Marketing Updates and News for Advisors From Crystal's 2019 Sales Gala

Kari Tarnowski, vice president of marketing, Crystal Cruises, talk to top producing travel advisors about what's new in Crystal's marketing plans for this year and beyond. (Photo by Susan J Young)

"We're simplifying, amplifying and accelerating," is how Kari Tarnowski, vice president of marketing, Crystal Cruises, characterized the ultra-luxury line's marketing strategy during a robust presentation to advisors this year at the 2019 Crystal Sales Gala in Europe late last week. 

Joining Crystal 18 months ago, Tarnowski was attending her second gala, an annual program for the line's top producing, elite advisors. This year's gala was on Crystal Serenity's Barcelona-to-Dover, U.K., voyage.

The 56 trade partners qualifying to attend the gala represented $136 million in 2018 revenue to Crystal, with each posting at least $1 million in annual revenue. For all travel advisors who sell luxury cruise products, here's a roundup from the luxury line's marketing presentation. 

Marketing Strategy

Crystal’s top marketing goals? Tarnowski told the advisors that Crystal seeks a greater voice in the marketplace to further its goals and brand awareness and “own the category.” It also desires to encourage brand advocacy with both travel partners and customers, as well as to increase the frequency of bookings, to increase the average value per transaction and to find new customers.  

“One of these goals that we’re constantly looking at is to make sure we’re constantly increasing our occupancy, hitting our occupancy goals, increasing yield and lowering our acquisition costs…maybe not all at one time, but it’s something that we’re looking at – driving momentum and increasing the value of those transactions,” Tarnowski said.

A big part of the strategy is to integrate Crystal's online and offline presence and, as she puts it: “Be bold, keep it simple, be consistent, be data driven and market to fill…and don’t stop," as there is usually some attrition. In other words, she said: "We market to fill and we spend smarter."

Direct Mail Push

Just like Mark Twain, the reports of direct mail’s death have been greatly exaggerated, Tarnowski said: “Every time we send a piece in the mail, the phone rings...It’s something I hear time and time again.”

In Crystal's demographic, that tangible piece of paper, that direct mail piece, is what tells the brand's story and what the potential guest needs to connect initially to their travel agent or the cruise line. The good news is that travel advisors can expect Crystal to do more direct mail this year.

For example, “we’ve increased the frequency of our mail drops,” she added. That makes more pieces available to the trade for customization and fulfillment, too. Those aren't just large brochures. This year and next, Crystal will concentrate on specific regions, time of the year, lead dates and specific promotions. ”This will allow us to increase our co-op mailings with you,” Tarnowski told the travel advisors.  

Tarnowski revealed a chart showing how the flow/schedule of direct mail has changed over the past three years. Previously, “a lot would go out and then there would be a lull,” and then that process would repeat. But last year, the line tried to keep the flow of the pieces “consistent throughout the year."

This year, that more sustained pattern is amplified just a bit, “but we’re following in the same course of action," she said.

Data Driven Strategy

Noting she was a big fan of the late Peter Drucker – an influential “thinker” and prolific author on management topics – Tarnowski cited one of his gleanings: “The aim of marketing is to know the customer so well the product or service fits him [her] and sells itself.”

“This is the ultimate goal, sort of the Nirvana that we’re always striving for,” she told the advisors.

According to Tarnowski, the average Crystal customer age range is 55 years of age to 64 years of age, depending on the type of cruise experience (ocean, river, yacht or expedition), time of year and the length of cruise. Annual household income is $150,000 plus, but Crystal finds that a third of the households have an annual income of more than $200,000.

“We also find that some of them are retired and aren’t earning at the same level from an income standpoint, so we’ll look at assets and their home value,” she added. They’re single family homeowners, they’re college-educated and there are no children in their homes.

If they’re still working, or when they were working, they are or were in professional or managerial roles. They have a passport and have taken multiple trips over the past few years.

More Than Affluence

That said, Tarnowski said MMGY’s research-driven “Portrait of the American Traveler” from last year shows that 22 million American households fall into the affluent bucket but 11 percent of them have not taken a single vacation during the past year.

In fact, she stressed that only one third of affluent households actually are considered "luxury travelers," yet those people are avid travelers who will spend 70 percent more on travel than other affluent travelers.

Luxury travelers also spend more time traveling – taking nearly five vacations within 12 months, versus just three trips for affluent travelers. “And that’s because they prioritize experiences,” said Tarnowski. Three quarters of these luxury travelers focus on making memories rather than collecting stuff, and that’s much higher than the 57 percent level for affluent travelers.

During the survey, there was a question about how the consumer preferred to be contacted. “We found that nearly 100 percent of them do look at online display ads,” she said, adding that while they might not click on the ad or go to the website, they’ll see the ad if they’re targeted correctly and then they might do research about the product on their own, including going to the cruise line website.

“Ninety-five percent of them said they do prefer to be contacted by direct mail if they’re interested in a product or a service,” she said. “A little over 55 percent like a prospecting email, and again, they might not be clicking on the email [link] but they often pick up the phone and call someone, go on a website or talk to their travel advisor."

And about 30 percent like to be contacted via Facebook and also take information from Facebook, from their friends or even friends of friends on that social media site, which they consider "a referral."

Crystal is going after three different audiences. The first is a customer new to Crystal, but not necessarily new to cruising. The second is a frequent customer who sails on Crystal from time to time. The third is the Crystal loyalist.

