Posted earlier this week about British Airlines putting online all of their in-flight mag content (Highlife). Post and comments produced a response from the Reactive (the developers of the BAHighlife site). Paraphrasing it said - "thanks for the suggestions, we are working on those ideas for phase 2" (full text here).
I am glad that BA are listening and am thrilled to receive the response from Reactive. But I still worry that the approach is that community, sharing and booking are "new features" to be added later rather than the core of the strategy. The difference in thinking is whether or not the strategy is to
"use content to drive traffic, generate revenue and then build features on top"
"use content to build community, build brand and link all elements to the customer experience"
In the first you measure success through the eyeballs generated and revenue gained through ad sales. In the second you measure success through the engagement of customers, time spent on site and the ultimate bookings revenue. I get the strong sense that BA in the Highlife online project is falling for the allure of the first rather than the long term customer ownership benefit of the second.
Don't get me wrong there is a lot of (good) money to be made off eyeballs. Media companies have been making billionaires off eyeballs for decades. In Travel there are also fortunes to be made from eyeballs as I have talked about here and here. But if you are chasing eyeballs then you are a no ifs, no buts, media business. Travel suppliers and (to a lesser extent) travel intermediaries need to think very carefully about turning to the media business as a business plan. Sure there is money in eyeballs and ad sales but the main aim of a travel company is to sell travel. The best way to use content to sell travel to punters is to draw the consumer in and keep them in. Don't send them to someone else, don't let them search for some other way to book or purchase, don't let them think about an alternative. Instead the travel retailer needs to live and breath drawing the consumer into the brand, the idea and the desire to search, to engage with you and to give you (the travel seller) their money.
BA should be thinking about BAhighlife.com not as a content/media business that needs community features but as a customer engagement tools that will lead with engagement and a drive for planning and booking (with some ad revenue on the side).
What do you think? Should travel retail companies and suppliers be creating media only business with their content or using their content to drive brand and bookings?