Travora Emphasizes ‘Premium’ Placements, But Ad Net Roots Remain

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A year after the Travel Ad Network rebranded itself as Travora Media, the company is attempting to cement its new image as a content company with the launch of a guide to major cities and destinations around the globe.

The guide, which operates separately under the Travora.com domain, features staff writers producing original work, and blogging focusing on travel information and lifestyle trends. While the company has worked to build up the content side, travel news site Skift reported last week that Travora Media was laying off seven staffers in its marketing and sales as part of a “reallocation” of resources, which includes the release of a new mobile app.

Still, the company does represent a network of 300 sites from 90 publishers. So the old ad network model remains present, right? To hear Nan-Kristen Forte, who was brought in over a year ago from Web MD to manage the rebranding, tell it, the reason the “ad net” tag no longer applies is because there is less focus on selling direct response, remnant inventory in favor of more “premium” brand awareness campaigns and sponsorships.

AdExchanger: How is Travora no longer a “travel ad network?”

NAN-KRISTEN FORTE: Since I arrived in September 2011, we’ve shifted from being focused on display and inventory solutions for publishers to expanding our ability to compete in more of the premium advertising. Over the past few months, Travora has branched out and added more products that were initially focused on the beta products, and on what I would call more evolved forms of ad inventory and placement opportunities, as opposed to the basic “ad network scatter approach.”

That started with the decision to acquire and build owned-and-operated properties within the network. With our own brands, we could attract more premium advertisers, attract a wider variety of brand both endemic to travel and non-endemic. We were also able to have our own lab that we could do all of our new product testing on. At the same time, the plan is to design user experiences that didn’t compete with the publishers in our network. We’re looking for ways to fill gaps between our owned-and-operated and the publishers we represent. And that’s a little more complex than the traditional ad net model.

Apart from promising content quality and differentiation, what’s the appeal to premium advertisers and sponsors?

We’ve been around since mid-2000 and since then, we’ve developed the ability to understand travel publishers and marketers, whether they be commerce focused, and booking focused, or informational focused around the travel cycle. Understanding that in advance allows us to work with a range of major advertisers.

The Travora.com and Travora Mobile Resources goal became not just an O-and-O strategy, like Glam Media’s approach to fashion and lifestyle media. Rather, the focus is directly inspired from the information revolution in travel. It reflects how quickly all the resources have changed and all the things we need to know with today’s travelers. It moved from, “Gee, we need some properties that we own and operate,” to, “Oh my goodness, there really isn’t a travel portal out there that really feeds all of our needs as consumers.” That became the entire mission and genesis of Travora.com. Creating a way to make the travel information experience more enlightening and more efficient to the consumer attracts more enlightened advertisers. It comes back to what I thought when I first got here. I really started looking at things as a consumer and a business person who had entered a travel information arena.

So what was missing that Travora is addressing?

When I really started looking at everything that was out there, it felt to me like a sort of mental death by a thousand flight widgets -- a consumer has no idea what the difference among any of them is after a while.

Travel advertising is replicated constantly. Half of all travel advertising is being paid to connect people to the booking engines to put “heads in beds,” and people on cruises. If you do that you get reimbursed in the traditional performance model. The other way is to have a beautiful site and smart, original content. With that, you get premium brands to come in and be very aspirational. So instead of simply putting heads in beds, we can appeal to travel and leisure marketers as well as jewelry and clothing advertisers.

Are you primarily aiming Travora at luxury lifestyle consumers and marketers? Is it primarily women?

Our target demographic is what we consider to be one of the most dynamic that you could ever see in a generation. We call them the “Mobile Millennial” and “Connected Boomsters.” The Mobile Millennial is that Generation Y – they’re younger, 18 to 35. Then you have the Connected Boomsters, that’s what I am.

What’s interesting about these two demographics, and I haven’t quite seen it in other industries ever in my lifetime, is that they have a shared set of values. Those values are around the tools and the resources they use to stay informed even though their budget and their income is different. You have a lot of brands today that have options at every level whether those are bank brands or automobile brands. When I say the word premium, I don’t mean brands that just have luxury campaigns. I mean brands that have a certain kind of travel style that appeal to the consciousness of these two generations.

Will you solely rely on direct sales? Is automated ad serving not a part of this new model?

We’re going for a blend of both display and what I would call targeted placements. There are three legs to our model. One is the display sales and the targeting, with the former relying on direct sales and the latter on search intent, travel intent, geographic intent. In the second leg, we have custom content, apps, social media marketing. It’s beyond display.

The third leg is about getting ourselves in a stronger position with regard to the demand side and the supply side stages. So that you can create very efficient reach and, at the same time, very premium offerings that surround the brand experience with efficient and qualified targeting. We believe that the modern day vertical media company has to be able to do all three of those things.

What about real-time bidding and programmatic buying? How do you approach the ad technology side of the business?

Our ability to look at the arbitrage, supply side, demand side, and events in real-time is another key facet of what we can do. And it goes back to our strength in reaching distinct audiences, particularly the Mobile Millennials and the Connected Boomsters.

This summer, we launched our Mobile Advertising Network for those on the Go – or, MANGO. Since then, we’ve reached 1.3 billion mobile pageviews, which is three times where we were less than six months ago. We also have 30 million unique users according to comScore. In 2013, we plan to introduce SANGO, which is a social media ad network, and a video ad network called VANGO. The teams want to change the names, but we’ll see.

Is there an e-commerce strategy that’s involved and what have you been trying to do there as that space evolves?

E-commerce reflects the gestalt of why we shifted direction. Think about it: You’re an ad network transforming yourself into a media company. You represent 300 publishers in your website. You know everything about their inventories. You want to be able to find a way to celebrate all of those publishers that you represent, and bring them to consumers in ways that make them relevant today. And that includes making it easy for consumers and marketers to connect directly.

At the moment, we just have standard affiliate agreements with Amazon and other marketers. We’ll have our own shopping experience, but right now we’re just learning what is going to interest people more. Is it going to be the gear or the clothing related to travel, such as jewelry or suitcases? Right now, the point is to find premium goods that reflect the advertising and content.

I think there is a connection between e-commerce and travel because of consumers’ time constraints, and because it’s very specific and convenient. In general, travel commerce is A) time sensitive and B) convenient; you don’t go have to go out of your way to a travel store. By creating it through the advertiser, we can connect our demographic targets. So while having an e-commerce option makes perfect sense, we want to make sure we get it right before diving in fully.

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