What software tech do travel business owners need in 2018 to succeed?

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So when I woke up this morning I thought the world had turned upside down.

At the weekend, my butcher in the local farm shop told me he had invested £10,000 in cryptocurrencies. If cryptocurrency mania has reached butchers in farm shops I’m too late I thought…. stick with the £££’s

Then this morning I read a tweet that a VC firm I follow, incredibly well respected firm and very successful, had invested in https://www.cryptokitties.co/  –  a game centred around breedable, collectible creatures they call CryptoKitties. Because they are built on blockchain technology each cat is one-of-a-kind and 100% owned by you; it cannot be replicated, taken away, or destroyed.

OK I thought – so someone came up with an idea to sell virtual kittens and some people might buy them ( I still can’t work out why but then I’m probably too old to). It now turns out that the reason Andreessen Horowitz    invested is because people sell these kittens for a profit.

From techcrunch

” People are spending a crazy amount of real money on the game. So far about $1.3M has been transacted, with multiple kittens selling for ~50 ETH (around $23,000) and the “genesis” kitten being sold for a record ~246 ETH (around $113,000). This third party site tracks the largest purchases made to date on the game. And like any good viral sensation prices are rising and fluctuating fast. Right now it will cost you about .03 ETH, or $12 to buy the least expensive kitten in the game.

So now we have people using Ether, an asset with arguably little tangible utility – to purchase an asset with unarguably zero tangible utility. Welcome to the internet in 2017″

 

So what do Travel Business Owners Need?

If the margins were bigger, then maybe travel business owners would be interested in buying and selling and breeding cryptokitties. But for the time being, we recommend focussing on tangible technology that will help your business grow.

For this we mean:

  1. A responsive website
  2. Holiday Search – research shows that having a ‘tool’ such as a holiday search tool helps keep users engaged with your site and more likely to make an enquiry
  3. Email Marketing Software
  4. Marketing Automation Software
  5. a CRM – Customer Relationship Manager, to keep track of enquiries, create quotes and manage clients
  6. a booking system
  7. an accounting system ( because the booking systems don’t do the whole job)

 

Boost your content user engagement by using your own images and save hefty stock fines

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Tanjong Jara

Tanjong Jara Resort taken with iPhone 6, August 2015

Most travel companies will at some point or other have been whacked for using an image they should not have. Getty is particularly hot and apparently use ‘Waybackmachine‘ to find occasions when you might have made that mistake. That may have cost you £300 – £1500 per photo, ouch! Stock photos are also pretty boring and you can boost your content user engagement by using your own images and save hefty stock fines.

As your users are consuming more imagery than every before while browsing and reading less it is becoming more and more important to use images that your users will find interesting – AKA, not seen before. Let’s face it, we are all pretty tired of stock photos & hey, we are in travel so here is my advice on using images in your content.

  1. Use your own. You go on educationals and holidays so take your phone ( I use an iPhone which is how I took the photos on these pages – with just one click, I’m not photographer!). Personalising your content will boost user engagement and help them further down the sales funnel
  2. Sign up to a Google Photos account. This is Free for ALL your photos and enables indexing so you can always find the photo you are looking for easily. The clever smart phone app ensures that your images are backed up and so if you lose your phone then you will always have a back up of your photos. This App also lets you apply different ‘effects’ ( as per Instagram) and so you can take an ordinary photo and then apply effects such as the image here on the left of palm trees at Tanjong Jara.
  3. Use a computer programme like ‘Snagit‘ or your iPhone App to add text to personalise the photo
  4. Ask Operators that you work with to use their images. While they will probably ask you to attribute them, this can actually work in your favour as you can add a line such as “Image kindly provided by [Name of Operator], one of the many operators we have preferred terms with meaning you are guaranteed to not pay any more while using our services”
  5. Google ‘Free Images’ – there are plenty of sites out there that allow you to use images for free. Some of our favourites are
    1. https://pixabay.com
    2. https://unsplash.com/collections/460289/travel
    3. https://stocksnap.io

 

Above all, for most smaller travel businesses, just don’t be afraid of using a more personal approach to images. Consumers are looking for real connections and using non stock images will not only cost you nothing, but will probably boost engagement with your post.

