A guide to making customer personas work for your luxury travel brand

What personas are, how to build them & why your luxury hotel needs them

Written by Aisha Kellaway on 1st Nov 2018

Understanding your travel brand’s target audiences is at the heart of effective PR campaigns. An ability to reach those audiences with the right message, in the right place at the right time enables you to make a strong impact and lasting impression.

But how do we know who these audiences are?

Yes, it’s helpful to know that your resort’s most engaged audience on Instagram is women in their 30s. Or that most of your website visitors come from the UK, followed by the Republic of Ireland. But, what we want to do is delve beyond the statistics. We want to remember that we’re marketing to human beings, and with that comes an opportunity to understand what experiences make them tick, what motivates them and where they seek inspiration and information that they trust.

It’s this emotional understanding of your audiences that will help you target your outreach and marketing efforts to the platforms and publications you know they’re engaged with.

This, along with crafting key messages that are going to resonate with them and persuade them that what you’re offering is exactly what they’re looking for, will help transform what could have stopped at a like or a follow, into a hot lead for a potential future booking.

Enter customer personas.

What are customer personas?

Typically used by user-centred web design teams to create better user experiences online, personas are fictional character biographies created as archetypes of different target guest groups. This means that a persona is not attempting to represent an individual guest or individual user; they’re the result of analysing data and insights from multiple guests or users that fall into your defined persona groups.

Creating these persona groups helps you to humanise the data you collect on your users to better understand these users’ needs, expectations, behaviours and goals.

personas image woman dance

While the creation of personas should primarily be driven by data, they only work when they’re also coloured with qualitative insight driven by experience, research, empathy and understanding.

It’s this understanding of users that means that the value of personas goes beyond web design, also making them a major weapon for PR and marketing teams.

How can personas help my luxury travel brand?

With more and more digital marketing and online advertising using data to tailor advertisements and content to individual users, more of us are getting used to feeling special and recognised, and we’ve started to expect all brand communications to speak to us as individuals, to recognise our interests and motivations, and not just market to a faceless mass of generic customers.

Well-defined personas can help you better reach and engage the right customers. They bring a face to your PR and marketing efforts and make it easier to get inside your audiences’ heads to understand the motivations that drive their travel choices. For example, 

A core audience for us is nature enthusiasts who seek active travel

when created as a persona becomes a more insightful…

She lives in London and holds a corporate position in the City. She sees travel as her opportunity to get back to nature, switch off her devices and explore wild and hidden places that help her reset from the stress and responsibility of her day-to-day life.

Building up this picture helps you keep things personal and real. It can help to ensure that you stay focused on what actually matters for this audience and also means you only invest in opportunities and activities that will help you reach them with the right messages; this might be only investing in the most relevant social media platforms, or seeking coverage opportunities in highly targeted publications.

How do I build personas for my luxury travel brand?

You probably already have some understanding of who you’re targeting which will be partially defined by things like your pricing point, location and the nature of your hotel or your destination’s facilities/USPs.

This is a good start, but there’s more to building up personas than making up a nice story to complement your existing understanding of audience groups. In fact, that can do more harm than good as you might end up ignoring a group of huge importance, or relying on your personal bias and restricted experience than drawing on all the insights and information available to you if you look for it.

Before we get into a step-by-step process you can use to build up personas, here are some ground rules:

 

Now those ground rules are out of the way, here’s a process you can use to develop personas for your travel brand:

1. Collect and analyse the data

The great thing about personas is that they’re rooted in data, which means we’re not making decisions based on blind assumptions and made-up stories.

Here are some places you can gather data from:

Google Analytics

If you have advertising features enabled you can focus on analysing demographic and interest reports filtered by conversion value and/or goal completions*.

google analytics

This will help you identify any important demographic insights (age, location, gender and device used) specifically for the users who are actively engaged on your site or booking directly.

The interest report will also provide you with your users’ affinity categories, which showcase other common interests of your users based on their browsing activity across the Google Display Network prior to visiting your site. This can help you identify complementary areas of interest which could help when targeting publications, or promoting certain activities.

