Smartening the middle-man: how AI can maximise impact across customer journeys

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Relay42

Data, data, data. The opportunities are endless. Florent Coudyser, industry director at Relay42, explores how we can use this data to improve the travel booking process, and use informed technology to help brands upsell and connect.

The world is our oyster, and as the rise of transport makes it seem smaller, the digital marketplace for travel gets bigger

Metasearchers and airlines each agree that the line between product and service is blurring; customer journeys are now a shared responsibility, and to quote Skyscanner’s chief executive officer Gareth Williams, “direct booking and third-party distribution is no longer an ‘either/or’ choice.” In this marketplace, the winners are those able to bake a rich and relevant assortment of travel experiences into their marketing strategy, and their shop-front.

The answer to this is both astonishingly simple and extremely technical; here, I share a straightforward story about how this flourishing marketplace can, and does, work for travel businesses. The vision: airlines, airports and metasearchers as a synchronised data ecosystem. Imagine both airlines and intermediaries as purveyors of their own pool of products – and as tools for relevant recommendations across an entire context of platforms and devices. We already know the answer to scaling personalisation is to cater for customers and their decisions rather than focusing on individual channel performance. Now, you can you take this customer-centricity a step further, cross-pollinating data not only across any of your chosen channels, but smartly, responsibly and relevantly, across partners, associates and territories. Consider a world of opportunities opening up among your trusted partners, never competing for the same customer, with the same product, at the same time; instead, they are serving a seamless experience and a relevant product for each traveller by maximising bidding impact through a controlled and unified data exchange environment. But what does this win-win scenario look like?

The role of AI: centralised technology to build on quality data

Realise that this vision all stems from data quality. What does this mean? Rather than using third party data (in other words, an audience basket with uncertain origins) as the basis for your ecosystem, make this a strictly second party data exchange, which prioritises quality partnerships and data segments with clear foundations, features, and business objectives.

In this Eden of data sharing between multiple airline markets and metasearchers, the crucial component is a ‘middle-man’ data management technology to control the sequencing and frequency of message delivery. AI, or the ideal concoction of predetermined business rules and predictive modelling, is the crucial ingredient in making this technology’s decisioning smart – building on second party data exchange, with the following three features in mind:

Customer-centric by design

Data management technology with customer identity at its core means accuracy in identifying who you’re targeting, regardless of where they are. This means you can tell that the same person booking a hotel on a partner app is also a frequent flyer with you. So, be there with an offer they can’t refuse on their next-best-channel.

Flexibility to change

In a market with as many changes as it has layers, being adaptable and agile me ans you are able to not only create granular terms for targeting, but to switch and remove channels, technologies and partnerships. It follows that marketers need to cultivate a constant test and learn environment to find the right combination of variables in reaching customers. Control over data exchange: which data variables – like destination, date intent or status, are you receiving or sharing, with who, and at what stage? While you might want to communicate intent and content, you might want to keep sensitive commercial information (like margin data for airlines) within your own walls to make your story effective without compromising on confidential data.

Real-time customer actions

You should be able to orchestrate these exchange rules, as well as analyse. Being able to do this in real-time means sending a push message through a mobile app, to a specific segment of customers, like it’s a real life conversation.

The steps: how it works in practice

To use a recent client example, this can begin simply with making smart recommendations by differentiating between business and leisure travellers. Machine learning and real-time decision making can be used to determine whether an individual business flier is likely to book their flight directly or not, then approaching this traveller in a different way. Post-booking for ancillary products for example, or instead opting for an owned channel such as email.

Once they book, they are in the market for a hotel or car rental. The advertiser sends a trigger to the relevant partnering network to kickstart cross-sell opportunities. This experience extends beyond booking, and into transit: when the traveller checks in via mobile app on their day of departure, they are automatically qualified for relevant targeting within the rich retail and ancillary marketplace the airport provides. Think connected beacon technology for nearby offers, service updates such as gate changes and optimised security navigation, train transfer and onboard Wi-Fi. The traveller enjoys a seamless experience, which only grows more relevant over time. And a connected network of metasearchers, interfaces, hoteliers, airlines, retailers and beyond can share an enriched data collaboration to make resources – and customers – go further.

Creating a connected travel landscape through centralised technology isn’t just a passing trend; it’s a concrete reality for the long haul which transcends first, second (and third) parties, and a way of business – which isn’t a vision for the future. It’s happening now.

Florent Coudyser is an industry director (travel) at Relay42.

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