‘HELP! MY WEBSITE DOESN’T WORK!

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A question we sometimes get asked is “ Why aren’t people flocking to my gorgeous new Net Effect website in their droves?’ (or words to that effect 😉 . The simple answer is most likely to be because you aren’t telling enough people where it is! Companies spend millions of pounds chasing top spots on search listings but a specialist travel professional requires a more subtle approach to reach the right audience.

It is important to remember here that

1.  The travel industry is one of the most crowded spaces online, and

2.   your website is a just a tool. It requires operating to do its job and the more skilled you become at this the better it will work for your business.

Your website can be the most lavish looking affair, in this seasons colours and fonts and bursting with seductive imagery but without your hands on input, it’s as effective as a glossy sales brochure left in a drawer.

The good news is that this is something that you can easily change. And all for FREE! Your secret weapons are email marketing, adding content via a blog and of course Social Media. The really great thing is that Social Media puts the smaller business with its personal service at an advantage compared to its larger competitors. It is so much easier for smaller businesses to create a genuine social connection with their customers online than a larger corporate organisation. So time to strike up a conversation!

TODAY’S ‘TO DO’ : REVIEW YOUR GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE

But before we start, an important thing to remember is that being local is one of your strongest marketing cards so the first task today is to check your Google Business page is doing its job. A Google My Business (previously Google Places) profile is an essential for local SEO. It’s free and will enable you to appear in local search results for queries specific to your products or services and shows clearly you are open for business.

  • Check all the contact, location & opening hours details are up to date
  • Check your photos show you in your best light.
  • Make sure you have completed the verification process for your business.
  • You can also now collect and reply to reviews.

Click here for more info https://www.google.com/business/

How will Virtual reality affect Travel selling in the future

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I’m in tech so I guess that I’m more used to terms like ‘Virtual Reality’ being banded about in business than my clients who are more concerned with selling holidays. I know that Facebook paid $2 Billion for Oculus Rift ( a VR company), but then hey, they have loads of money and need to be a little ‘futurist’ to stay ahead of the game. Who knows whether it will be worth the investment ( at the time). Investing in tech at that level is a waiting game and a gamble.

But this morning a guy I follow on various social media platforms – Robert Scobleizer, ex tech evangelist at Microsoft and now ex futurist at Rackspace announced he is joining Upload VR http://scobleizer.com a virtual reality company as entrepreneur in residence. If you haven’t heard of Robert Scobleizer then this won’t mean much to you and you were likely to skip it. But this is important to travel – why? because RS would not have made the move unless he thought that VR was worthy of a major part of his career. He must believe this is a game changer in the world.

OK – so by now your thinking that its in the future and won’t affect you. Sorry – it’s already out there and being adapted by travel companies. Marco Ryan, chief digital officer for Thomas Cook Group, was reported by Bloomberg as beginning testing VR content last year to boost sales. “The closer you get to the destination, the more excited you are to have that experience”—i.e., buy that experience. See the full article here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-19/how-oculus-and-cardboard-are-going-to-rock-the-travel-industry.

Sales of an excursion marketed using VR jumped 190% – that’s right, potential clients that had a better and more real demonstration of what they might expect to experience were far more likely to purchase that experience.

What does this mean for Travel Agents?

This is a massive opportunity for bricks and mortar travel agents to use technology to up their sales. While headsets such as Google Cardboard and other cheap VR solutions are likely for some time the only way that the public will experience VR, businesses investing in Oculus Rift and headsets that allow an immersive experience are more likely to be able to sell that holiday or experience.

It’s going to be a long time until people decide it’s not worth actually going on holiday – after all, it is virtual reality, not normal reality and part of the pleasure of being away from home is getting away from all your jobs, so I don’t think that this is going to replace the need for travel companies. But for sure it is going to become part of the sales technique and those that embrace it and do it best, will be the winners.

A new travel blogging platform – Planity

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Some months ago we reviewed BonJournal as a great tool to use for agent FAM trips. I’m still a great fan of Bon Journal and particularly like their IOS app for quickly being able to record moments when on the move. What is going to differentiate travel professionals of the future is their in depth knowledge and advise and clients will want to be able to see that you can demonstrate your knowledge via in depth blogs of places you’ve been. You can of course record these blogs on your own site, but the advantage of using external sites is that you have the opportunity to reach a larger audience.

