Follow the leader

nanjing neon, photo: <a href="http://www.sxc.hu/profile/kdelacruz">kdelacruz</a>

It’s not only fashionistas who want to brandish the look of the moment. News channels can sometimes run stories du jour past their sell-by date because they believe their readers’ appetites for crises, scandal and disaster to be insatiable.

But readers crave positive stories more often than you might think.

The Euro crisis is a good example. No one would argue that the problems that some Euro-zone members have with sovereign debt are very real but bad news stories may not always be what readers want or, indeed, what markets, businesses or politicians want to project.

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has just issued its first GBTA BTI Outlook – China. This research found that business travel is set to increase by 17% in 2012 and 21% in 2013. More significantly it said that “Growth in international outbound travel spending is expected to be particularly strong, rising by 27% in 2013.”

Economic growth has been the Holy Grail for politicians in the West. Business travel follows growth and China looks set to grow.

Politicians and markets claim that people are looking for growth. The GBTA just pointed this out.

It’s important to remember that the story you want is not necessarily what the papers carried yesterday.

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White papers: essential tools of the trade

Over the last couple of decades, the White Paper has become an essential weapon in the marketing armoury. Companies wishing to show their thought leadership in a particular area or to promote the benefits of a particular approach, service or tool that they happen to use, offer or provide have increasingly turned to the White Paper as a way of generating leads and, hopefully, sales.

As a company that has researched and written a good number of White Papers in its time, we thought it would be useful to look at some of the background and the best ways of using them.

White papers have entered the marketing communications lexicon from the world of politics. Printed on, yes you guessed it, white paper, they were intend to outline a policy a government plans to adopt to solve a particular problem. For example, the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change published a White Paper on reforming the electricity market.

In the world of marketing, White Papers adopt many guises. They typically range in size from six pages but can extend to many more, with some running to 24 pages. However, our view is that a White Paper should be tightly focused but well researched and sit somewhere between these two extremes.

Some are produced internally while other companies outsource production of a White Paper to outside companies, like Businesstravelwire. We would say this but we believe that having a White Paper produced by an independent expert is far more likely to be trusted by potential customers and therefore lead to more fruitful business relationships.

And so to content. What should go inside a White Paper? This requires very careful thought. Pick a subject that is obliquely related to what you want to promote. If you are a technology company wanting to promote a new self-booking tool, you do not want to choose self-booking tools as the topic of your White Paper. Much better to think along the lines of, say, “The uses of technology in modern travel management”.

Words play a very important part in a White Paper but images – specifically infographics and charts – more so. People respond strongly to visuals and infographics and charts allow you to get a vast amount of information across very quickly. And they make grey slabs of text look much more appealing to read.

How you use your White Paper to best effect is down to you. Journalists love them (if the paper can be shown to be independent) and your customers will too, if you have chosen your subject to chime with their own interests and concerns.

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Profile, profile, which profile?

Last week many news outlets carried a story that a Virgin Atlantic employee had allegedly fed details of celebrities’ flights to a photo agency. The stories all reported widespread concern about how the carrier respected the privacy and managed the security for high-profile individuals.

But that wasn’t the only message they sent out about Virgin Atlantic. There were also messages of who you might share a VS flight with – Cheryl Cole, Nicole Scherzinger, Robbie Williams, Princess Beatrice. Far from potentially losing Virgin business because of their revelations of apparently shoddy processes, the media had told devotees of Hello! what carrier to fly if they wanted to see young, trend-setting celebs at the check-in queue.

Just like the effect of buying a designer handbag, you too could be transformed into that kind of person if you too flew Virgin.

Only the cynical would believe that Virgin released a story of alleged impropriety by an ex-employee as a way of promoting its brand.

But the fact remains – the broadsheets may have run the story as an example of how people’s privacy had been invaded but readers don’t receive single messages.

They have been told what airline Sienna Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson choose to fly.

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“Never seen Heathrow so empty”

Heathrow_Terminal_3

Heathrow received a lot of press coverage this week so everyone should be rubbing their hands in glee. After all, there’s a trite old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Well, as some at Heathrow this week may sadly learn, that’s a slight over-simplification.

Before Wednesday, the day of industrial action in protest at planned changes to public sector workers’ pension arrangements, coverage focused on the fact that flights could be disrupted because of uncertainty over how many staff at the UK Border Agency would join the strike.

Fear of long queues in the immigration halls of the world’s largest international hub meant coverage on broadcast and papers all over the world. Despite this, disruption at Heathrow became a non-event. Although some carriers cancelled services, Heathrow had one of its smoothest running days ever after some Heathrow staff covered in immigration after receiving basic training. Tweets in the “never seen the arrivals hall at T3 so empty” vein were in abundance.

