One of the oldest travel companies in Canada, Brewster Travel has been based in Banff, Alberta for more than a century. We now serve over 1.4 million customers each year in Banff and the Canadian Rockies through our four major lines of business: travel planning, transportation, hospitality and attractions.
When I joined the company in 2013, Brewster faced challenges common to most online direct marketing companies: driving qualified traffic to our website, identifying visitors to start an online relationship, and automatically nurturing prospects towards an online sale or request for contact.
Brewster’s history of acquiring businesses had created a legacy of seven separate websites. We knew the main sources of traffic for these sites but didn’t have a clear understanding of what was driving conversions and sales.
Without a method of tracking the source of every visit and the resulting actions, we had no way of knowing what was working and what wasn’t. We needed to rethink our approach and we needed help.
The Brewster marketing team had the expertise to manage traditional marketing programs, develop branded materials and other content, run email marketing programs and work with our channel partners. We also wanted to maintain the long-standing relationship with our online design agency, E-cubed Media Synthesis, based in Calgary. Where we needed help was in the more technical aspects of search marketing, marketing automation and data analytics. We were looking for another long-term partner that would help us grow the business over the next three to five years.
Toronto-based Envoke was selected because their combination of technology and services was a good fit with our requirements and they were able to demonstrate a proven track record based on experience with their other clients. This included an existing travel client, Goway Travel, with experience that was directly applicable to Brewster. Envoke sought approval from Goway Travel before responding to our RFP and sharing their experience with us.
Marketing technology “stack”
The Envoke proposal included a complete marketing technology “stack” with their own product at the core.
The Envoke platform covered the key functionality we needed such as email marketing, forms, marketing automation, tracking, lead qualification, lead routing, and reporting. Envoke’s solution also integrated third-party tools for analytics, ad-hoc reporting, and paid media portfolio management and could be integrated with our existing content management system (CMS).
Having the Envoke product at the core of our marketing technology stack was a double edged sword. On the downside, the self-service aspect of Envoke’s user interface was not as mature as some of the other marketing technology options. On the upside, Envoke offered a one-stop shop that integrated both marketing services and technologies. What tipped the balance was our calculation that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
Other selection considerations
Because Brewster was in the process of selecting a new Internet Booking Engine, we were pleased that Envoke’s development team had the expertise to develop integrations. We saw this as being crucial to achieving our longer-term goal of true closed-loop reporting, linking traffic and conversion sources with individual transactions and customers.
Size was another consideration. Envoke has less than 20 employees, which was a double-edged sword. While there’s comfort in working with larger organizations we also benefit from being a relatively large client for Envoke.
Finally, Envoke is based in Toronto, which means invoices are in Canadian dollars and they have an appreciation for challenges unique to Canada, such as the CASL legislation.
Search marketing audit
The first step in Envoke’s onboarding process was an audit of our search marketing status and opportunities.
Paid search advertising campaigns were driving most of the traffic to our websites and volume was growing – almost 15% per year between 2011 and 2013. It became apparent that our paid search advertising had been under-performing both in attracting the right visitors and in generating online sales and lead conversions. Furthermore, large gaps in our organic search visibility were in part driving our need to depend so heavily on pay-per-click (PPC) traffic.
More investment would be needed to strengthen our domain authority to support improved search engine optimization (SEO) results. This would build lasting value without having to increase our advertising budgets year over year.
The key components of our strategy included:
- Website consolidation – Consolidate our seven sites into a single larger site for more effective search marketing, a better user experience, more opportunities for cross selling, and easier management.
- Re-balance paid and organic search – Reduce paid media spend to 70% PPC to make room for 30% SEO and onsite engagement from the previous 95-5 split.
- Paid Search restructuring and automation – For effective management and targeting, our paid search campaigns were rebuilt from the ground up to enable segmentation for key regional and international audiences across our eleven business units.
- Organic search optimization – ‘Baked in’ keyword optimization to the site’s architecture and content redevelopment. Redirect existing inbound links to the original seven websites to the relevant pages on the new site.
- Navigation and Layout – The site was designed to optimize the overall consumer experience to the key personas we had identified at the time.
- Online engagement – New forms and online engagement mechanisms to capture and engage visitors and track all source information data to improve conversion strategies in future campaigns.
- Lead management – Automatically route prospects requesting to be contacted to our multiple call centres.
- Closed loop reporting – Link source data to transactions by integrating Envoke with a new internet booking engine (IBE) to be launched at the same time as the new website.
Working with Envoke and E-cubed, we added many more opportunities for visitors to ask for more information, request quotes, download brochures and sign up to receive newsletters. Every form identified visitors as consumers or travel agents, location, and online source. This provided critical information for email segmentation.
We successfully shifted our focus from simply driving traffic to driving targeted traffic. Where low conversion rates demonstrated a disconnect in the consumer’s experience, we made adjustments to traffic driving campaigns or the content presented to users to compel them to move further through the conversion funnel.
Our organic search rankings improved in Canada and we maintained existing rankings in the U.S. during our consolidation – which is no small feat when undergoing a massive redesign. We continue to refine our target list of keywords including making changes to the site architecture, content, and links.
In the first few months after our re-launch, we saw online sales jump over 70%. Visitors were coming to our sites, sticking around, requesting more information and leaving their email addresses. These results were a pleasant surprise as they exceeded all of our expectations for a brand new site.
Eighteen months later we’re driving more than 2,500 form submissions, generating about 2,000 new contacts a month with more than 1,000 contacts requesting sales team follow up. We’ve seen a 40% increase in the visit-to-booking ratio, a 34% increase in time spent on the site and a 16% drop in the bounce rate.
We successfully consolidated seven websites into one site but the structure of our lines of business (LoBs) has remained the same. This created more complexity than I anticipated. Each line of business is a separate profit centre with its own marketing budget. However, Brewster’s customers are interested in travelling to Banff and the Rockies and don’t care how we’re organized internally.
For auction-based paid media like Google Adwords we need to set up campaigns where individual LoBs, such as our hotels, are not competing with each other for the same keywords. This means we need to pool LoB budgets and this created a challenge in connecting individual budgets to results in a way that satisfied LoB managers and finance.
We were forced to suspend our plans to launch a new Internet Booking Engine at the same time as we launched the new website. This meant taking different approaches to create proxy metrics for closed loop reporting. It has also proven to be a challenge collecting sales data in a form that is easily integrated into our transaction systems. We will not achieve true closed loop reporting until we can connect source data from visitors to individual transactions, which is the Holy Grail to accurately measure the true ROI for our marketing programs.
We haven’t been as successful as I hoped we would be in developing our nurture campaigns. The challenge has been partially technical but more so a matter of being able to consistently develop appropriate content for our needs. It’s become increasingly clear to me both how important it is to have excellent content to use in our marketing efforts and how hard it is to create.
Marketing online is a complex endeavour that requires a diverse combination of disciplines from creative and project management to technical analysis and custom development. Only very large organizations have the option to maintain all the necessary expertise internally. For the rest of us, a long-term marketing technology partner mitigates risk and allows our internal team to focus on core marketing activities.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Direct Marketing.