Are Transactional Brands Ready To Take Control Of Their Data?

The Data“Hey! That data is valuable – we want it back!”

The recent blow-up between American Airlines and Orbitz may be the beginning of a larger trend as aggregators fight to keep participants in line and provide value for their co-operative (the airlines) and the consumer.

In case you haven’t been keeping score at home, the crib notes look like this: American Airlines appears to be coming to the conclusion that the cost of staying with online travel agency (OTA) Orbitz is far greater than they originally thought and war has broken out into the open around reservation systems.   Very simply (get details here), Orbitz, sees American’s terms as onerous (“we’re not gonna make any money!”) and has gone so far as to remove American from its listings while the battle rages. Fellow-OTA’er Expedia, eyeballing the beginning of the end of its existence if American gets its way, quickly booted American from its site, too, in hopes of putting a “hurt” on the airline. Trade publication Travel Agent Central writes, “This is nothing less than a battle for control of airfare search results.”

Game on! And, the winner gets a big, fat trove of data.

It appears that brands whose transactional business has always fit well with electronic commerce – and originally looked to others for solutions – are taking a closer look at the value and data they lose when selling inventory through aggregators. Sounds familiar.

Do you sell direct or use an ad network?

There are a few important distinctions between the ad network world and the airline business though – not the least of which is that airline seats of Orbitz, Expedia and the rest are a futures market, ad networks/DSPs/etc. are today in the business of the spot or just-in-time market.

Airlines may not even be conscious of it, but they are sniffing around the data pile  and figuring that they stand to gain more with the consumer directly.  Thinking of it from a simple retargeting perspective: they can make the same deals with hotels, car rental companies, local restaurants and retarget consumers as Orbitz can -let alone upsell their own services. I would guess they will initially not to be able to do it with the same efficiency of an Orbitz and its brethren can do today.  But, solutions are either already in-market or will come along to help them go it alone –sans aggregator- as commoditization takes a step back.

Ironically, some of those solutions could end up being today’s ad networks and demand-side platforms.   I smell an exit!  Go direct, young DSP (or ad network). Hey, it could be sell-side platform, too, as they increasingly build their buy-side capabilities to siphon spend into their supply.

Leverage My Data, Please

And though I can hear some airline CMOs and others involved in highly transactional e-Commerce businesses choking on their caesar’s salad when listening to the following, they could get in a whole bunch of businesses by having an e-marketing technology company in-house.

Data generated from the purchase of tickets – or even visiting a website with registration hooks – will inform beyond travel intent. And, with first-party data appended, things get very interesting.

As always, the key for these companies who truly want to knock it out of the park and leverage the power of their data will be finding a way to partner with consumers and provide them significant value.  Continued success depends on shiny, gold-plated brands that stand for trust. Airlines need consumers coming back to buy tickets.

With leaner and meaner airlines, selling direct could decrease the number of travelers for a carrier as reach is impacted negatively, but the bottom line could go up as revenue per traveler increases and data’s potential is fully realized.

For transactional brands, it’s time to put up walls, but stay connected.

By John Ebbert

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1 Comment

  1. Peter Norvig, Google’s Director of Research, makes a good point in one of his presentations that the amount of data matters more than sophisticated algorithm.

    Google is aiming for information dominance in the ad market. From creative optimization to conversions, they track everything. Norvig’s thinking about the unreasonable effectiveness of large data is the underlying insight that explains their whole strategy.

    So – American Airlines? Assuming they could build a world-class team and catch up with Orbitz’s lead, they would still have a hard time competing because they have much less data.

    Data aggregation has value. Just ask the banks if they could do credit scores themselves. They’ll never do those in-house, even though they have analytics/BI teams.

    Hopefully the ad market learns to share the benefits of data instead of putting walls up.