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Dirk EschenbacherFounding Partner and Chief Creative OfficerZanadu
Dirk Eschenbacher is the founding partner and chief creative officer of Zanadu, a travel service that offers luxury experiences to outbound tourists from China. He spoke with eMarketer’s David Green about the interplay between digital and physical content in brand building, being ahead of the times with a virtual reality (VR) store and how the recent development of outbound travel in China has influenced the company’s approach.
eMarketer: Zanadu operates as both a luxury travel service and a media company. What was the reasoning behind that approach?
Dirk Eschenbacher: We always felt the need to educate and inform our clients, because the Chinese travel market is very young. It’s only 10 years old. We have a strong editorial department. We have our own video in-house production capabilities to manage all our social media accounts. We have content partnerships with Youku and Tencent. We have a magazine. We have a very popular WeChat account with about 500,000 followers.
eMarketer: Zanadu opened a virtual reality concept store last year. What do you think about physical vs. digital for consumers discovering travel experiences?
Eschenbacher: Last month, our lease expired on the VR store, and it sparked a very long debate here internally. We went into VR maybe a little bit early in mid-2015. We took a really hard look at what VR delivers for us. In terms of conversion or awareness, the store is really not a major driving force, and it was pretty much built on the back of VR.
On the other hand, we would have continued if it wasn’t for the cost. I think that kind of experiential travel store experience is coming. There was just not enough traffic in the area. So instead of paying for another year and waiting for traffic to come, we decided to just close the store. But we do have a lot of offline sales from events—I would say it is 20% offline and 80% online.
eMarketer: What’s the relative importance of digital vs. other media in terms of path to purchase?
Eschenbacher: The path to purchase is very long in travel. Most people book around two, even four months in advance. If you go on an Alaska journey, you may even book a year in advance. Any content effort that you have, be it a magazine, a video, a featured article, a discount—whatever it is—it always sits in a different phase within that purchase cycle. The online content really has to be original content that people really want to read, seek out and actively share. For us, our WeChat channel is definitely the most important—being able to grow our own media platform and drive conversation through WeChat.
After the WeChat channel, we produce a lot of video, about four to six pieces per week. We have up to a million video views per week now across different channels. In terms of conversion though, it’s difficult to prove conversions from video directly to booking. Video gives you reach and awareness. I think the magazine leads to more bookings than the video, at least that are trackable.
eMarketer: So the decision to go for a print magazine is proving worthwhile?
Eschenbacher: Definitely. I think when it comes to travel, a physical object says something substantial. For us, it works a bit like a catalog. It’s a fairly new thing to have a high-end premium magazine that also works as a travel catalogue, and you can reach more people.
eMarketer: How do you structure your customer relations management [CRM] and loyalty offerings?
Eschenbacher: We are in constant contact with customers, of course, through WeChat. We have our own WeChat CRM system that wasn’t developed in-house. Then we run events for our loyal customers, like VIP appreciation dinners. They get regular mailings through the magazines, vouchers and loyalty benefits.
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