The Wild World Web

Emails and their respective landing pages are a highly efficient way to communicate with customers and potential customers. Especially if they've volunteered to recieve your company's information. As a passive communication, email and landing pages give the opportunity to provide a tight, direct message with links to additional information and clear calls-to-action. If it's a strong product offering, then it's a safe bet to let the customer decide. That's why we were able to convince Explorica to revise it's email template for more versatility in messaging and its landing pages for more flexibility in representing its product offering. The educational travel market has traditionally had more of a personal touch. The primary target market is middle- and high-school teachers. Teachers need to understand that Explorica is safe, cost-effective, and provides unique educational opportunities for student. This project is ongoing, but some results have been gathered and shared below.

Email from Explorica--excepting auto-generated--is intended for one of four purposes:

  1. A direct communication from a Sales representative regarding an upcoming deal that the recipient may wish to share with colleagues.
  2. A direct communication from a Sales representative regarding an upcoming deal that Explorica does not intend for the recipient to share with colleagues. (Such as limited deals related to current tours.)
  3. A simple and direct communication intended for the recipient only and not at all intended to be shared.
  4. Super-sweet and awesome promotions that should be shared.

Obviously, the 2009 template had far outlived its purpose. Redesigning the email template(s), besides modernizing the pieces, reorganized the content for reading efficiency. For instance, there are several pieces of information required to be in email, but it's not necessary for them to all be at the top. We want the viewer who has been intrigued by the subject line, to open the email and read the main message, reinforcing the subject line. Any photo used should emphasize the message, but a basic default would be students on tour enjoying some form of culturally immersive experience. At the bottom of the page, we wanted teachers to always know that there was a referral bonus waiting for them. Finally, we included only the social media the company is actively engaging and followed that with any legal information.

Three similar templates. Each intended for different communication needs.

Three similar templates. Each intended for different communication needs.

In addition, we've been able to include lead-nurturing emails that are not tied to the sales cycle or particular, time-sensitive deals. For instance, Explorica can feature new tours and activities to continue to build familiarity with its audience. Since organizing a tour is a longer-term process that involves a significant amount of money, we want customers to be informed and confident they're making the right decision. Using common research, we were also able to jettison the bias that image-based emails are a problem. We carefully designed the pertinent content to be displayed regardless of whether the images themselves are loaded initially. Graphics support the message, but are not the message themselves. Historically, Explorica's email has had an average open and click-through rate of approximately 7%. The following emails, one to announce a Cuba tour and another for Canadian war history, averaged an open and click-through rate of 16/15% and 18/15% respectively.

Cuba and other new tours announcement and Canadian war history promotion.

Cuba and other new tours announcement and Canadian war history promotion.

With the redesign and the launch of several emails, the company has been able to gather some interesting and helpful analytics. For instance, nearly 50% of emails are being opened on the iPad. Could that mean we might customize content for iPad users? It's certainly a fair possibility that such information could open up entirely new paths for communicating with customers in more interactive ways.

The landing pages needed to be more versatile as well. Sometimes they'd function as a microsite and other times they'd be entirely focused on one subject (a particular event or tour) or as a generic landing page (from Google PPC ads, for instance). To that end, three base templates were developed, the common element amongst each was to include a form to gather further customer information. 

With multiple tabs, this template could serve multiple purposes as a microsite. Virtually everything within the template is customizable; from the image banner, to the form, to the number of tabs.

Microsite landing page.

Microsite landing page.

An example of a page entirely focused on a particular event.

A focused landing page.

A focused landing page.

A generic page intended to demonstrate that any type and graphic combination could be used. Let content guide the visuals.

Generic landing page.

Generic landing page.

Presentations are not PowerPoint

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Explorica had been using multiple, hastily compiled, PowerPoint documents for presentation puproses to parents. The document served as the last piece of Explorica marketing to convince parents to fund their children's tour with Explorica. I was tasked with "updating" the identity branding in the documents—which was needed. Besides inconsistent typography and color, the most egregious abuses involved pasting too much information into slides and reading it aloud to the audience.

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This led me to identify far more opportunities for improvement than what had originally been assigned. I met with key Sales personnel several times to understand what information was most important to them and what needed to be communicated in the presentation. Our final list: the merit of edu-travel, the advantage of Explorica tours, an overview of the selected tour's itinerary, available support, the benefits of traveling with Explorica, and payment options.

