Think about the best vacation you've ever had. Then try to describe the experience out loud, as if you were talking to a friend. Do you start from the beginning? The end? Do you focus on a particular experience? Or describe the vacation as a whole?
It's tough, right?
Sometimes, there just aren't enough words to express the joy of traveling abroad for the first time. Or the right phrase to describe a beautiful beach or centuries-old landmark.
Sometimes, words can't express how you truly feel.
Now take a look at some photos of your favorite vacation. These images trigger emotions and memories far better than words can.
Now, that vacation is coming back to you, right? The smells, the tastes, the feelings of happiness...
This is why visuals are so important in travel marketing. They showcase experiences. They remind you of the people you spent time with. They take you back in time.
What Is A Visual Marketing Strategy?
Visual marketing is the process of using visuals to communicate travel experiences to travelers. These visuals might include:
A visual marketing strategy combines the three main kinds of visual content owned media (stock photos, for example), earned media (user-generated content, or UGC) and paid visuals (visuals that are created by influencers) to better influence potential travelers.
Why Do You Need A Visual Marketing Strategy?
Research suggests that visuals are much more effective than chunks of text. Humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. And 65 percent of the population are visual learners. This means they are more likely to remember visual content than anything else.
Social photos from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are particularly influential: 75% of Instagram users take action, such as visiting a website, after viewing an Instagram ad.
Every day, we watch companies “throw visuals at the wall” to see what sticks. They’re not sure which visuals to use, or which ones will work, and why. If you want to make repeatable and predictable waves with your company’s content, you can’t treat visuals as an afterthought.
How Can A Visual Marketing Strategy Fit Into Your Existing Marketing Strategy?
Rather than thinking as your visual marketing as a separate entity, consider it an essential part of your content marketing strategy, SEO strategy, and social media/PR strategy. In fact, revisiting your visual marketing strategy can help you better engage prospective travelers by bolstering your visual influence.
The key is finding the right type of visual for the right channel, both online and off, and stage in your marketing funnel. If you want more control over your visuals (think portraits or shots of your hotel or resort property), stock and professional imagery might work better. If you want a constant influx of authentic imagery to use on your social channels, UGC is the perfect fit. The key is finding the right balance to support your needs.
Now, let's explore how you can put your visuals to work across channels.
How to Improve Your Visual Marketing Strategy Online
Follow these steps for more engagement, conversions, and bookings from your digital channels.
Featuring both earned and owned content on your website is great for engagement. In fact, there's nothing better.
Owned visuals, in particular, let you post aspirational content where you need more control over your end product.
Earned visuals, like UGC, on the other hand, communicate all the travel activities you want to showcase to travelers. Target visual galleries, for example, boost authenticity and social proof.
A website gallery showcasing UGC photos.
Research shows that UGC is the most effective strategy for travel and tourism brands like yours. Around 85 percent of customers find UGC more influential than brand-created content.
But how do you use it? You could add more UGC to your social channels by reposting guest photos. (Just get permission first!) These images build customer relationships and create engaging brand stories that your followers will love.
When reposting content, Ferrari credits the original photographer on their social media account.
Travelers tend to ignore traditional ads, so focus on sponsored content on your digital channels instead. This should be as authentic as all the other content in people's feeds.
A recent digital campaign from Visit Indy proves that digital ads are lucrative. The organization generated three times higher click-through rates when they switched from stock ads to UGC video ads.
You can commission a video if you require a specific narrative.
Visit Indy only serves content in its social and display ads that incorporate user-generated content.
UGC on display screens is a great way to showcase destinations and properties, too. You can use in-house slideshows that highlight different visuals that people are talking about.
These display screens also encourage travelers to create their own content and share photos on their social channels.
Owned visuals, on the other hand, are useful if you want more control over your end product. Use an interview or scripted video to achieve this goal.
An example of a large digital display screen in Visit Zurich’s main tourist info center, which is located in their largest railway station.
Want to use visuals in your emails? UGC highlights seasonal campaigns and builds excitement around events. You can also host contests, like "Best Photo of the Week."
You can also incorporate owned imagery in your emails, such as eye-catching header images to capture attention.
All the visuals are bright, interesting, and show off the many sides of Austin’s charm in Visit Austin’s email newsletter.
How to Improve Your Visual Marketing Strategy Offline
Follow these steps to increase engagement and sales on your offline channels.
Travel marketers often use owned content for high-resolution images that look great in print ads. However, UGC images look just as good in print, especially if you want to create a more authentic feel.
UGC images in print ads will showcase your travel brand's personality more effectively than stock images and help you target your demographics.
When Loews Hotels ran their #TravelForReal campaign a few years ago, they used UGC to power an entire marketing campaign. They turned individual photos into ads and created a microsite to display guest photos.
Visitor Guides, Brochures, and Magazines
You can use both owned and UGC content in these print publications.
Owned content works best for editorial features — portrait shots for interviews, for example.
UGC content helps you highlight niche activities, tours, and events that you might have difficulty producing visuals for. UGC will keep your offline content fresh and engaging!
Visit Saint Paul’s created this 80+ page insider’s guide filled with advice provided by actual residents who are passionate about their city.
Travel marketers tend to use owned visuals for on-site signage. However, you can use UGC to create photo-op spots. UGC is also great for featuring live content and promoting social media hashtags.
Visit Frisco purchased #iHeartFrisco “sculptures”, which are located throughout the city. These have created several photo ops for the #iHeartFrisco message to continue to be shared and for the destination to create more user-generated content.
Out-of-home (OOH) ads work best with owned imagery. This is because OOH ads usually cover large spaces like billboards, and high-resolution visuals are crucial.
However, you can use UGC for smaller real-estate, such as airport and mass transit posters.
Visit Jacksonville found and requested rights to this photo and loved it so much that they reached out to the user to get a high-res original. They then turned it into a window wrap for their Visitor Center.
Marketers are in a powerful position to set the customers’ expectations and frame the experience they are about to have on their travels. Remember that the visuals you choose, particularly those supported by UGC, can set the stage for an unrivaled, unmatched, incomparable experience.
Looking to learn more about the role of visual content in your marketing? Register for our popular Visual Marketing Masterclass: A 3-Week Email Course for Travel & Tourism Marketers.