Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: Aging Baby Boomers on The Net

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aging Baby Boomers on The Net

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How do you convince a 72 year old, business owner that he needs to Twitter? That he needs to start blogging? The value of a web presence? The value of a successful email marketing campaign? You show him. Slowly, slowly, show him.

Back in November, I started to work with a travel agency in Chicago, Artun Travel. The agency was a successful, small operation with strong ties within the Turkish-American community, in multiple markets throughout the U.S. They provided outbound travel services, primarily to Turkey and The Middle East, with reciprocal services for Turkish citizens traveling to the U.S. for holiday.

70% of Artun Travel's business was comprised of Turkish Americans, Arab-Americans, Pakistani Americans, Indian Americans and various other Eastern European Americans traveling home to their motherland. The other 30% of their business was made up of American tourists traveling for leisure holiday, student groups traveling for religious tours, historical tours or for business studies. They had a strong relationship with major Universities, such as The University of Chicago, their History and Humanities programs would take students to Turkey and various other Middle Eastern Countries - Israel, Jordan, Egypt, etc.

Artun Travel survived the loss of business of the first Iraqi war and the war in Kosovo in the 90’s. They even survived the biggest hit the Agency took in their near 20 years of operation - the travel recession after 9/11 and the second Iraqi war. 9/11 nearly killed their entire leisure business with many Americans confusing Turkey and their political policies with their neighboring countries. The simple fact that Turkey shared a border with Iraq was enough to put Tourism to Turkey at a near standstill.

I visited Turkey days after the U.S. started to bomb Iraq. I can tell you from first hand experience, Turkish tourism business was not suffering, it was dead. In the five days I was in Istanbul, I saw ONE American tourist group at Topkapi Palace - we were so happy to see other Americans, as perfect strangers, yet countrymen, we hugged.

Artun Travel biggest struggle was yet to come. They started to see a severe downturn in mid 00’s with the competition from the online travel agents. Airlines continued to cut their commissions for travel agencies and it was nearly impossible for Artun Travel to compete with the low rates that online agencies were able to offer. The agency was relying almost solely on existing relationships, an existing client base, with little growth.

In November of 2008, I met with the 72 year-old owner of Artun Travel to discuss his current business model and where his business was headed in the future. He was near retirement, could barely use email, and really did not see the value of being on "the Internet". He did not understand "the Internet", for him, "the Internet" was the enemy and he wanted nothing to do with it.

We convinced him he needed to re-vamp his marketing. We started with basic things, redesigning his logo and his communications pieces. We utilized the services of a local graphic designer. We wanted a modern and fresh look to captivate Westerners, without losing the Eastern feel. The "evil eye" was the chosen icon as it has a historical relevance yet also represents modern Turkey.

Next came the website. The old Artun Travel website was built in the late 90s by a friend of a friend. The old website had the design elements worthy of a kindergartner skills.

I put together a small budget for the travel agency. I worked with an independent web designer whose design skills agreed with my vision for the agency. He built the site as a side project (we saved money by sacrificing efficiency). I managed the process and wrote most of the content for the site with the help of a fact checker and a proofreader.

As the process moved foward, I was able to squeeze the bare minimum out of the "aging, baby boomer". He had limited funds, but believe you me, he had plenty of input on the creative - "Sexy imagery!" "Bigger logo!".

When we sent out his first email blast to his existing client database (which I built from scratch because he never kept an email database). The amazingly positive response to our first email blast allowed me to convince him to spend a little more on web marketing. We had almost a 50% "open" rate for his first newsletter. We continue to send a newsletter out monthly alerting his clients of travel deals and various other cultural and travel news. We average about a 44% open rate for our newsletter and the agency receives calls and emails immediately after each blast.

I slowly demonstrated to the "aging baby boomer" that value of a web presence. That he did not need to SELL a product on the web in order to have a web presence. I gave him statistics of how many shoppers do their research online and then buy offline. I built a case around other successful businesses and how they were managing their online marketing campaigns. I emailed him and his staff weekly giving them the results of their web analytics. And met with him montly to explain what exactly I was talking about when I said "analytics".

I persuaded him to spend a small amount of money on a Google Adwords campaign and a few other online advertising programs. Through various tests, we determined that the Google Adwords search ads worked best for his business. We created multiple ads that rotated based on their performance. We limited the hours that the ads were displayed because we wanted to capture people to phone or email during business hours.

As things progressed, I started the Artun Travel blog. Next step, we moved onto Facebook, we built a Facebook "Fan Page" where we encouraged our "fans" to upload their travel photos and share their travel experiences. Then we started to Tweet. This last phase of building a web presence started in late March of '09. We continue to build daily as we grow an understanding of how to best utilize these platforms and convert "fans" and tweeters into clients.

Our social media presence has developed a growing client base and helped in exchanging links with other bloggers and non-competing travel sites. Through our new web site and web presence, we have developed multiple travel partners in Turkey, the Middle and Far East. The agency's travel inquiries driven by the website has grown by 20% over the last six months.

For me, as a marketer, I recently made a connection with a Social Media firm in Turkey who specializes in online web strategy for travel clients. This agency builds applications, they blog on behalf of their clients, build facebook pages, etc.

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