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Step one was going to require educating the sales team on basic presentation techniques and disuading some "we've always done it this way" behaviors. To that end, before unveiling a reimagined presentation, I developed a presentation explaining presentations. Ostensibly, the Presentation to End All Presentations had to compellingly explain why we were going to do things differently. This explanation was short and to the point. Only about ten minutes of the meeting.

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Step two involved unveiling the redesigned presentation. Reimagined—according to brand standards—the presentation featured only the necessary information that would be delivered to the end customer. (A popular combination destination, London and Paris, was used by way of example.) More in-depth content was relegated to take-home handouts. I developed a script to allow anyone—with a little practice—the abillty to give the presentation. To drive this point home, I handed the script to a member of the Sales team and asked them to give the presentation cold. I followed this with a brief roundtable interview asking if they felt confident that this would work with their clients: teachers.

Step three is currently in-process. I continue to give support and guidance in order to allow the presentation to be disseminated and run long enough to gather conclusive evidence before making any further changes.

You can get there from here

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Every now and again you get an opportunity to see how something you've worked on has evolved. When you're working with a company that has put out a regular piece twice a year for the last decade, this becomes even more apparent. I've recently completed work on a direct-mail publication for Explorica that has been evolving since I began working on the document three years ago. Since then, the brochure has been produced several times and recently it has conceptually been taken further than ever before.

After several years of existence as primarily a product catalog, this Explorica marketing piece had evolved somewhat beyond its competition. Most others in the educational travel field used perfect-bound catalogs with multiple photos on the cover. Exploria spent a significant amount of time, it is worth noting, researching two things: what their branding should be as a differentiator and what features people interacted most favorably with in the catalog. As a result, there had been some differentiation in the design. The cover design was a notable departure from the rest of the industry, it featured an immersive photo, ostensibly a student on tour, engaged in whatever experience they had signed on for.

The catalog usually featured marketing and sales spreads amongst the first several pages. The content touted the usual company advantages: safety, customer service, flexibility, and so on.

Still heavily a catalog, the document had lists of tours that were readily available on the web site as well as dozens of pages of the basic itineraries that customers could alter to suit their educational travel needs.

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There was one aspect of the catalogs that stood out for customers. It was discovered in testing that the double-page spread preceding each region of itineraries gave readers pause. They particularly enjoyed the "magazine-like" spreads with full-page photographs. It was decided that we should explore layouts that further called on magazine design to communicate Explorica's brand and product.

We set out to add what was essentially magazine content as produced by Explorica. What would customers find most enjoyable and useful? The first round of results were slightly uneven as they were still heavily influenced by hardcore marketing and sales content. Though regionally specific and littered with useful content, the spreads were a bit too full of bits of content rather than a cohesive narrative. The covers evolved slightly to accommodate a more magazine-like design, featuring more dramatic typography and setting out to demonstrate even more immersive, experiential settings for individuals on tour. The itinerary pages were also redesigned. The spreads were less derivative of competitors' catalogs and laid out with two specific goals in mind: readability and the goal to feature the user-generated photography that Explorica had been gathering for the last few years as part of its overall strategy. The results have been to have more of an impact in print and in social spaces online.

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The second round of development featured longer narrative content and a tighter organization of marketing content with it. We continued to draw inspiration from the region's introductory table of contents. The layout was further focused on a narrative of interesting, destination-related information followed by specific callouts about how to take advantage of the featured content with Explorica. Comparing the previous article layouts to these, we had condensed the bits of information required from eight down to four.

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We continued to follow this trend and our overall strategy. Focusing the content even further to an even more accessible narrative and condensing the required marketing and sales information, 2–3 items, to essentially a single callout column.

Feedback from customers, regarding the content, continued to improve. We took it a step further, fully converting the catalog to a magazine-style brochure by loosening up the cover's appearance, focusing on a series of twenty "top destinations" for the articles, creating a true table of contents, adding topics of interest such as interviews with teacher-travelers, independent research-based graphics supporting the benefits of educational travel, entertaining flowcharts, and "advertisements" that featured particular sales and marketing content. The results are a far more personable and entertaining direct-mail piece that features all of the information a customer would need to know before deciding to engage with Explorica. It is also very much in line with Explorica's "the experience is everything" branding, it exceedingly demonstrates a differentiation in appearance and communication strategy with competitors, and ties in with further promotions on the web site's landing pages and through email.

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