Planity is similar to BonJournal – but has just launched and offers you another way to record FAM trips and other blogs online.

I like Planity – it’s main difference to BonJournal is that the map of the trip is more visible on reading the blog. Bon Journal’s map appears hidden away unless you are actively looking for it ( the ‘View Map’ link is at the bottom of the contents list for each trip when I think it would be better served at the top of the contents list). The upside of the bonjournal map is it is more interactive than Planity’s map, with the ability to have a full screen of the map and the places that are tagged also hyperlink back to the main article which is useful.

According to Tripadvisor research, 46% of travellers use blogs as an integral part of their planning process. These tools to help travellers record their travels will have a place in the travel research ecosystem of the future and can act as a potential inbound funnel for travel companies wishing to extend their reach

Online Giants Target Tours (and with a twist) – but can that replace experience?

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How many years have we all assumed that online booking of travel is for the younger generation? Recently we have all seen the over 50’s booking hotels and flights online, but we all believed that tours were going to be too difficult to do, there was going to be a piece of the travel industry that would not be made into an app.

When Expedia acquired Viator in 2014, it sent a message that tours were getting interesting to the online players. It would enable them to upsell tours to users booking their hotel offerings. Who would have thought that the first advert that they played would have featured not only an over 50, but a character approaching 70 – online travel has arrived and it is for everyone, regardless of age.

Is this the end of person to person? Does it spark the beginning of something new? Should specialists be worried?

I don’t think so. It actually just highlights that many tours and activities around the world are a commodity – just like booking a flight or a hotel room. That being the case it is a natural fit for booking online. We don’t need a travel expert to book us on the London Eye.

But the specialist travel sector does something different. They don’t sell a commodity, but something different, something off the beaten track, something to make clients holidays unique and personal service.

Of all the travel company personal videos I’ve watched online ( the ‘about us’ for the digital age) Cazenove & Lloyd stands out. Any user landing on their site can easily learn in 2 minutes what they are selling – it’s something different, something for the discerning, something you can’t book on an app – and there is a client testimonial to boot. This is very well done.

They are selling something different – a bespoke experience and they are expert at it. They will use digital channels to verify who they are and act as an inbound marketing channel for new clients. Of course there is word of mouth but when Expedia start to claim that they can book all elements of your holiday, specialist businesses will have to make sure that their online presence captures a users attention (and their differentiation)  because even if a recommendation comes via word of mouth, the new client will always check out the recommended business online first.

The future is digital, but as in the past, we are not all the same. The Expedia’s of the world make everyone work harder at what they do and concentrate on the specialist proposition. If a business cannot define why it is different/better than a machine, then the machine will win, we see that time and time again.

But online presence and marketing is about so much more than simply trying to compete against the big boys, it’s about expression, finding your niche, finding your tribe and showcasing it.

Finding your niche, your tribe, has never been easier to do that than in 2015 with online channels. That’s the yin and yang of the world we live in now. If you like a challenge, these are exciting times.

 

Is Insurance Selling an indication of how travel selling online may go?

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We live in a world of ‘Price Match’ from John Lewis’ ‘never knowingly undersold’ to walking into Curry’s and comparing the fridge you are buying with AO.com and have Curry’s match the price it seems that retailers are keen to price match. Travel is no different and most travel agents will try their hardest to either match or even beat quotes from competitors.

In the online world, travel is the most dynamic sector but when it comes to maturity, you could argue that the Insurance industry has carved the way ( remember when high streets were full of insurance brokers?) and is a step ahead and perhaps showing the way for how travel will be sold in the future?

Like many consumers, I have insured my cars through the same insurer every year. A few years ago I will have searched for the best deal and then renewed each year without bothering to price check ( I know !). In reality the premium either stayed the same or rose slightly and as a result I didn’t take as much notice as I should have. That was until my daughter came onto the policy for our 2005 Fiesta. Amy is taking a 10 weeks to travel to New Zealand and so it seemed sensible to take her off the Privilege Insurance as it was still over £1000 per year for the Fiesta as she is 18 and a young driver.

