Do you remember the Fyre Festival, set to take place in 2019? If so, you probably remember the endorsement of the extravagant party in the Exumas that would never take place by a group of influencers who failed to disclose that they had been paid to drive bookings - which was admittedly questionable. And the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was right to act on its concern that some travel sites were making rooms seem more popular than they were.
However, hopefully this doesn’t prompt the travel industry and tourism marketing to doubt the value of ‘social proof’ - the psychological phenomenon whereby people assume others’ actions reflect correct behavior for a given situation.
When used correctly and ethically, the power of social proof is not only tremendously valuable to the travel marketer, but also the consumer; holidaymakers can draw immense value from the actions and honest opinions of fellow travelers.
When buying something as important - and expensive - as a vacation, customers need to be sure they are making the right choice. Travel brands are traditionally known for producing idyllic, picture-perfect brochures to propel customer engagement about an amazing experience. This collateral certainly has an appeal, but is no longer used in isolation as savvy travelers will do extensive research on TripAdvisor and other independent travel reviews before making a booking. Therefore, sharing authentic user-generated content and feedback alongside professionally-produced marketing material goes a long way.
In fact, there are a number of ways that travel brands can turn potential customers into bookers with more positive social proof. Here are some easy-to-implement and scalable strategies that travel brands can add to their marketing toolkit in order to boost sales.
Recommending trending products
You can tap into shoppers’ desire to follow a consensus by leveraging crowdsourced data to suggest trending products. For maximum impact, refine product feeds further based on a customer’s preference, for example if someone is particularly interested in the south of France, you could show them the most-viewed trips to that region.
Travel company Six Star Cruises uses this marketing tactic to show their most popular cruises.
Product recommendations don’t just have to sit in product pages; they can be used to great effect when included in emails and the site navigation. This can help shoppers landing on your homepage rapidly discover and engage with products.
Tapping into FOMO with popularity and scarcity messaging
Urgency is one of the most effective persuasion techniques out there which, when used effectively, can lead to shorter decision making and higher conversion. Travel brands should look to capitalize on this by using social proof to inform travelers about time-relevant offers and remaining sales volumes for the desired vacation dates. Most shoppers have a time frame in which they will be able to travel, so time-sensitive offers can be a sure way to get shoppers' attention and ultimately increase conversions.
One way to do this is seen in the example below, in which travel brand Cottages.com uses countdown timers in their emails.
Source: Cottages.com email
Another useful tactic travel brands can use to drive booking sales is using social proof widgets on product level pages and booking abandonment emails to show customers how many people have viewed or purchased a holiday recently. In order to avoid giving an inflated impression of a hotel's popularity, when saying that other customers are looking at the same hotel, it should be made clear they might be searching for different dates.
Featuring ratings and reviews
It’s one thing knowing that other people have booked a holiday - it’s another knowing that someone was satisfied enough to share positive feedback. Including ratings and reviews adds an authenticity that a professional photo shoot can’t buy and helps holidaymakers make better decisions based on the prior purchases and experiences of other consumers.
Research by Reevoo concludes that displaying reviews on a website significantly increases conversion rates for travel companies – and conversion rates only get higher as the volume of reviews increases. Feedback on product level pages also reassures customers at the moment of purchase, while showcasing positive ratings and reviews on your homepage builds trust with first-time visitors. When this type of social proof content is included in email marketing, such as newsletters and booking abandonment messages, they are an effective tactic to help increase click-through and conversion rates.
Six Star Cruises proudly display their ratings and reviews on their homepage and product pages, as seen in the example below. These positive reviews help ease purchase anxiety in an authentic and efficient way.
Blending social proof and behavior
The social proof techniques covered above do not need to exist in isolation. They can be blended with customer behavior to show customers the products most likely to lead to a conversion or to achieve specific objectives. For example, you can show customers the most highly-rated or most-browsed trips from their favorite category. This might be refined by a customer’s preferred destination or by type of vacation.
In this next example, Contiki provides ratings together with their product recommendations, based on behavioral data.
Leverage user-generated content
A great way to ease purchase anxiety and show new visitors to your website that you are authentic is by leveraging social media posts by your previous customers. You can start hashtags for your travel brand company and share UGC on your own feed, and show these feeds and hashtags on your website and emails in real-time.
In the example below, Trafalgar inserts their Instagram feed into their emails with a clear call-to-action, encouraging customers to share their own travel images, all whilst promoting their own travel brand.
Source: Trafalgar email
The principles behind the concept of social proof are as old as humankind itself. Supplying shoppers with tactics such as user-generated content or reviews seamlessly across channels is a cost-effective way to help them make a booking and feel confident that they have made the right choice. It opens up the opportunity to tap into more loyal customers, encourage sales and drive revenue and growth.