A set of essays on Digital Influence from Ogilvy Asia have just been added to Warc. Below is one example written by Joelynn Chin of OgilvyOne Worldwide, Malaysia. For more essays, see the following on warc.com:

Putting a ring on it, using digital influence to win the hearts of teens - Caryl Heah
If you really want to exert influence then simply joining the social media party isn't enough - Nicholas Licence
Digital influence - Sam North with Brian Giesen

Around The World In 80 Clicks: How to influence travellers in a digital environment by Joelynn Chin

"Oh… the Royal Palace is closed today. Under repair," says the helpful tuk-tuk driver. "Have you visited the international gem exhibition?" he suggests. While you may have fallen for that famous trick 10 years ago, today you would have been forewarned by fellow travellers from the online community.

The story here is not about a scam averted, but how digital technology and communications are influencing the traveller's behaviour.

DoubleClick's1 survey five years ago found that 73% of people search online before they purchase travel services. While more recent data are not available, a local dipstick survey supports this finding, with 75% of respondents2 choosing 'online' as their main source of travel information.
main source of travel information

Their online activities include:

  • Making searches and enquiries.
  • Booking accommodation and flights.
  • Checking out maps and directions.
  • Searching for more info on travel forums.
  • Reading reviews and comments from other travellers.
  • Leveraging on network of friends (e.g. via Facebook) for recommendations on where to stay, places to go, etc.

None of the respondents chose 'travel agent' as their main source of information (except for group tours). Before, there was much dependence on travel agents for recommendations and arrangements. With the Internet, it is now easier for travellers to look up information, compare prices (Tablethotels, HostelBookers), make decisions with the help of reviews (TripAdvisor, Hostelworld), and even find the best deals (Wego, lastminute).

Given that they are constantly looking for the best deals, search engine marketing is a good channel to reach travellers. Seventy-eight percent of travel transactions involve search, with most people starting their holiday research three months before. According to Google UK and comScore3, consumers in the UK take nearly a month to go from their first search to making a purchase. On average, they make 12 travel-related searches and visit 22 websites.

Opportunities in search

The time these consumers spend online presents a prolonged opportunity for advertisers to reach and influence consumers while they search for information. Interestingly, 54% of online travel buyers start their shopping process with a generic product or destination search term, and 10% did not use branded terms at all throughout the process. Over one-third of travel buyers use a generic term as the last search before they purchase.3

According to Google, queries with search terms such as 'cheap' and 'discount' grew almost 30% year-on-year. Consumers change the type of keywords used as they move along the path to purchase. So, in a crowded marketplace, advertisers don't have to be a big player with a recognised brand name to stand out and influence the buyer's purchase, right up to the last minute.

"I rely less on guidebooks nowadays because I find the info on TripAdvisor, for example, is more honest and accurate."

Lim Wee Ling, 30

Trust and the travel advertiser

Online search would inadvertently lead the consumer to connect with travel communities as he seeks to make informed decisions. Sites such as TripAdvisor and Hostelworld have a heavy user-support, who contributes reviews, ratings and travel tips.

With consumers finding reviews from other consumers more credible than professional reviews, consumer reviews have become a critical source on travel information. TripAdvisor has emerged the undisputed leader in the online travel category by providing its members with comprehensive and honest travel information on hotels, restaurants and places of attraction. With seven million members and 25 million unique monthly visitors, it is the largest travel community in the world.

With so much user activity online, is there room for advertisers? According to Forrester Research Inc. and Intelliseek, recommendations from consumers generate the highest level of trust (over 80%) compared to brand websites (about 70%), mailing list emails (about 60%) search engine ads (about 30%) and online banner ads (less than 10%).

User-generated content influences more than $10 billion a year in online travel4. TripAdvisor offers advertisers space on its real estate, such as text and content links, photos, destination videos and even maps. So if a visitor is looking for Café Clock amidst the labyrinth of 9,300 alleys in the old city of Fez in Morocco, he could find out that it's 200m from the Bab Boujloud Gate, immediately after the butchers' stall on Talaa Kabira, near the water clock and thereafter, deep inside Derb el Magana.