But there's a twist to that third one. The line only considers a guest a true loyalist if they book and sail on their third Crystal cruise – not after the first or second cruise, “We don’t really consider them loyalists or until that third time,” she said, but once that happens, “we feel they’re with us.”

Marketing Tidbits

She then discussed enhancements in collateral. On a longer cruise if there’s a “Getaway” land program, the newly designed collateral now reflects not one lowest “from” fare but three "from" pricing tiers. For example, consumers will see  the “oceanview from,” “penthouse from” and “suites from” as lead-in pricing.

Separately, Tarnowski said that with the launch of the new “Luxury is Personal” brand campaign, "we’re starting to bring those elements [messaging from the campaign] into our direct mail pieces as well, so that we can be consistent across all channels.”

Another enhancement? Feedback from top travel advisors participating in the 2018 Sales Gala led to some enhancements on the “Spotlight with Carmen” e-mail sent every Wednesday to travel advisors.

“We now identify those direct mailings that we’ve sent within the past few weeks and there’s a link at the bottom where you can actually see the digital brochure and if you want to forward that on [to a client] or save it, you’re able to do that,” noted Tarnowski.

Coming soon as collateral pieces are the Yacht Atlas that covers the fourth quarter 2019, 2020 and 2021; the 2021-22 Crystal Endeavor Atlas; and the 2020-2021 River Atlas.  

New for 2020, Crystal also has a “30th Anniversary Collection,” which is 30 anniversary voyages across all experiences -- ocean, river, yacht and expedition; new collateral is now available.

“What is exciting is not only the anniversary celebrations and gifts like luggage tags that [guests] will receive, but we’re working very closely with our food and beverage and also our operations team to create the 30th Anniversary Cookbook, which will be given to all guests that sail on one of the anniversary sailings or the full World Cruise in 2020,” she said.

Also new to assist travel advisors in their discussions with clients is the “Top 10 Reasons to Sail” on each of the line’s experiences (ocean, river and yacht collateral available now) with a value comparison on the back; these were created based on feedback of Crystal stakeholders – both travel partners and guests. The expedition one will be introduced later this month.

Part of that, the line has decided to add the link to the appropriate Top 10 to the booking confirmation that the travel advisor receives and also the one the agent sends to the client. Tarnowski said “they have a quick reminder – right there on their confirmation – for those Top 10 reasons as it relates to the experience.”

She also briefly talked to the elite agents about SproutLoud, the customized marketing solution Crystal makes available to trade partners; it was introduced last year with the elite partner direct mail program. “But there’s so much more to it,” she said, and for 2019, the line is planning another series of training and new content, too.

“It can help you increase the number of consumer touch points you have,” she told the audience. But it also does more. Agent resources include multiple ads, including the new brand campaign ads, more than 35 flyers, digital banner ads, e-mails and so on, with editable areas for the name of the advisor, agency name, phone, email, logo and more.

“We also have ship to your door if you just want to have them create the ad and print it,” Tarnowski said. Also, she said that more than 143 travel agencies have created their own micro-sites with a personalized URL via SproutLoud.

Last year, Crystal had two direct mail campaigns that it allowed elite trade partners to participate in, and by the second mailing, 67 agencies were participating. “For 2019 we’ll be doubling our efforts,” said Tarnowski. “There are four mailings available…two have already dropped…and in July there will be a fourth quarter Caribbean and in September a new direct mail campaign for Europe."

The line also has a new portal for images, videos and other assets via Adobe DAM (digital asset management). Calling it much easier than what the line has had in the past, she said the line is happy to set up any sort of training or walk advisors through the process on the site.

Just launched within the last year are 12 videos. Plus, the line has a partnership with Chef Jon Ashton, “A Culinary Journey,” and there will be 12 more destination-focused videos with him by year’s end; eight are currently available. In addition, 19 Coffee Chats with Carmen are also available.

New Website

Debuting in December, Crystal now has a totally new website. It's a positive step as some agents complained about the old site at last year's trade gala.

As for the new site, Tarnowski said it provides seamless storytelling, is more user friendly, has more robust content, speaks to the system, has systems that work, is simple and is easier to navigate and is smart. When consumers come to the site, there’s a dynamic evolving globe that will allow the guest to pick a destination or just click “surprise me.”

New features include an intuitive voyage finder, as well as a new guest profile section. Guests looking at a voyage of interest can click on a small diamond to save the voyage to a wish list or they can also view upcoming booked voyages. Plus, consumers can access a Special Savings section with everything from Book Now Savings to Low Solo Fares, from Crystal Flex Fares to Best Available Suites Promotion, along with other options.

In the past, once a voyage had sailed, it disappeared from the website. Now, for about two months after the sailing, it will remain up – so agents who may have a client on a cruise can access the information, to find out what port destination the client is in at present. 

Crystal has added dynamic deck plans with deck-by-deck highlights to the website. Most notably, it’s added an interactive travel advisor search with a list and a map. “We believe it’s enticing users to contact a travel advisor to help with their travel plans.”

Also, anywhere on the website where there’s a “share” button, the consumer is able to share that with their travel advisor. There are share buttons on all voyage pages. Right now, Crystal is working on some more robust search functions.

Tarnowski also talked about advertising and noted that the new brand campaign will feature crew and Crystal Society members.

Stay tuned to for more updates from the 2019 Sales Gala. 

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