How To Find More Customers For Your Travel Business

45 minutes with a digital marketing superstar. Photo credit SAM_4927 on Flickr
people standing in line

Rarely do I make time for webinars. But when I saw that Rand Fishkin would be speaking to the Female Founder’s Alliance on How To Get Your First 500 Customers, I registered immediately.

In case you don’t know, Rand Fishkin is kind of a big deal—at least in digital marketing circles. He’s the co-founder of Moz, one of the biggest SEO software providers out there.

I first encountered Fishkin in one of his infamous Whiteboard Friday tutorials. Since then, I’ve become a fan, following his Twitter feed and benefitting from the wealth of knowledge he freely shares about SEO and digital marketing.

Since stepping down from Moz in 2018, Fishkin has penned a book called Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide To The Startup World in which he speaks candidly about his experiences growing Moz from a mother-and-son family business to a $45 million/year venture-backed company. He’s also started a new enterprise, SparkToro, with a mission to “help people do better marketing by making the publications, people, and sources that influence any audience more transparent.”

While the webinar I attended was focused on marketing strategy for early-stage startups, the advice is applicable to any business struggling to attract customers, which is why I was so eager to listen, learn, and share with to get your first 500 customers by Rand Fishkin

What most new business owners get wrong about finding customers

According to Fishkin, the most common and foolish mistake founders (a.k.a. business owners) make is diving into marketing tactics like Facebook and Google advertising before developing an overall marketing strategy.

If you’ve ever thrown money into the black hole that is Google Ads, you know how frustrating it can be. What I learned from this webinar is just how BIG your competitive disadvantage is. That’s because Google rewards the advertisers who get the most clicks with better placement and cheaper ads. Of course, the advertisers who get the most clicks are the big-name brands—the Carnival Cruises and Marriott Hotels of the world. So as a small, boutique provider, you’re not only having to make due with a smaller budget, you’re paying more for every ad!

That’s why Fishkin advocates developing a strategy that helps you build name recognition and a community of enthusiastic supporters before diving into advertising to drive new business.

Rand’s 5-step marketing strategy

Fishkin laid out five steps that he says will dramatically improve the results you see from your marketing. They are:

  1. Identify the right customers for your business
  2. Gain a deep understanding of your audience
  3. Nail your market and product positioning
  4. Select channels and tactics
  5. Experiment, learn, improve, repeat

Identifying the right customers for your business

Every customer is different. And not all of them are right for your business. Some customers are looking for luxury while others prioritize cost-savings; some like to engage while others would rather be left alone.

If you don’t take time to identify who is the right customer for you, you risk attracting the wrong people to your business. These are the people who don’t value what you have to offer and take a bad experience away from their time with you. Worse, these unhappy customers are more likely to amplify their negative experience through bad reviews.

So take time to think about who would most value the services you offer.

Gaining a deep understanding of your customers

Now that you have a general idea of who your ideal customers are, you need to get to know them like a good friend. In fact, Fishkin suggests starting with your friends, colleagues, customers, and other people who know you. Reach out to potential customers in your personal network and learn as much as you can from them by conducting interviews.

In your interviews you’re looking to learn:

  • How does your ideal customer go about finding, booking, and experiencing travel?
  • What tools do they use?
  • Whose advice do they listen to?
  • Where do they hang out both online and off?
  • What do they read?
  • What do they watch?
  • What do they like about your service in particular? What don’t they like?

Take note of the exact words they use as you’ll want to use that same language in your marketing.

If in-person interviews aren’t an option, Fishkin suggests sending out a survey to your email list. If that isn’t an option either, then conduct research by locating your ideal customers online and reviewing their social profiles: Who do they follow? What content do they engage with? You can use tools such as Similarweb, Buzzsumo, and, eventually, SparkToro to help you with this research.

Nailing your market and product positioning

I’ll be honest, Fishkin punted a bit on this section. He briefly summarized April Dunford’s approach to brand positioning while at the same time recommending her book.

Buy April's Book Obviously Awesome

So, to gain a better understanding I turned to Dunford’s blog which explains:

What we want to do in a positioning exercise is examine what our unique strengths are and find a way to put those at the center. The goal is to come up with a way to position our offerings [against our competitors] that makes our awesomeness obvious.

  • Positioning involves choosing a market category that makes the uniquely differentiated strengths of our offering, obvious to the customers most suited for it.
  • Choosing that market category requires that we deeply understand the true competitive alternatives to our product, the unique features our product has in comparison, the value those features enable and the characteristics of a customer that makes them really care a lot about that value.
  • We need to understand that those components have a relationship to each other. Value is only differentiated when it is contrasted with a competitor, a target segment can only be chosen once you understand what your differentiated value is, etc.”

Choosing your marketing channels and tactics

Now that you know your audience, and you’ve got your brand positioning down, it’s time to start marketing. But with so many promotional channels out there—blogging, Instagram, YouTube, TripAdvisor, trade shows, and online travel agents to mane a few—how do you choose?

Fishkin pointed out that he’s never seen someone be truly successful using a marketing channel they didn’t personally enjoy. So if you suffer from paralyzing stage fright then public speaking probably isn’t for you. But if you love to write then blogging might be right. Or if you’re an avid photographer then Pinterest or Instagram might be an ideal fit.

Of course, the channel you choose also has to reach your target audience. Thank goodness you already know where your customers hang out, what they read, and what they watch, and what they listen to because of the research you’ve done.

Finally, because you don’t want to be just another face in the crowd, choose channels where you can provide unique value. Use your brand positioning research to find channels that let you contrast yourself favorably against your competitors.

Venn Diagram of showing desirable marketing channels sit at the nexus of personal interest, audience reach, and unique value

Be prepared to try, try, and try again

No matter what marketing tactics you choose—content marketing, public relations, social media, event marketing, or anything else—you can expect it to be really hard at first. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Your first blog posts may never get read. Your first vlogs may go forever unwatched.

But if you keep at it, and take every opportunity to study from both your hits and your misses, you’ll learn what works. You’ll get noticed by people who value what you bring to the table. And those people will introduce you to more people. Slowly, you’ll build momentum.

Make it your goal to build name recognition and authority in your field. If you’re persistent, you’ll begin to spark branded demand. Meaning people won’t be searching Google for “tours” in your city; they’re searching for YOUR tour. By name.

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