Of Desire: An Interview with Brad King of Sojern

Brad King is the VP of sales at Sojern, a data-driven advertising platform informing clients such as Samsung, Emirates, and Hertz.

In travel, bringing a desire to life is more a science than it is an art. Because no one is exempt from the desire for the pleasurable unfamiliar, its gratification is practically guaranteed: the value of the trip measured in the fact that it happened at all.

Consequently, we’re more flexible. We’re better with compromises. Driven more by our appetite than the object of desire itself, we don’t always end up with what we intended. To reconcile the two, we explore the space between our farflung fantasies and logistics-boggled reality.

What are some things you’ve found out about what people want within the travel industry and economy that might be surprising?

When we see the desire of wanting to do something – the pure act of having that desire – we think that manifests a little in intent. That’s where we come in. We’re able to see what consumers search for in relation to travel, and how that progresses over time; sometimes even understanding what they end up doing [and] what they’ve started doing are two different things.

There’s a concept in travel where consumers start with awareness, [followed by] consideration. A lot of that is driven by new markets or new possibilities. We see people start off with grand ideas of trips they want to take – longer trips to Europe from the US, or big family vacations – and what ends up happening is that reality sets in. Their minds are bigger than their pocket books in a lot of ways. The follow-through of people on what their initial desire is and what they actually do is quite different.

At the heart of it, the desire to travel often comes out of a thirst for newness and exploration – which are influenced by so many factors such as technology, politics, economy, culture, media. How has disruption in those factors affected travel?

There’s the augmentation of the hotel industry with companies like HomeAway and Airbnb. They open up a large home to a family, which is not something you could do ten years ago. Opening big, nice places to stay in markets that typically won’t have your traditional lodging options just meant that a lot of people never went to those places. That’s changing dramatically.

There’s also the ability for consumers to have perfect information on trip costs, seen in meta-search sites like Kayak. What I’ve heard from a bunch of research hubs in the travel space is that what this is doing is not necessarily driving down prices. They call it the new concept of value, where people are absolutely willing to break the bank for a vacation and they will do it – they just want to know that the vacation they’re choosing is gotten at the best price. [The product] is defined by value, and not price.

The desire to get away is often an innate, dormant one. How has the amount and immediacy of available information impacted the spontaneity of travel?

The majority of travel is done by people who have thought about it for a long time. You’ve probably spent a lot of time researching and finding out what the best prices are. Tying this back to our business, we see the majority of travel companies trying to align what they have with what the consumers desire. It’s hard to generate desire to take an unplanned trip. As a travel brand, the best thing you can do is tell a great story that puts you into consideration for the consumer. And then you’ll find a way to intersect that with the consumer at their planning points and buying points. I don’t honestly think that’ll ever change too much.

That said, I do think that there’s a [possibility for] more inspired travel. There are a lot of deal sites like the Groupons of the world, or companies like HotelTonight. It comes down to how a trip is defined. If my wife and I are in the suburbs and we see a great hotel deal for the city, maybe we will drive down to the city and stay overnight. That’s a part of the travel industry that’s more local-based. It’s about having access to that information – whether that be through emails, or sites, or an app’s push notifications.

What are some of the new storytelling platforms and mediums that you think the travel industry will latch onto in the near future?

Sometimes we have these great ideas. But the amount of work needed to get them done is just incredible, and things die in a bind. Looking at how consumers’ desires shape content curation through combining multiple storytelling channels – social, advertising, video, print, blogs, native advertising – that’s all being pulled together now in a way that’s never been done before. What’s revolutionary about Skift [the travel industry’s largest marketing and intelligence platform] is that through technology, new ways of telling stories, and the eyes of a traveling persona, they’re pushing content in a digestible way so that the consumers’ desires can still be met, but it won’t overcome and kill that desire.

Just because you have access to all the information, doesn’t mean you should use it. It all comes down to relevance, and from relevance comes utility, and from utility comes people buying things.

To read the rest of the interview, pick up a print or digital copy of the Desire issue of MISC.

the author

Caroline Leung