Calling Privilege we were advised that we would be charged an admin fee of £52 to take her off the policy and put her back on 10 weeks later and she would lose 1 year no claims as a named driver. It would cost us £80 net for the 10 weeks extra if we just left her on the policy and she would not lose her ‘history’ which helps premiums ongoing. More pertinent was that the insurance cost left with her off the policy seemed to be about £100 more than we used to pay pre her driving.

So we had a quick google, as you do. Shockingly we found that we have been overcharged by Privilege by £500 in comparison to other insurers such as LV. Not only that, our other car was similarly 1/3 over charged in its premium.

So a phone call to Privilege to establish just what was going on – surely we were valued customers? We have our cars insurance and house insurance with them and it feels that as a loyal customer we ought at the very least to be looked after and price matched ( even our electricity supplier writes to us when they find a competitor cheaper to let us know and have the option of changing).

What was the Answer from Privilege? You need to price match every year on a price comparison website. Full Stop.

OK – fair enough, we have not been on it. We will in the future. Will you however price match ?

NO

Really – not at all?

NO

So you are happy for us to leave you, with all our no claims history and take all our insurance policies with us?

YES

Really?

YES – we can’t help you.

So what has happened here is that the respected Insurance Broker has defaulted to the least cost price finder via GoCompare and the like online. They get paid for showing customers what policy they can buy and from whom for the cheapest price and the Insurance industry has decided to send even more business to them ( and pay for the referral) by not implementing any sort of retained customer loyalty programme.

Why is this? Why is Insurance the only marketplace where customer loyalty stands for nothing?

Perhaps it is the might of the online giants like GoCompare. Perhaps the Insurance market has worked out it is not worth the admin fee and internal resource to build a business model based on customer service and client loyalty? Perhaps it is just easier and more profitable to accept that GoCompare and the meerkats have sewn up the market and the insurers play second fiddle to them? It does look like a broken market from the perspective of the insurers. Since when has it been cheaper to acquire a new customer than keep an old one?

So how does this impact travel? Perhaps a similar thing will happen. Consumers, ever more reliant on their tech, will want quick answers to their questions and find the least expensive way to purchase their holiday? Will this make the online players stronger? Will consumers expect to be able to look at any travel website and search and make comparisons for holidays?

Travel is far more complicated than insurance to buy and sell. The broad nature of travel means that it is difficult to envisage a ‘gocompare’ for the whole of the travel industry ( although SkyScanner is achieving this for flights). Far more likely that consumers will have conversations with their existing travel provider and that provider/ travel agent, will value their loyalty and ensure that they do price match and go further to keep the customer. What the future does say though, is that anyone selling travel will need to have an online presence that allows consumers to search and find holidays from across their given speciality, whether they are based online or on the high street.

From an insurance angle – it’s not surprising that Compare the market as it’s tagline – easy for the consumer, but more importantly for them, simple model that Insurance companies have capitulated to.

Blogging – How to be effective at commercial travel blogging

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Blogging as a travel blogger ( e.g. – this example is a lovely travel blogger example –  https://www.junglesinparis.com/stories/borneo-s-last-blowpipe-specialists) is an art form. The blogger sets out to showcase expertise and in this example this boutique travel journal, run by brothers Oliver and Darrell Hartman, uses beautiful photography and short film to tell inspiring stories of craftsmanship, tradition, and extreme natural environments.

But – it is not very commercial and if you are a commercial travel business you want to be able to blog effectively so that you drive more sales to your door. By all means take lots of inspiration from the expert travel bloggers ( and even ask some to do guest posts for you), but work out how you can also monetise this whole activity ( there are only a certain number of hours in the day to run your business).

Blogging for Commercial Reasons….

Blogging is a relatively easy thing to do and WordPress is probably the World’s default blogging platform ( and means you can have a commercial website with say Holiday Search and Live Offers on the same platform as your blog) and is an easy place to start).

