Mind if we tag along?

Editor's note: Karolyn Cooper is senior project director at communications strategy research firm Artemis Strategy Group, Washington, D.C. 

Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), an international travel company, wanted to use global research to further demonstrate its position as a leader within the industry. The CWT corporate communications team engaged Artemis Strategy Group in February 2017 to help them reach their goal of building name recognition in this competitive sector.

One strategy CWT opted to employ to accomplish this goal was the creation of a stronger thought-leadership presence that focused more directly on the business traveler audience.

Effective thought-leadership programs help marketers earn trust, engage with market influencers, build credibility, raise awareness of their company or brand and expand their market. Primary research is a great foundation upon which to build a program.

“We are changing the narrative within our company to focus more on the business traveler and not as much on the travel manager,” says Julian Walker, head of external communications, Carlson Wagonlit Travel. “The travel industry is competitive, with a number of players frequently in the news, but with a tired narrative. We love the idea of leveraging thought leadership to share findings that are relevant to the work we do and to anyone with an interest in travel. It’s a great way to stay relevant with the media beyond regular business updates.”

To this end, CWT commissioned Artemis to conduct a global thought-leadership study among business travelers in order to understand how they stayed connected to both work and home while on the road. They surveyed business travelers who had traveled four or more times in the previous 12 months, either domestically or internationally.

Given CWT’s global scope, Artemis recommended conducting the survey in several countries and reporting at the regional and even country level. One hundred interviews were completed in five or six countries in each region, with a larger U.S. sample.

  • Asia-Pacific (APAC): 500 completed interviews; 100 in each of these countries: Japan, China, India, Australia and Singapore.
  • Europe: 600 completed interviews; 100 in each of these countries: France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, U.K. and Spain.
  • The Americas: 800 completed interviews: 400 in the U.S. and 100 in each of these countries: Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Chile.

Overall, more than 1,900 respondents across 16 countries completed the survey in spring 2017. The survey was conducted online using commercial panels coordinated across countries. The questionnaire took respondents about 15 minutes to complete.

All representative

Because the study was conducted across so many countries and was translated into so many languages, CWT and Artemis had to ensure that the context, vocabulary and phrasing were all representative of the study’s intent and that they made sense to respondents. Artemis worked closely with both native-language translators as well as members of the CWT team based in response countries to make sure the study captured local languages accurately and with the appropriate dialect. 

Artemis grouped findings into four different themes with summative data across regions and demographics:

Business travel builds trust and knowledge in critical relationships. Today’s business travelers around the globe are overwhelmingly enthusiastic and stimulated by their business travel.

Managing the challenge of staying connected to people and routines when traveling. Most (77 percent) experienced business travelers find it relatively easy to manage other responsibilities when they travel for business but one-in-five (20 percent) acknowledge that staying connected to people and routines can often be a balancing act. The biggest challenge is maintaining appropriate connections with both family and co-workers.

What would we do without cell phones? Almost all business travelers agree that navigating and communicating on business travel is easier today than it used to be and cell phones are the key tool driving that change. Over eight in 10 global business travelers carry a cell phone and the same proportion say it's their most important travel tool.

Safety and security are a persistent concern. While two-thirds (67 percent) believe travel is safer today, half (46 percent) remain concerned about safety while traveling for business. However, business travelers today have access to technology and techniques to mitigate safety and other concerns.

The similarities among business travelers in different regions vastly outnumber the differences, acting as a testimony to increasing globalization. Age and experience don’t impact the zest for business travel, though there are differences in technique. Finally, while men still represent the majority (63 percent) of business travelers globally, with the ratios varying from country to country, women now represent a significant portion (37 percent in our sample) of business travelers and their attitudes and needs look a lot like those of their male cohorts. Only a handful of slight differences stood out. 

Several outlets

This study, called the CWT Connected Traveler Study, provided content for several outputs, including videos, social media initiatives, communications materials used by CWT program managers, press releases and interviews with the mass and trade media and more. 

There are so many ways to look at the data – regionally, comparatively, by topic, across demographics – that CWT has been able to tease out the findings into all sorts of content. It has released four separate press releases from the Connected Traveler Study, detailing different groupings of findings:

  • Business travelers find they are very productive while on the road due to more technology options
  • Carlson Wagonlit Travel Research: European travelers least worried about safety and security
  • Carlson Wagonlit Travel Research: Business travelers from the Americas are best at staying in touch with family [http://bit.ly/2jC1jVQ]
  • CWT Research: Millennials like to travel in groups – and are the most security-conscious

“We found with this study that there were opportunities to tell several stories from the same data, as we asked the right questions that allowed us to drill down and really understand traveler behaviors,” says Walker. “This allowed us to get in front of the media multiple times over the course of a few months. Plus, we timed some of our releases around events that would be relevant to the media. As one example, we published findings about how travelers from America stay in touch with their families just before Thanksgiving.”

In addition to giving CWT thought-leadership content, the results of this study are also used to inform the work that it does. By understanding the perspectives and concerns of its clients, CWT is better positioned to provide corporate and government travelers with tailored and enjoyable travel experiences. 

Why it works

Based on our experience conducting thought-leadership studies, as well as how CWT effectively mastered the data from its studies, here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

Thought leadership requires thinking. Start by harnessing what you know and identifying themes and hypotheses to be tested. CWT is shifting its focus away from the travel manager and toward the business traveler. This research coincided with both the changing landscape of travel and CWT’s organizational repositioning. 

Be different and interesting. Lots of studies are conducted for public release. Make sure yours sets you apart. CWT pays close attention to media coverage related to the travel industry and has a thorough understanding of both the types of things that are always in the media and the conversations that are not happening. Finding a way to bridge the gap between these two is one of the best ways to earn media coverage. For example, how Millennials behave is often in the news; however, it may be counterintuitive that the generation that brought us sharing economy successes like Uber and Airbnb is also the group most concerned about personal safety. That’s newsworthy.

Don’t be self-serving. Don’t blatantly use the research to sell your products and services. The media and consumers are savvy and won’t pay attention if they think it’s a sales pitch. All four of the CWT media releases stuck to the findings of the study. Even the quotes from company spokespeople commented on the trends related to said findings. Specific company information – including the services that CWT offers – is only mentioned in the boilerplate copy, at the bottom of the release.

Tell a story. Great ideas are often communicated with compelling stories and they are driven home with quantitative supporting evidence. CWT invested in beautiful infographics that brought the quantitative findings to life.

Build on your brand. If your brand stands for a powerful idea that can be linked to your story, make the link with appropriate stories, cues and symbols. The infographics feel on-brand for CWT and all include the company logo and URL, in case they are ever used outside of the context of the press release. Furthermore, the subject matter of the findings – from use of technology to Millennial travel behaviors to comparing travelers around the world – position CWT as a global organization interested in the future of travel.

Make a splash

Overall, Carlson Wagonlit Travel was able to make a splash with the deep, rich findings of its primary study and we are happy to be working with them on new thought-leadership initiatives in 2018.