I don't think anyone would disagree with me if I asserted that websites like Expedia and Travelocity have been extremely influential in shaping and driving transparency into the travel industry. They have certainly altered the customers' self-perceptions - making them feel capable and self-sufficient in researching and booking their own travel - and in the process they have forced travel agencies and their agents to rethink how they compete and offer value to consumers. The biggest impact these major technology-enabled travel companies have had on the industry, though, is to transform the way we all think about travel, making it into a product-focused "thing."
A few years back I remember hearing a researcher speak on NPR about the relationship between happiness and spending money. We've all heard the old idiom that money is better spent on experiences than things, but this was a psychological study that gave it some real backing.
Consider once more the impact of those sites on travel: it has become a commodity, something relegated to compete on price. But do you remember when travel wasn't just a thing to be consumed? Do you remember when travel was an experience that could enrich our lives and help us get closer to our aspirational selves?
Ensemble Travel Group
Those agencies who are a part of Ensemble Travel Group ask the same questions. Rather than cowering in a corner to lick their wounds as many agencies have, Ensemble has invested deeply in its agencies, providing resources for their network to respond to the changing industry landscape by staying resolute to the promise of providing agency customers "experience that takes [them] places." Their branding of experience is subtle yet effective - it could be interpreted as the experience and expertise of those in the group delivering the promise, or it could be the promise itself: the opportunity to once more make travel about a fulfilling experience.
Call an agency in the Ensemble network in the U.S. and Canada for help in booking a trip, and they are likely to ask you questions about your lifelong travel aspirations. They will ask about your personal tastes, customize every detail they possibly can to make the trip yours and yours alone, and ultimately you will find yourself thinking less about the trip and more about the journey or adventure they are helping you embark upon. Ensemble is invested in elevating travel back to the life-changing and experiential state, providing training and development to their network of agencies and agents. And to protect that possibility they are going as far as to proactively mitigate any risks, working with their preferred supplier partners along the way to make sure the promise is continually delivered.
Talk about a confident and compelling sales pitch: We will help you to build the vision of who you want to be through your adventures, create an itinerary that is all your own, and do everything in our power to make it flawless along the way. Ensemble is literally in the business of creating life changing experiences.
Building on our understanding of stories and stitching from last week's video, consider how Ensemble's exemplary sales model perfectly marries the emotional story (travel as experience) and the rational value (risk mitigation). Ensemble has equipped those in their network with an approach to build a narrative with their customers to collaboratively create a more meaningful purchasing experience than the customer could have ever achieved alone, and in the process they have established the exceptional value they still offer in one of today's most commoditized industries.
How might you design your offer and purchasing experience to illicit the emotions you need to drive the buyer to act?
Watch the video below for help on how to approach the task.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Peter Sheahan on the topic of Making It Happen in Small Business, focused on turning those with the ideas into those with the influence. To see all of the posts in the series, click here.