For anyone serious about showing their expertise online in travel you absolutely must have a blog ( because how else will anyone know you are the expert?) NB: You don’t need to have a blog as part of your main commercial travel site. Inbound marketing techniques allow you to easily use other Blog style apps if you feel these are easier ( e.g. BonJournal) to write your blogs

You need to plan your blogging activity and just as importantly organise your blogging so that any writing that you do is easily bookmarked for your users/readers to find. Like any good reference manual a blog needs to have sections so that readers can easily look into any section and find what they are looking for.

Sections/Categories

When publishing a blog use ‘categories’ to bookmark what your blog is about. Choosing your categories is the MOST important element of designing the structure of your blog. If you have not planned your structure then it will show through ( and make it difficult to navigate the blog for users) and just using categories such as ‘Africa’ ‘food’ ‘safari’ and other generic words, while they might describe the overall content of each blog post, are not much use to the reader ( have these as topics instead).

Of course there are plenty of great travel bloggers out there, but if you run a commercial operation and are building a brand, mixing the ‘independent’ nature of a blog ( blogs should never be out and out sales commercial adverts) with your commercial activity on your website is difficult.

WHO GETS IT RIGHT? 

 

As you would expect from one of the global leaders in travel, Abercrombie & Kent have nailed this recently and so are an excellent example to look at before you plan your blog.

The new style and structured blog as of July 2015 is only available to view on http://abercrombiekent.com/blog/ not on the .co.uk version yet ( although the content is available in the UK)
The new style and structured blog as of July 2015 is only available to view on http://abercrombiekent.com/blog/ not on the .co.uk version yet ( although the content is available in the UK)
Inside the Ampersand – So what does A&K get absolutely right ( apart from the excellent content)
THE CATEGORIES….

Main Categories allow the user to navigate easily to those blogs that would interest them. A prominant welcome from the founder personalises the blog to the section for ‘guest blogs’ of clients helps this blog space feel very personal but also expert.</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>TRIP LOGS - are a great way of putting professional writing of trips into a blog format. If you are a travel agent you will no doubt go on many 'Fam Trips' If you are a Tour Operator you will no doubt carry out lots of Fam Trips for agents and staff. Using these trips to document your destinations and then use them in the blog is an excellent way of getting deeper content, all branded as yours, onto you website in a non sales way.</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Keeping things simple - there are only 7 categories. This limits the choices of readers to start reading a particular category ( and also reassures readers there are only 7 categories to get through so making the task of delving into the blogs without thinking there is a never ending set of categories to wade through, an easier and more accessible one)

Main Categories allow the user to navigate easily to those blogs that would interest them. A prominant welcome from the founder personalises the blog to the section for ‘guest blogs’ of clients helps this blog space feel very personal but also expert. TRIP LOGS – are a great way of putting professional writing of trips into a blog format. If you are a travel agent you will no doubt go on many ‘Fam Trips’ If you are a Tour Operator you will no doubt carry out lots of Fam Trips for agents and staff. Using these trips to document your destinations and then use them in the blog is an excellent way of getting deeper content, all branded as yours, onto you website in a non sales way. Keeping things simple – there are only 7 categories. This limits the choices of readers to start reading a particular category ( and also reassures readers there are only 7 categories to get through so making the task of delving into the blogs without thinking there is a never ending set of categories to wade through, an easier and more accessible one)
POPULAR TOPICS

A good blogging platform ( such as WordPress) already has functionality to be able to measure how many times each of your blogs is viewed and then have a neat widget on the page that shows what your readers are finding interesting. It often shows the most popular destinations or holidays. It's probably no surprise to see Africa on the A&K hot topics but Luxury Expedition Cruises might not have been something that a user would have looked at and the mere fact it shows as a hot topic will make someone navigate to it

A good blogging platform ( such as WordPress) already has functionality to be able to measure how many times each of your blogs is viewed and then have a neat widget on the page that shows what your readers are finding interesting. It often shows the most popular destinations or holidays. It’s probably no surprise to see Africa on the A&K hot topics but Luxury Expedition Cruises might not have been something that a user would have looked at and the mere fact it shows as a hot topic will make someone navigate to it
SEARCH

Including a search button enables a user to easily navigate your blog without relying on categories

Including a search button enables a user to easily navigate your blog without relying on categories
In Conclusion

 

Don’t copy A&K ( or anyone else for that matter) – But take inspiration.

