With an engaged customer base, a product inspired by nature, and a rapidly growing presence in the travel market, Forest Holidays is offering eager ‘staycationers’ a unique holiday experience. But in a competitive space, a brand needs not just a winning product, but also a communications strategy which offers consumers relevant, timely and compelling messaging. After winning ‘Marketer of the Year’ at dotmailer’s Dotties awards earlier this year, Sheri Riddlesworth, Customer Direct Marketing Manager at Forest Holidays, spoke to Figaro Digital about the brand’s journey, and how a carefully integrated team can lead to successful consumer engagement.
A key feature of Forest Holidays’ marketing strategy is efficiency. Working with a small, agile team meant that Forest Holidays initially leant a lot on the expertise and manpower of agencies, before taking the decision to move the eCRM system in-house. But this extra layer of complexity for creating and responding to communications led to a slow process unsustainable for a brand experiencing such strong growth. “We couldn’t be quick to the market with any promotions we wanted to do, like promoting last-minute availability for a weekend break, for example. We were challenged by long lead times and high costs,” explains Riddlesworth. The logistical challenges of having two separate agencies involved in the eCRM system also meant that Forest Holidays couldn’t be reactive to the results of the campaigns, and adjust their content and strategy in a timely, beneficial way.
Keeping It In The Family
The decision to bring Forest Holidays’ email marketing entirely in-house was made to afford the holiday provider a greater degree of control and autonomy over its consumer communications. But across a small and multi-functioning team, the solution had to be one that could simplify the creation and building process. On top of this, it needed to seamlessly unite the different digital marketing facets to inform the best possible overall engagement strategy. Having previously worked with the dotmailer platform, Riddlesworth identified this as the natural choice to revamp Forest Holidays’ communications. “Our structure is unique to us, as we have a customer database and booking system, not a CRM platform like other businesses might do.” A platform that would enable Forest Holidays to keep its individuality, and reflect the intricacies of its bespoke CRM system was a must. Whatever capabilities dotmailer brought to the table, this would not change.
One of the first steps that was taken after importing Forest Holidays’ database into dotmailer was the incorporation of the Email Service Provider’s Global Suppression List (GSL), which removed contacts which were included in the list, reducing the size of Forest Holidays’ database, but scoring a big win in terms of audience engagement and relevancy. “We have a two way relationship with dotmailer,” explains Riddlesworth. It’s beneficial to both parties that the content, and the digital presence that Forest Holidays maintains, are as tailored and relevant as possible. Cutting out a large number of contacts was a scary move, but ultimately has led to far greater results overall. “It seemed like bad news at the time, but our open rate and conversion have significantly improved having done that. Now we are regrowing our database with this mind-set, to maintain our standing.”
Marketers With Multiple Hats
As well as the logistical and economic benefits of bringing the eCRM in-house under the dotmailer platform, Riddlesworth explains that it’s also the collaborative nature of the team that has led to the success of the new software. “Ecommerce used to be a totally separate team, but now we have a new department. Areas like sales, partnerships, eCRM, loyalty and social media all used to be managed separately, now we are all working together.” This collaboration means the lead time for email campaigns is greatly reduced, and the results are easily analysed, informing not just the practices of the eCRM, but the wider marketing strategy. This is particularly relevant as direct mail still makes up an important part of Forest Holiday’s communication. “Previously, email was more like an extra on the side, but now it continues to be a main channel, because of the ease at which you can target and personalise for your consumers,” explains Riddlesworth. With clean and reliable data, Forest Holidays can reach out to its large user base with confidence that the content that reaches its users will be fit for their needs. “It costs one sixth of a penny to send an email, and we can reach we can reach our database with bespoke, personalised content. This gives us a huge return on investment because we have told our customers what they want to know.”
Forest Holidays stands out among travel brands with the bespoke service it provides, and this is reflected in its success. “The hotel industry usually aims to hit 35 to 40 per cent occupancy at any given time, whereas we operate at around 90 per cent occupancy.” Says Riddlesworth. Holidaymakers are drawn to Forest Holidays’ offering in part from the bespoke communication they receive from the brand. With the help of dotmailer, the Forest Holidays team have been able to provide a customer experience which communicates the high quality customer engagement and dedicated service the brand strives to provide.