(*If you don’t have goals and conversions set up, we strongly advise you do. Not all web traffic is equal. Goal tracking and conversion data will help you measure the value from your web traffic and draw insights as to which users actually convert or engage with your content. It’s this insight which will be more useful for the creation of personas, rather than looking at the data from every single visitor.)

Social media analytics:

While you can’t isolate users on social media who have actually visited or intend to visit your hotel or destination, social media analytics will give you a solid demographic overview of your social followers which you can compare with the insights you’ve gathered from Google Analytics.

Facebook and Instagram give you age ranges, city/country and gender information for your following. While Twitter does provide more insights such as household income and interest categories, you’ll find the data is only based on a small percentage of your followers if you and your followers are predominantly based outside of the US, so you’ll need to take it with a pinch of salt.

Booking data and CRM insights:

Depending on the information you capture during the booking process, your own booking data should be able to shed the most light on who your guests actually are and their booking behaviour.

Analysis of your booking data might pull out trends that you can associate with different types of bookings or packages, such as who and where your bookings tend to come from for honeymoon packages, business travel or family holidays. You should also be able to draw distinctions between those who choose to book online, via phone or through third-party travel agents.

business travel personas

 

2. Get more qualitative insights from publications, partners and staff

If you think of a persona as a join-the-dots painting, step one was about putting the dots on the page, and step two is about joining them together to build a clearer picture and start to define target groups beyond their statistics and demographics.

Here are some ways you can do this:

Publication insights:

Look at referral traffic in analytics and see if any significant traffic comes from particular publications or blogs. If so, contact this publication and ask if they have any audience insights – you might find they’ve even created their own audience personas! You’ll also be able to get a feel for the interests of this audience type by the nature of the publication/blog.

You can also do the same for reputable publications you find you’re getting inbound interest from, as the likelihood is they’ve identified you’d be a good fit and of interest to their readers.

Speak to your front of house staff:

Front of house staff interact with guests daily and will have a really good idea of who your guests are, and insights into the different categories of guests you get through the door.

It’s also worth speaking with the managers and front of house staff from your different facilities too – for example your staff at the spa, or from particular onsite restaurants, or those who run onsite activities, as this will also help you to uncover any trends amongst guests who opt for different services during their stay.

Speak to travel agents or tour operators:

If you have partner travel agents or operators, speak to them to better understand the customers they send you and what made those customers interested in you in the first place. Especially in luxury travel, agents typically provide a bespoke service and will have an intimate level of knowledge about their clients. While professional agents won’t part with personal data about specific guests, they’ll typically be happy to share general trends and insights about their clients who they send to your resort, hotel or destination.

 

Once you’ve started to collate this more qualitative insight, from experience and interaction with guests, you’ll likely find that the best way to differentiate your target audiences comes down to their life stage, passions and interests, and their motivations to travel. Sometimes demographics such as age, gender or nationality will be a defining factor for a persona group (e.g. Mums with pre-school aged children) but other times these labels couldn’t be less relevant.

volunteer photo personas

 

3. Colour in your personas with insight from guests themselves:

Sticking with my earlier analogy, by this point you’ll have finished the outlines of your different target groups — which means it’s time to add the final flourishes and start to develop personalities. This can only be done with insight from actual guests themselves.

Here are some ways you can add personalities and emotional insights into your personas:

Reviews:

It’s worth looking through TripAdvisor or other places where guests can leave reviews on their experience with you. Taking time to properly read, understand, and reply to reviews will help you really get under the skin of your guests. You’ll learn about their expectations, their personal contexts, and their experiences with you — which will help to further distinguish and enrich the personas you create.

Social posts and photos:

Guests’ social media posts while at your resort can also be enlightening.

Scroll through the posts of people who have tagged in your hotel, or who have used any branded hashtags. From guests’ photos, you can often understand the type of holiday they’re on (family holiday with the kids, or a romantic couple’s retreat) and their captions can often provide insight into their emotions and personal circumstances, to help you better identify their motivations and what makes them tick.

lady taking photo

Guest surveys:

If you ask guests to answer questions about their experience at your hotel, you might want to think about how the questions you ask can help colour in your personas. Questions about their motivations for travelling to your hotel or destination and where they get their travel inspiration from can be useful additions to the typical questions such as “where did you hear about us” and “how did you find your stay”.

