Did you know that only 25% of consumers in the U.S. have taken a cruise? And, if you add up the total number of cruise ships and how many cruise cabins are on them, they equate to only 2% of the total hotel rooms around the world. At face value, the cruise industry seems like it faces easy, untapped potential to drive growth. All any cruise company needs to do is go after the 75% of people who’ve never cruised, right? The reality is that cruises, and all travel, now compete against a growing number of new travel and culture experiences.
This is actually good news for travel and hospitality brands! Access to these new travel opportunities is only growing, but it also requires a more informed and creative approach to engagement. For cruise brands, they need to hyper-focus on those consumers open to cruising to win on consideration and preference early in their vacation planning journey.
“We actually don’t need all of the world to be cruisers. We need to find those who are in vacation mode right now and who we can predict are most likely to be a cruiser.”
Those are the words of Kathy Mayor, chief digital officer at Carnival Cruise Corporation. I had the opportunity to learn about the state and future opportunities of the cruise industry in an insightful conversation with her. We recently met at Google Marketing Live in Silicon Valley where I spent two days meeting with leading CMOs and CDOs to learn how the best brands are innovating in customer experience (CX), marketing and digital transformation.
I learned that Carnival’s approach to innovative marketing and CX is…growth.
First, Carnival is aiming to grow the cruise category. As a result, the company needs to understand who is most likely or most open to taking a cruise and how can they better predict them?
Second, once they identify those people, they have to match the customer signal with the best Carnival brand-like Carnival Cruise Line that’s all about fun or Princess Cruises that’s about a relaxing getaway-so they can be as relevant as possible to the travel ideals of that potential cruiser.
Third, they then have to seamlessly and delightfully carry them through that brand. As Mayor says, “Personalization, personalization, personalization.” It’s about taking the best signals and usefully engaging customers until they make a choice.
Fourth, Carnival is optimizing the customer journey to drive profitable results. They aim to connect the dots between signals and where in the journey to add value, understand what is taking away from value and how to scale.
Carnival uses smart signals to identify the best potential cruisers and make “Carnival” the mentally available brand for travel.
Carnival’s path to growth starts with using the best signals, including search, to identify and predict the people most likely to cruise.
One of the things that initially struck me in my conversation with Mayor was her precision focus on a specific set of travelers and behaviors and the data-centric approach to engagement.
Carnival has customer segmentations across and within their brands. But, the point is that when they have the right signals to predict people who are most likely to cruise, they have to use those signals of intent as early as possible. As such, Carnival combines their data with signals they pick up from search to predict customer needs and give them a personal experience at any touch point.
When I asked her how she translates data into actionable insights and then how she invests in media and content to reach would be cruisers, I geeked out.
Mayor shared an analogy that just happened to be one of my favorite scenes from the movie Focus with Will Smith and Margot Robbie. In the tense scene, Smith’s character Nicky is making a bold $2 million bet by getting another gambler to choose the number “55.” This is important to the Carnival example, because in the movie, Nicky’s team had, all day long, subconsciously introduced subtle, but constant prompts to program the number in his mind. For example, the number 55 appeared in the chandelier in Tse’s hotel, on the marketing collateral in the elevator, on fans wearing “55” jerseys in the lobby, protestors along his route held signs and chanted to support “Local 55.”
This example is emblematic of what Mayor believes marketers need to do. Brands have to make themselves “mentally available…so that when it comes time to decide on a cruise vacation, we are the mentally available option,” she said.
How does Carnival do that? Her answer was “transitivity law.”
If you like A and A is associated with B, then you will probably like B. The “A” in this case, is cultural relevance…associating the brand with points of culture that are relevant to the cruising experience.
Mayor explained, “We’ve associated ourselves with the passion points of music, with comedy, with food.” Mayor then went on to share examples of cultural association, “Carnival brand has worked Lip Sync Battle with Paramount Network’s, Comedy Central, with Guy Fieri, and because of that, we now become mentally available as the brand sealant option when it comes time to plan your vacation.”
As she shared on stage earlier in the day, “If we do that, we’re more likely to earn that engagement and keep bringing them back. So, whether it’s music, sports, food, or whatever, that can be the entry to lead them into cruising.”
Cruising toward personalization at scale, engaging consumers with relevant content through the journey to choice
Once Carnival identifies the people who are most likely to cruise and plugs into points of passion to make Carnival a mentally available option, Mayor and her team focus on personalization at scale and through the journey to choice. At this stage, it comes down to relevant content, in relevant channels, at relevant times on relevant devices. Carnival does this by combining predictive signals, with data and informed creative to more effectively engage people throughout their journey.
In our conversation, Mayor emphasized “personalization is all about content at scale.”
For example, Mayor and her team developed what they call pods, which are five-second videos that show different passion points, “whether that is outdoor adventure or family fun or live entertainment or culinary delights,” she shared. “Then when you see our ad then in context, if you’re in a food site, then you actually get the five-second ad that is about food, but if you’re in a mood music site, then you get the five-second ad about live entertainment,” Mayor explained.
The campaign was also a big success, driving brand recall (+37%) and interest (+42%).
Consumer intent is the most powerful fuel for brands to drive growth. And in a real-time mobile world, consumers expect brands to anticipate what they need and assist them in getting things done. The brands leading the way are not just building awareness or focusing on conversions, they’re building an engine for growth- with the right data, signals and machine learning to improve engagement across the entire customer journey. That’s a sea change for not only the cruise industry, but marketing and CX overall.
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