Do travel bloggers actually have direct influence on consumer decisions?

A recent Nielsen report explores the always-important and ever-evolving question of what content types influence consumer decisions the most. So does expert content from travel bloggers have any actual impact on the purchase process?

The report was commissioned by advertising advocates Inpowered, which allows brands to discover organic media and expert coverage of their products and use that coverage to anchor advertising. This allows social proof to be built into advertising in a different way – something that would work especially in travel, as social recommendations already drive a significant amount of organic interest for travel products.

The following was the methodology deployed by Nielsen:

To evaluate the impact of expert content and branded (or owned) content online and its role in the purchase process, an experimental design was used to expose consumers to content and then measure the impact of that content in creating product awareness/familiarity, influencing perceptions (i.e. likeability) and increasing purchase consideration. The goal of the experiment is to evaluate the relative impact of content from users, experts, and brands themselves.

Nielsen created a lab testing situation to judge just how different types of content perform for 900 respondents that were matched as consumers to the content types they would be exposed to.

Most popular sources of information during the purchase process

Consumers didn’t reveal any surprises when it comes to which content sources they use more and which they use less when considering a purchase.

Content types

The main difference from conventional wisdom is that the power of word-of-mouth is below even online advertising.

One expects social media and user reviews to be the most used – especially given that they are the latest form of digital word-of-mouth – but it is unexpected that online advertising would be considered more often than word-of-mouth.

TV and radio advertising continue to be less useful than their counterparts, with radio being the least vital when it comes to influencing purchase decisions.

When consumers are sifting through these content types, expert content is a powerful force. For the purposes of clarity, branded content came directly from a brand’s website, user reviews were taken from publicly available review sites and expert content came from third-party websites and blogs dedicated to that specific product category.

Use of content types across purchase funnel

In fact, the expert content tested with this lab group was far more effective than branded content – or even user reviews, which traditionally enjoy higher priority from both marketers and users.

This is welcome news for travel marketers considering blogger outreach campaigns, as it demonstrates that these travel experts are indeed valuable as far as familiarity, affinity and purchase consideration.

Further extensions into travel content 

While the respondents were not directly exposed to travel content in this test, the results offer additional clarity as to the question of the real-life impact of experts such as travel bloggers.

The breakdown of lift per product is shown below, with the percentage increase signaled by the number and the darker shade marking a relatively high lift for that category.

Actual lift from different types of content

The study found expert content had the highest impact on purchases above $1,000 – fitting along nicely with the larger average purchase for travel.

Here’s how much more effective expert content was at impacting lift for higher-priced items:

Impact of expert content on high-priced items

The report explains the result in the following manner:

It is important to note that branded content was effective at driving familiarity and affinity for big ticket purchases, but it was not as effective at persuading purchase consideration. User reviews had even less relevance for these types of purchases. Ultimately, expert content influenced all three phases and was most effective at driving final purchase consideration. The higher the price point, the more efficient expert content was in educating and persuading consumers.

Conclusions

Again, this specific report didn’t consider travel (perhaps Nielsen will consider one for travel purchases!). Nonetheless, the core principles remain solid as far as understanding how third-party expert content impacts travel purchasing.

The reality is that, for higher-priced, more emotional and aspirational purchases such as travel, consumers are more skeptical of pure-play branded content. And when it comes to user reviews, travelers leverage this content to determine specifics about places to stay or other details about a potential portion of a purchase.

But when it comes to destination marketing and selling larger packages (such as tour packages and cruises), experts are seen as knowledgable, less biased contributors to the purchase decision. Content from these sources should be high-quality and demographically targeted, so be sure to carefully consider which bloggers and travel experts are best suited to offer their perspective to prospective customers as part of a digital marketing campaign.

The report is available for download here.

NB: Indecision image courtesy Shutterstock.

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick helps brands blog better at Ghost Works, a boutique blog management service. Nick was previously the Director of Content for tnooz, where he oversaw the editorial and commercial content as well as producing/hosting tnoozLIVE.

 

Comments

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  1. Saqib Khan

    Interesting insights. And I believe I can add something to it.

    Six months ago I tried an experiment based on the assumption that travel bloggers do have direct influence on consumer decisions and that the brands recognize this ‘fact’.

    What I did was create a travel blog called Travel Hustling [www.travelhustling.com], proclaimed myself as a ‘travel expert’ and went about testing the waters.

    How?

    I chose Sri Lanka as the destination, and approached a zillion travel operators, agencies, Sri Lankan tourism board and pretty much anyone even vaguely resembling a Sri Lankan to fund my travel to Sri Lanka in return for promotion and publicity on the travel blog, both in the form of web banners and sponsored reviews.

    While the project was a failure of epic proportions bruising my ego to no end, it did offer some interesting insights.

    The thing is, I did go to Sri Lanka with my own money, but while I faced numerous failures in my quest, I did manage to secure a handful of invaluable barter deals. I clinched a deal with two upscale boutique hotels there whose single night rent was enough to bankrupt me in a couple of nights. I stayed there for free in exchange for sponsored reviews of those two places.

    Apart from that, I was able to secure attractive discounts at hotels and inns all over Sri Lanka as well as other favors just because I was a blogger.

    The point to note here is that just because I introduced myself as a blogger, I was assumed to be an ‘expert’ in the travel field by the local brands. So referring to the ongoing discussion above, ‘expert’ is a very vague term with a myriad of connotations.

    The second point to note here is that in spite of my colossal failure, I did meet with some success when I shouldn’t have because I had just started my travel blog and I had no credibility. And it happened in a Third World country.

    Just imagine what I or any travel blogger could accomplish with a little bit of credibility and in a developed country where blogs and bloggers are more recognized in the mainstream.