1. Know who your ideal client is and write for them. If you can’t write consider note taking and hiring a writer from great online resources such as peopleperhour.com

2. Work out the categories that fit your business and best describe to your readers what content you have for them to read. Set your categories and make sure that you post your blogs to the right category.

3. Consider documenting all your FAM trips/Staff Trips in any media – BonJournal, Instagram, Pinterest and link to all these channels in your blog

4. Blog interesting stuff – post your blog on social media channels and email your database with the latest blog ( or round up if you blog more frequently than you email your database)

5. Ensure that there is a ‘Subscribe to Blog’ button so that you can keep readers automatically updated on new blogs

…. and enjoy building your subscriber list and future sales

Google Mobile Armegeddon (or not)

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The travel press has been full of articles on the effect of the latest changes that Google have made to their algorithm for search. There has been huge scare mongering going on, but for small businesses worried about having to spend money making their sites mobile friendly there are a set of questions they should answer before hitting the panic button.

1. How well does your site do with SEO? Have you got a bunch of keywords that you rank highly for and do you rank highly for them on mobile?

2. Do you rely on your website appearing in natural listings to get any leads for your business?

3. What % of users who book a holiday do so from a mobile device?

For the majority of small to medium sized travel agents, the majority of their business will come from a number of marketing efforts and brand name would be probably at the top of the list in terms of SEO keywords. If you happen to have nailed the ‘honeymoon in the Caribbean’ keyword and you have a high converting landing page for that key phrase then of course you need to make sure that you have a mobile optimized site. For everyone else, reliant on a bunch of marketing effort to get new leads then don’t forget – this update only affects mobile search, not desktop in any way at all.

If you have a Google place listing ( and all businesses should have this as a minimum and it’s free) then any mobile search for your business name will always appear at the top because of the way that Google ranks its listings.

Sooner or later all businesses will have to upgrade their website to a mobile friendly one. If it affects your business then the cost of converting your site to mobile friendly will more than pay for itself, if it doesn’t, then upgrade as and when your budget allows.

Note – we are a tech company so we recommend that everyone has a ‘responsive’ mobile friendly website. In fact, websites by and large should be upgraded every 3 years ( 3 years ago no one  built responsive websites).

Ordinarily tech companies scare monger with the best of them so they get more business. We rely on giving fair expert advice to clients. We help make them make the right decision based on their budget  ( and their analytics which tell them how many people use their site on mobile and how many of these cam from search)

Email Communication – the most important marketing activity you should undertake

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As a small business – or SME ( tour operators with turnovers of £50m qualify for this bracket!) marketing budgets are the hardest to set. The real reason for this is that there are a myriad of ways that customers find you and casting your net out is an expensive exercise.

Going back a few years, social media and Facebook in particular was the talk of the town. Spend efforts getting likes and then posting updates to Facebook ensured that your clients and potential customers saw exactly what you were posting and talking about. It was going to be free marketing. But Facebook changed the rules and another rule change came in Jan 2015 when Facebook officially announced that it was going to limit the number of ‘promotion posts’ that appeared in user newsfeeds. That’s bad news for any travel brand.

Social marketing analysts now say that an email marketing relationship is 50 x more valuable than a Facebook like. It grows for those subscribers that you now open your content and email marketing systems have great analytics built in so that you can focus on those email subscribers that participate in your content.

So for 2015 – your should be focusing on getting your email marketing right, with limited time and budgets this is the only marketing that you absolutely have to do but engagement is not as simple as just having an email address. It is about having a meaningful relationship with your potential client so that yo can be sure that they won’t unsubscribe from your emails. Treat them like Royalty!

Opportunities to email your potential clients:

  • using Tripquote to quote for their holiday
  • signing them up to Pre and Post departure upsell emails
  • send them a post holiday survey
  • Send them targetted marketing emails with offers using LateCards email marketing based on their next holiday preferences ( that are known from them having submitted their post holiday questionnaire )

In amongst all these emails you will also want to make sure that you post to social media channels so that these same users also get to see your content in these channels, but don’t do social media over email marketing, it won’t drive anywhere near the sales that you can with targeted email marketing.
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