Travel agents need to learn the best practices for creating, maintaining and promoting their personal brand. // © 2013 Thinkstock
More Travel Agent Tips
For more travel agent tips, join TravelAge West and ASTA YPS on Nov. 19 for a webinar on "Secrets to Making the Most of Co-Op Marketing Opportunities.”
Last week, Mindy Poder, senior editor at TravelAge West, moderated “Branding Yourself – 7 Ways to Promote Your Professionalism,” the fourth webinar held in partnership with American Society of Travel Agents’ Young Professionals Society (ASTA YPS). The conversation focused on strategies for travel agents creating and maintaining a successful professional brand. Webinar panelists were Jason Coleman, president and chief visionary for Jason Coleman, Inc., Jim Nathan, director of marketing for Vacation.com and Ryan McGredy, managing owner of Moraga Travel and president of ATSA YPS.
Following are the seven key elements that all successful personal brands must have, along with tips from the panelists.
- Begin with a self-inventory, listing your personal likes and dislikes.
- Incorporate your personal interests into your unique business brand. Clients will ask, “Why should I work with you? What makes you different?” Knowing what you bring to the table will help you answer that question.
- Notice your strengths and the little things you do that make you stand out. Then, make sure you consistently model those strengths in the execution of your services and point to them in your marketing.
- Pinpoint areas of growth as well, and seek out trainings and other resources to help improve your business in that area.
- Don’t stress too much on growth areas. Some companies opt to focus efforts on their strengths. Coca-Cola, for example, prefers to spend more of its ad money during the summer months – when sales are at their highest – rather than dwell on the consistently lower sales in the other seasons.
- Make it a point to sometimes try out things that are new to you professionally – you never know when the market will change, and you want to be ready.
- Ryan McGredy recommends the 80/20 rule: spend 20 percent of your time on things that are scarier to you.
Know Your Niche
- Possible niches:
- Type of travel (adventure, all-inclusive, family)
- Geographic regions
- The riches are in the niches,” said Jim Nathan. Being familiar with your clients’ passions will help you work with them.
- To be an expert at something, you have to actually have a deeper knowledge or skill set – it can’t just be talk.
- Having contacts within the industry is important. Don’t be afraid to refer a client with a specific need to a friendly competitor who’s better suited for that customer.
- Pay attention to the changing market. If Asia is your niche, you need to know that Burma is a new horizon that travelers will come asking about.
Identify Your Target Audience
- Think about what groups you will serve best, given your area of interest/expertise.
- Consider that it may be helpful to work with customers you can relate to personally, as you want to be able to communicate successfully.
Creating Your Brand Profile
- Your brand statement should be short and concise. It should tell what service you provide and what differentiates you from other agents.
- Some examples of weak statements:
- “We’ve got the best customer services anywhere.”
- “Service with a smile.”
- “We book trips of a lifetime.”
Sample brand statements:
- Jason’s positioning statement: “I produce specialty themed cruises for Southern California celebrities and their fans.”
- Jason’s service tagline: “Celebrity-hosted fan cruises.” Clear, not a lot of splash.
Communicating Your Brand
- A marketing toolbox may include:
- Traditional brochures and business cards
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest)
- Logo design
- Website and/or a blog
- Direct mail
- Monthly email newsletters
- If you’re not social media savvy, take advantage of seminars and talks and brush up on tricks of the trade.
- For more formal supplies, such as a logo, brochures, or a website, consider working with freelance design professionals. First impressions matter, and quality tools can be affordable.
- Ryan McGredy suggests communicating with prospective clients in person at first, at a party, an event or even in a Google+ chat. From there, keep the relationship going via email or social media. The face-to-face foundation is a powerful one that helps customers remember you.
Promote Yourself, Be Entrepreneurial
- Business is about the survival of the fittest. Even if self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to you, you have to figure out a way to put yourself out there.
- More timid agents might take an acting class to get more comfortable in front of a crowd or audience.
- “Fish where the fish are,” said Jim Nathan. Promote yourself in the places where your audience hangs out. Random promotional tactics, like leaving your brochures at the dry cleaners, are not that effective.
- Word-for-word testimonials from clients can be powerful promotional tools.
- A client’s story about what an agent did to correct an unexpected problem on a trip can be just as helpful as a story about a perfect experience.
Walk and Talk Your Brand
- Be visible, to both industry professionals and your clients. Consider participating in:
- Industry events
- Related organizations
- Radio interviews or webinars
- Industry competitions
- Once you have established your brand, know that everything you do matters, from how tidy you keep your storefront to how user-friendly your surveys are. Each move you make can affect how clients perceive your brand.
Travel Agents Share Their Personal Branding Tips on Social Media
Travel agents shared their personal branding tips during TravelAge West and ASTA YPS’s Twitter and Facebook chats
Following the webinar, TravelAge West editors and ASTA YPS members co-hosted chats on both Twitter and Facebook. During the social media chats, we heard many insightful comments and tips about how to create, maintain and promote your personal brand. Here are some of our favorite insights.
Check out the entire Twitter chat by searching the #YPSTAW hashtag and read our Facebook chat at Facebook.com/TravelAgeWest. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? – Mindy Poder
I think personal branding is the part of the Venn diagram between you and your business. It’s “bizifying” your authentic self. #YPSTAW —@AtlasTrav_Molly
Use social media, and strengthen SEO if you blog (which you should). You can’t be found if you’re not active & searchable. #YPSTAW — @ckbarrett
Make yourself available to local press as an expert on travel stories. #YPSTAW —@vcom1
Retweet other good responses! RT @AtlasTrav_Molly: You don’t have to promote yourself to promote your biz. Curate content #YPSTAW — @ChatsTW
If you’re uncomfortable promoting yourself, join a company that helps w/ marketing & branding. Ride those coattails. @astayps #YPSTAW — @Cruisitude
If u dont promote your services, no one will hire you. Make yourself known before youre needed #PlantTheSeed #Travelers @astayps #YPSTAW — @KatelynOSh
Biggest pet peeve of all: travel agents who say I don’t do that and leave the client hanging. What does the say about travel agents? #YPSTAW — @jasoncolemaninc
Yes, they should market to their expertise; but nothing says they can’t have several niches to broaden the market potential. — @vcom1
Re: live events - remember to seek out non-travel events so YOU can shine as the expert among others who need your help. #YPSTAW — @AtlasTrav_Molly
A lot of people/brands aren't prepared for crisis management, negative reviews, etc. Planning ahead can help! #YPSTAW — @TravelPRGirl
Be active in your community. Volunteer with some non-profits maybe. This helps spread the word, and creates positive image #YPSTAW -- @DanielaHarriso7
Use Pinterest + Instagram for visual appeal, Twitter for short updates, FB for more substantial content #YPSTAW — @NTMtravel42
On what is a personal brand:
“Establishing a presence in the industry, specifically in a niche market, is of huge value. With the numerous social media channels and integration of work and pleasure in our generation, everyone is now their own brand.” – Joshua Smith
Tips for promoting yourself:
“I approach most events, gatherings, mixers as an opportunity. In the course of conversation it is bound to come out what it is you do. The good thing about our industry is that most people think that what we do is cool. They usually have lots of questions and want to know about our trips and any tips. That is promoting yourself. Always have your business cards and very simply state that if they ever need assistance with future travel needs, they can feel free to reach out. Also, with my personal social media profiles, I get lots of referrals just from sharing my travels.” – Mary Jo Salas