    So yes, I believe that the Nielsen does prove [ even if only accidentally] that brands and travel bloggers can benefit enormously from a symbiotic relationship. Conversely, the consumers can be persuaded to make a wrong decision by an opportunist nexus of travel bloggers, tour operators and hotels.

     
  2. Pam

    1. Where do I get my tickets for the Skift vs Tnooz debate on this issue?
    2. Given that the FTC hearings showed that users can’t distinguish sponsored content from straight editorial, and given the prevalence of sponsored content on blogs, is this even a valuable analysis of the role bloggers play in this market?
    3. Does this data change for an educated readership that understands the dynamics of pay for play, review gaming (see also, recent Yelp slapping), and the like?

    I have questions.

     
  3. Matthew Barker

    Interesting timing, given the TripAdvisor research just released that noted, among other things, “expert content” in the form of press or blogger coverage is notably *un-influential* in travel purchase decisions (http://www.tripadvisor.com/TripAdvisorInsights/n2200/tripbarometer-april-2014-global-edition)

    I think a big caveat to the TA research is that it’s based on a direct poll of consumers themselves, who are probably the *least* well informed on what factors motivate their purchase decisions, but it’s interesting all the same.

    The critical factor has to be a complete understanding of the travel purchase cycle, or the “customer journey.” Analysing channels and media types in isolation is daft, it’s a combination of all the above “converged media” that is most effective at driving consumer decisions: https://www.tnooz.com/article/travel-content-marketing-across-the-funnel-moving-from-if-to-how/

     
    • Gary Arndt

      I don’t see anything in that link which even references experts. I only see online reviews and personal recommendations.

       
      • Matthew Barker

        P.34 of the full report linked from that page. In the chart “Factors that impact on decisions to travel to a particular destination” ‘press coverage’ is 2nd to least influential. No reference at all to bloggers or other travel experts.

         
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      As noted in the article as well, the company who commissioned this study has an obvious interest in promoting the impact of expert content. I especially liked the way this report showed how experts influenced different purchases. And of course “experts” here is liberally used as anyone who posts third-party content. We know that all bloggers are not created equal.

      Regardless, food for thought and ongoing discussion!

       
    • Tammy

      Yeah, the TripAdvisor study irritated me, especially when I saw Skift’s clickbaity analysis of it: http://skift.com/2014/09/15/press-coverage-of-destinations-matters-least-in-travelers-decisions/. The big issue to me is the wording of the survey question (how many respondents interpreted “press coverage” to mean “news coverage”?), and misses the point that media coverage of a destination is often primarily for introducing a place in readers’ minds. Like you said, most consumers aren’t really conscious of what motivated their decision. No one, when picking a vacation spot, is going to say, “Oh, let’s go to X, it’s getting lots of press right now.” Even if the whole reason they were first interested in X is because they saw a magazine article on it last year that piqued their interest.

       
  4. DustinBaly

    Tom Waits once cynically sang, “The Large Print Giveith, And the Small Print Taketh Away”, so no wonder we don’t trust the large print or what any marketer tells us (without qualification). For businesses to succeed today through AdWords, SEO, and email, trust needs to be validated across all the sources Nick describes. Not only that, brands that want to really understand influence should send a net promoter score survey to their customers and constantly strive for improvement.

     
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      It’s a good point and reminder that strategies require reliance on multiple approaches, and then results should be measured and the mix adjusted accordingly.

       
  5. Durant Imboden

    I think the headline is a bit deceptive, in that travel blogs can just as easily fall under the heading of “user reviews,” “word of mouth,” and/or “social media” as under the heading of “expert reviews” or “expert content.” Whether a travel blogger is an “expert” depends on the blogger and how much he or she knows about the topic.

    It’s worth noting that the final paragraph distinguishes between “bloggers” and “travel experts” (albeit without specifiying what exactly a “travel expert” is).

     
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      Agreed – there is no such thing as a consistent definition for “expert.” That is up to the reader to determine, as some Millennials don’t trust traditional experts (such as restaurant critics, for example). I did not that social media is traditionally seen as a form of word-of-mouth, so I think you’re right in pointing out that many of these content types have overlap depending on context.

      This is an important discussion when it comes to blogging in general – a platform does not make an expert, but an expert does not need a platform to be considered an expert. There’s no clear answer here, except that consumers are increasingly sophisticated in analyzing multiple content types to create their own conclusions.

      Thanks for the comment!

      N

       
    • Jamais Trujlllo

      I agree with Durant, its seems like there is some overlap here.
      Regardless, this is an interesting article as we see users relying more and more on the internet and less and less on TV and radio.

       
  6. Craig

    It’s good to see some hard data about these larger purchases, which tend to have much longer buying cycles and emotional ‘cost’ than smaller-ticket purchases. And great to see a big third-party closely examining the use of third-party blog content in each of these areas, and coming out with very positive findings.

     
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      Craig:

      While not directly travel related, I did like the way that feature-heavy big ticket purchases relied more on brand content than other purchases. I definitely see a travel product that takes in reviews/opinions from travel experts/travel bloggers (commonly accepted definition clearly lacking), and then compares them in one place. For example, taking third-party travel content a 10 day trek to Nepal, and comparing experiences with different vendors from third-parties.

      This is a bit different from “user reviews” which tend to be less erudite, or at least have a very different impetus for sharing. Of course, some travel bloggers get freebies or paid for content, so this landscape is already fraught with disclosure implications and independent verification of paid content versus organic.

      All in all, an important thought exercise for any travel marketer with travel bloggers/experts in the mix.

      N

       
 
 

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