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When it comes to marketing and sales, data, data, data—and a bit of art, too

From left, Princess's Gordon Ho, Norwegian's Nathan Hickman, moderator Lin Humphrey, MSC's Ken Muskat and Neustar's Kristin Rosmorduc (Photo: Anne Kalosh)
While cruise lines are using technology in more sophisticated ways than ever to target and market to customers, there are still plenty of challenges to getting it right.

So said executives on a Seatrade Cruise Global marketing, sales and distribution panel, which also delved into brand differentiation, inclusive pricing and the role of travel agents.

'Most marketers can only identify 30% of their customers and prospects across channels,' Kristin Rosmorduc, vp market development, travel and hospitality for Neustar, a data company, said during the Thursday session.

At a time when many people use multiple devices and multiple email addresses, finding customers online is complex.

Among its data points Neustar has more than 300m cookies, 500m phone numbers and every name and address in the US. Rosmorduc's company backs these to a persistent identification and can amend more than 15,000 attributes to media.

'If you don't recognize your customers, we can help you recognize them. If they don't convert, we can help you remarket,' Rosmorduc told the session.

'For us, it's data, data, data,' said Gordon Ho, svp global marketing and North American sales, Princess Cruises.

Nathan Hickman, vp field sales and national accounts, Norwegian Cruise Line, advocated a holistic approach. 'Data are important, but there's a little bit of art there, too,' he said.

'The art in it is the expertise,' added Rosmorduc. That's where cruise agents come in—they ensure matching the customer to the right product.

Panelists said search retargeting—which session moderator Dr. Lin Humphrey, a marketing professor, boiled down to 'when Zappos (an online shoe seller) follows you around'—needs to get more precise.

And Ho noted there's a danger in following people too much. Sellers can turn off customers if they're hitting them too often.

Tracking results is a must.

'You have to show ROI (return on investment). Marketing is the efficient and data-proven way for applying your resources to maximize ROI,' Ho said.

Both Norwegian's Hickman and Ken Muskat, evp sales, public relations and guest services for MSC Cruises USA, pointed to the continued importance of agents. Their respective lines have significantly expanded field sales teams to support retailers.

Muskat cited research by Peter Yesawich, vice chairman of MMGY Global, who addressed Seatrade Cruise Global's opening 'State of the Global Cruise Industry' session.

'Travel agents are here to stay. Millennials show us they like to have inside information from someone who knows,' Muskat said. Twenty-four percent have used an agent in the last 12 months, 70% said agents were influential and 27% plan to use agents in the future.

A few years ago agents weren't the most technologically savvy group, but that's changing, Muskat said, partly thanks to the training lines like MSC do.

Cruise Lines International Association's shift to allowing individual agent members, instead of just agencies, may help CLIA and its member lines to learn about each agent's specializations. That could lead to targeted training and messaging in future, said Muskat, who chairs CLIA's Trade Relations Committee.

On brand differentiation, the panelists' lines clearly stand apart, with Princess focused on expanding globally, particularly in China, and a 'Come back new' message that entices the actively curious and those who seek joyful, rejuvenating experiences. Norwegian is chipping away at reasons people don't cruise—fear of confinement and regimentation, having to dress up—with a message of freedom, choice and flexibility in its 'Feel free' branding. And MSC is a global line with a Mediterranean heritage that emphasizes sophistication and authenticity, whether that's olive oils or opera on board.

When Humphrey asked what panelists have learned from bundling pricing, Muskat said there hasn't been any downside.

'People are looking for more inclusive experiences. It's a way for us to help consumers and travel agents to understand the product,' he added. For example, an agent with a budget-driven client can offer MSC's 'Bella' pricing category, which gives the lowest fare with the option to add services a la carte.

'Including Wi-Fi or drinks enhances [cruisers'] on-board experience because they're getting something free,' Hickman said.

The most popular choice of Norwegian's four 'Free at Sea' offers?

The drinks.