So the reputation of Heathrow and UK plc was helped but how about the picture some now have of the immigration staff? We heard that they were demonstrating their views on changes to pension arrangements. What we got was a picture of how their work obligations were still being delivered despite the strike. In other words, the cynical might ask, “Why are you worried about pensions when your job could be being seen as non-essential?” As important as pensions are, most would prefer to see their work portrayed as vital rather than optional and have a job rather than no job.

It’s important to have a profile but remember that every individual message, whether direct or indirect, contributes to how punters see the whole picture. The fact that the airport functioned without full staff sent a message that the level of employment was a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”.

Another old saying about losing the battle but winning the war is as true in communications strategy as it is anywhere.

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Reading this on your iPhone?

iphone newsletterMost business travel professionals are very aware and observant – you have to be to survive arriving in strange countries and hotels at weird times of night. But sometimes we’re aware but don’t make the connections.

For example, the business travel world has been bandying about the term ‘mobile office’ for more than a decade. Modern working life means working on the move so laptop management and security, Wi-Fi availability and mobile comms are all intrinsic to business travel.

But travellers receive more than just itineraries via their smartphones. Many companies in the business travel sector communicate regularly with their clients, more and more commonly by email rather than print. But why do so many make the mistake of assuming that because we’re sitting at a desk producing an email for all our clients that all our clients are going to be sitting at a desk with a large screen to read it? Is it the same mentality that lets us think that when we’re out of the office and staring at a smartphone that everyone else is communicating in the same way?

It’s human nature to think that our life is normal and most people are like us. Similarly, we think other people access information in the same way and same time as we do. But just as not everyone has brown eyes and lives in London, not everyone opens emails at their desks.

The next time you redesign your corporate newsletter, make sure you look at it on the train on the way home as well as in the comfort of your office. We took a look at the statistics of one newsletter we produce for a client recently and found that nearly one in five people are reading it on their iPhone. Knowing the popularity of the Apple handset, we had designed the newsletter to work well on it as well as in desktop email clients. If you were receiving the newsletter you would never know but in a world where communication with clients is vital, that behind-the-scenes work really pays off.

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Gain more Twitter followers

twitter_newbird_boxed_whiteonblueThe influence of social media can no longer be ignored. There are now more than 800 million active users of Facebook, some 100 million are tweeting furiously on Twitter while more than 135 million people are sneaking a look at the CVs of friends and enemies on business network LinkedIn . Google’s new network Google+ meanwhile has become the fastest growing social network in (the sector’s short) history.

What does this mean for the world of business travel? It is all too easy to think that social media is irrelevant for companies in the business travel sector. After all, people should be working while in the office, not sharing details of their breakfast and posting pictures of cute pets.

In fact, while many users of social media use these various services to do just that, there are many more people using it for serious purposes.

Speaking at the recent Social Travel Market conference (co-founded by Businesstravelwire’s Mark Frary), Catharine van Dijk, manager for reputation and content at Dutch airline KLM, said that the first time her company really recognised the value of social media was after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjällajökull. She said that social media channels became invaluable in keeping in touch with customers. Hundreds of KLM staff used things like Twitter and Facebook to share updates and also help passengers rebook once European airspace reopened.

As a business travel company, even if you do not allow your own staff to use social media (and there is some doubt whether such a ban is truly enforceable given the prevalence of personal devices such as smartphones), your clients are already using social media and you would be foolish to ignore that.

A Twitter account is a good way to take first steps into the social media maelstrom. Once you have chosen an appropriate user name (it has to be less than 15 characters), you will want to think about attracting followers – the people who will see any tweet that you post, including those all-important calls to action for your customers.

Rather than just sitting back and waiting for people to follow you, you need to be proactive. Go and find people already on Twitter to follow: Twitter etiquette means that most will follow you right back.

The first logical step is to find out if any of your existing clients, either on an individual basis or corporate basis, are already on Twitter. If they are, follow them. You should also look for potential clients and follow them too.

Then we can go deeper. Find out if any of your competitors are on Twitter and click on the link that shows all of the people who follow them. Many of these will be of interest to you so go through and follow all those who seem relevant.
The next tactic is to search for people tweeting about relevant topics e.g. business travel. Type in your chosen topic into Twitter’s search box (enclosing it with quotation marks) and see the tweets that appear. Follow anyone tweeting regularly on your topic.

Finally, engage all of these people in Twitter conversation. Lively and relevant chatter will encourage people to follow you.

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