar through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and search ads, along with display advertising on their own site and blog.

“Publishers which provide dynamic video feeds or widgets, gadgets, and functionality and content — where the toolbar itself becomes a dynamic tool — that’s where it really works,” said Conduit President Adam Boyden.

Brands and content sites such as Fox News, eMusic, and teen virtual world Habbo have created branded toolbars using Conduit, which offers a self-serve product as well as a model for bigger brand clients that includes marketing and design consulting services. Music download service eMusic, for instance, allows users to browse its catalog through its toolbar. Universal Music has also created toolbars promoting artists like Duffy and Rihanna.

Despite adoption by large brands and little-known long-tail sites, Conduit could be battling exhaustion among Web users hesitant to download yet another browser-related tool. “It’s something that our company faces everyday,” Boyden said. “We are overcoming the perception that a toolbar is only about taking over the search of a user’s desktop.”

The company also faces a negative perception among users who have been burned in the past by spyware purveyors disseminating their products through downloadable toolbars. “Toolbars have a poor reputation as spam and spyware,” said Conduit Director of Marketing Communications Dayna Verstegen. To help counteract that perception, the company provides consulting services to well-known strategic partners with positive brand reputations — like Travelocity — at no cost. “That helps us overcome the suspicion,” added Verstegen.

Lestig said Travelocity doesn’t necessarily have a specific number of downloads in mind as a benchmark for success. “Since this is a totally new channel for us, I really don’t know what to expect.”

Although Conduit enables toolbars that go way beyond search, some barriers could remain. “I think the idea in general of creating a branded application…and helping consumers rather than getting in the way of consumers is a really good idea,” said Sean Carton, chief creative officer at idfive, and a ClickZ columnist. However, he suggested providing branded tools in other formats such as widgets or iPhone applications. “From a practical standpoint, how many more toolbars can you stick into your browser? Pretty soon you’re looking at a two-inch-high browser window.”

Travelocity does have an iPhone app providing flight and hotel searches and reservation information.

Sports and team sites may be particularly well-suited for the toolbar tactic. Major League Baseball has worked with Conduit since 2006. Baseball junkies can download dynamically-updated MLB team-branded toolbars that include team-specific news tickers linking to story pages. As the baseball season draws near, the toolbars have linked directly to spring training schedules and World Baseball Classic news. National Hockey League teams Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings also have Conduit toolbars.

Sports related toolbars “are especially sticky and have a very long lifespan,” said Boyden.

Conduit earns money solely through a relationship with Google. The company requires all clients to include Google search in their toolbars, and derives a cut of Google’s ad revenue through those searches. According to Boyden, around 200,000 companies use its platform.

The company also pays about 30 percent of its clients through a rewards program, which provides payments to companies whose toolbars spur a lot of interaction. “They have to get to a sort of financial value…then they can start [earning revenue] or investing it back into their online programs,” explained Boyden.

UPDATE: This story originally stated that Conduit charges its larger brand clients for marketing and design consulting services. In fact, the company does not charge for any of its services. It’s sole revenue stream is through its relationship with Google.

Related reading