 

Putting the pieces together – What personas look like:

It’s no good having all the information on your target groups locked within your head. Once you’ve gathered your insights and have segmented your guests into archetypes, you will want to put all the pieces together and format these archetypes into personas in a way that makes them easy for marketing and PR teams to refer to and ensures everyone’s on the same page.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but we’ve included a template you’ll see below which you can download as a full-size PDF here  (we just ask that you share this post on Twitter or LinkedIn if you’ve found this resource helpful!).

guest_persona_template_lemongrass_marketing

Here are some basic guidelines for filling the template out:

1. Give each persona an identity: 

Give each persona a name and a photo (or caricature if you’d rather)

2. Define profile information:

Here is where you can put the basic information you find through research phase 1.

We suggest putting the archetype that the persona is representing, e.g. Wellness Enthusiasts, at the top of this section as this will help set expectations as to whether the demographic elements of your persona (their gender, age etc) are important or inconsequential and put there for the purpose of creating an identity.

3. Give them substance with a biography:

The bio is your opportunity to use the insights from steps 2 and 3 of your research phase and build a bit of background around your persona. Remember our corporate manager from the city who wanted to escape to a nature retreat? The bio section is where you’d put that information.

What you include is up to you, but you want use your understanding of this archetype from your research to summarise who your persona is, what they’re looking for and why it’s important to them. Other information such as how frequently they travel, who with, and the most important factors for them in booking a trip can also be useful to include.

So our original example:

She lives in London and holds a corporate position in the City. She sees travel as her opportunity to get back to nature, switch off her devices and explore wild and hidden places that help her reset from the stress and responsibility of her day-to-day life.

could become:

“Hannah lives in London and holds a corporate position in the City. She sees travel as her opportunity to get back to nature, switch off her devices and explore wild and hidden places that help her reset from the stress and responsibility of her day-to-day life.

With no children, Hannah and her husband take two holidays a year and can travel around school holidays. She seeks hotels and resorts located in areas of natural beauty, with a variety of activities on offer for her and her husband to enjoy together but where they can come in at the end of the day to creature comforts, luxurious accommodation and facilities, and exquisite food and drink.”

 

4. Include a quote:

A quote is a great way to get inside your persona’s head and create one statement that outlines their position in the first person:

“I’m looking for a stress-free holiday where I can reset from my day-to-day, switch off and rejuvenate, and spend quality time with my husband”

 

5. Weight their motivations:

We all put different weighting on factors such as price, location, exclusivity when looking for holidays. Knowing what motivates each persona (and what’s less of an important factor!) will help you craft and tailor your key messages.

You can mark the bars on the template to create a sliding scale.

 

6. Fill in other key information:

You’ll see on the template we’ve included sections for:

 

7. Identify who your competitors are for this specific persona:

You likely have a list of core competitors, but have you broken it up for each of your audience segments?

You might actually realise you had more competitors that you hadn’t considered. Knowing who you’re competing with for each persona group will help you differentiate and work to maintain, or grow, your market share.

 

Make your personas work for you:

Just as your personas are unique characters, your brand is also unique. You might find you need or want to adapt the way you build your personas to best suit you and your marketing teams.

Also remember that your personas can grow and change as your brand and offering evolves and you get new insights.

personas hero

As long as you’re using actual data and insights to form your personas, and then personal experience and empathy to fill in the blanks, you’ll be far further ahead than you were before you created them.

What this all boils down to is a reminder that we’re never marketing to statistics or stereotypes, we’re marketing to human beings. Hopefully, this blog post has equipped you with what you need to build personas to better engage with the human beings who matter to your brand.

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If you’d like to discuss how Lemongrass can help you better define your customer personas, we’d be delighted to hear from you and organise a call. Please contact grow@lemongrassmarketing.com