A Travel Marketer’s Guide to Programmatic Display

Learn how programmatic display works and what makes it so successful.

Christy Jobman
November 23, 2020

You’re browsing online and found a pair of shoes you have to have. But the phone rings, or your children need help with their virtual school, and you forget to make the purchase. However, for the next few days, those shoes pop up in the banner ads of other websites as you catch up on the news, or check out Instagram. This is called retargeting, and is just one way that programmatic display advertising works.

How did we get here?

To understand programmatic display, let’s first look at how advertising worked before. Advertisers would purchase space in magazines, newspapers, brochures, and other places where they thought their customer would be. It was difficult to track who saw your ads or whether your ads had any impact.

Then, as the internet increasingly moved into consumer’s homes, you’d buy an ad on Yahoo! Travel, for example, and again, hope that the user was interested in your destination. This still wasn’t very accurate, and you continued to be unsure of how your advertising affected potential guests.

Programmatic advertising is one of the most effective ways to reach your traveler at the right time with the right message. Travel marketers are now able to accurately measure the ROI of their advertising.

So, how does programmatic advertising work?

First, you need to identify your target audience and your goal. Working with an advertising partner, they’ll set up targeting for your ideal audience and you can share your creatives or your partner can create them for you. Then, your partner can use real-time information to “bid” for website banner placements on your behalf. How interested the user is in your product, or the number of competing advertisers, to name a few, affects how much you pay to place the ad and “win” the auction for that user.

After the auction is won, the creatives are placed, all happening within mere seconds. You eliminate the guesswork with programmatic advertising–you’re bidding on ad space where you know your customers are organically browsing online.

Not only are you advertising to customers where they are, but programmatic display allows you to optimize in real-time, 24/7, to best meet your campaign goals. As a consumer, you see these ads daily when you’re online. Be it a standard display ad on desktop, a video ad on mobile, a native ad (sponsored content that blends in seamlessly within the page you’re viewing), or others, you’re constantly influenced by programmatic ads.

How does Sojern run programmatic display?

A traveler searches for a flight on American Airlines, one of Sojern’s global data partners. This consented information is passed back to Sojern, allowing us to receive this search data in real-time. Using this consented, non-personally identifiable information, Sojern is able to understand that the traveler is interested in your destination, and perhaps has even searched for your offering (or type of offering) before. Thus, they make an excellent audience for your advertisements, and Sojern serves them your messaging as that traveler browses the web.

Prospecting vs Retargeting  

Programmatic advertising utilizes both prospecting and retargeting tactics for optimal success. With prospecting, you’re getting your ads in front of new customers that haven’t engaged with your brand before.

Let’s use Best Western as an example. A traveler that fits Best Western’s audience visits Sojern’s data partner site (for example, booking a flight on American Airlines). Sojern immediately receives this data. The traveler does not book a hotel, but continues over to Travel + Leisure to dream about what to do on their trip. On travelandleisure.com, Sojern bids on ad space to serve this traveler an ad for a Best Western property. The traveler sees the ads and heads to bestwestern.com to find out more.

Check out Best Western McCarran Inn Achieves $19,542 in Direct Bookings in Just Four Months, with Sojern to learn more.  

But you shouldn’t stop there–98% of visitors won’t convert on their first site visit. Retargeting is typically what brings them back to complete a booking. Retargeting users who have engaged with your ads or visited your website is the best way to get in front of highly qualified leads.

Let’s use Blue Hawaiian Helicopters as an example. A visitor lands on Blue Hawaiian Helicopters’ website and doesn’t convert. Later, the visitor surfs other sites. Sojern sees these actions and serves them a Blue Hawaiian Helicopters ad. Reengaged with a relevant offer, the visitor goes back to the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters’ website and books a trip for two.

Check out Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Sojern Partner to Drive an 8X ROI While Scaling Spend to learn more.

What are the benefits of programmatic display?  

  • Captivate your potential customers, especially when testing new ideas like HTML5 (animated ads) over static ads.
  • Drive direct bookings and deliver awareness and loyalty.
  • Re-engage travelers who visited your site or interacted with an ad. Remember, only 2% of visitors convert on their first site visit.
  • Large selection of ad creatives to engage at every stage of the funnel, from dream to booking.

How is success measured?

At the end of the day, we find the most important thing for travel marketers is to drive direct bookings or brand awareness. The gamut of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you might use to get you there can vary based on your specific campaign needs. Some of these terms may sound familiar, for example, you may measure success based on a Cost Per Action (CPA) or paying for the action someone completes, be it downloading a white paper, filling out the contact us form, making a booking, or whatever else you deem valuable to help you meet your goals.

You may opt for a Click-Through Rate (CTR) KPI which is measuring campaign success on the number of clicks your ad sees. The average CTR for programmatic display is around .1%. We also like to remind travel marketers how important View-Through attribution can be. Think of this model as the “billboard effect”. Recall a time you were driving down the interstate and you see a billboard with your favorite dish. You weren’t craving it, but you find yourself in the parking lot of that restaurant three days later to try it. You didn’t go right away, but you did go within a short enough time frame that we can agree the billboard influenced you.

The same goes for programmatic display and marketing to travelers. For example, a traveler books a hotel room in Albuquerque. Later, they receive an ad for a hot air balloon ride attraction in Albuquerque. The traveler is busy working and is unable to click through to the ad and complete the booking but stores that information away. Days later, they go to the attraction’s website to book reservations directly. They were influenced by seeing the ad.

You can measure success purely on Return on Investment (ROI), time spent on site, page views, completed video views, and more. Whatever your KPI, keep your bottom line and goals in mind.

Check out the Introduction to Programmatic Display for Travel Marketing presentation to get a look at the types of ads you can implement and best practices for your ad creatives.

Want to listen, not read? We’ve got a Programmatic Display 101 webinar that goes through all of this in detail.

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