"Every dollar spent online can be tracked in terms of ROI and brand mention. Online communications also allow immediate insights into a campaign's success – whether it is well received or not, based on click through rate, response rate and mentions on social media channels. "

Karen Chan
Head of Interactive Marketing, AirAsia

Flying high with digital wings

In Malaysia, no other brand demonstrates the comprehensive use of digital influence better than AirAsia, the region's leading budget airline and our homegrown darling. It is the first airline in Asia to implement an online, ticketless booking system. Ninety percent of its business takes place online, but the airline is more than just www.airasia.com.

The key breakthrough in AirAsia's digital processes is the integration of digital in its marketing mix. AirAsia has an Interactive Marketing department that covers Web, Social Media, Search Engine Marketing and Online Marketing. It works hand in hand with other departments, especially Commercial, Communication and Branding, to acquire and retain customers online.

"When we decided to leverage on social media, we were aware of all the 'challenges' to our brand. There will be people who love our brand, but there will be some who don't. What's important is that people can love or hate a brand, but they should not feel indifferent about the brand. Because when they are indifferent, they stop caring and will opt for other brands."

Azran Osman-Rani
CEO, AirAsia X

To stay in touch with its customers, AirAsia uses Facebook (over 125,000 fans), Twitter (18,000 followers @AirAsiaDotCom) and blogs. When AirAsia became the first airline in the world to cross over the 100,000 Facebook fans mark, it rewarded them with a 20% discount on all destinations. Fans of AirAsia can also subscribe to its RedA!ert e-newsletter, which informs them about AirAsia's promotion prices before everyone else.

Going digital has also opened up a very cost-effective channel for AirAsia's Customer Service. For example, when a customer's problem is solved on social media, it also helps customers facing similar issues.

Even negative comments posted online can be turned around to its advantage. Popular local blogger Kenny Sia once complained about the quality of AirAsia's food on his blog. His followers caught onto the story, which resulted in almost 20 pages of negative comments on AirAsia.

A week later, AirAsia contacted Kenny and invited him to the launch of its new in-flight menu. Kenny was very impressed with the food and even got to meet Tony Fernandes, AirAsia's CEO and group founder. He blogged about his great experience and this time, his readers responded with almost 30 pages of mostly positive comments.

Jeff Zweig of Web Guru Asia points out that this is a great example of how a brand can leverage the blogosphere even without running it. Anyone can use a free and easy tool like Google Alerts to track by keyword what is said on the Internet about their brand, company and services.

As demonstrated by Kenny's experience, Kenny and his followers did all the work. All AirAsia had to do was invite him to the launch event that was already planned. And because Google is very supportive of blogs, Google search engine results gave Kenny's blog and AirAsia even more exposure. With Kenny's readers linking his posts on their own blogs and Facebook pages, the snowball effect is simply enormous.5

And while other businesses have to solicit for testimonials, AirAsia lets its happy customers do all the talking and selling on its blog (blog.airasia.com). It also listens to them. Based on popular demand, AirAsia has opened up new routes to London, Melbourne, Taipei, India and Beijing.

The airline even encourages its staff to blog their Just Plane Thoughts on its blogsite. So instead of one spokesperson, AirAsia is able to count on its thousands of employees to acts as its brand ambassadors.

Key learnings

What drives travellers online:

  • Access to a reservoir of information.
  • The ability to compare options, prices, schedules, etc.
  • Honest comments and recommendations from fellow travellers.
  • Direct communication channels to service providers and the chance to be heard by them.

Online engagement for travel businesses

Search is not new. But it presents equal opportunities to smaller players as most travel buyers use generic search terms.

You can start small (DIY social media) or go all the way with a full-blown digital marketing strategy.

Opinions of others count a lot. Introduce your business to online travel communities and make your presence felt.

Social media harnesses the power of conversation. Transparency and honesty are vital to its success. While the pen is mightier than the sword, the click of a mouse can send a more far-reaching influence in the digital world.

Digital is 'instant'. Consider 'flash sales and promotions' via Facebook and Twitter to generate sales, acquire customers, create a following and retain loyalty.


  1. Search before purchase – Feb 2005. This survey covered six Asian countries.
  2. Each goes on an average of three trips a year, for pleasure, both independently and with tour groups. Their ages range from 20s right up to 60s.
  3. From the article "Insights from the Online Travel Purchase Path" on www.hotelmarketing.com, 11 Jan 2008.
  4. Compete Consumer Generated Content in Travel Study
  5. Jeff Zweig of Web Guru Asia in his article "Tony Fernandes Read My Blog" on www.marketing-interactive.com