There are plenty of travel and leisure resources available for the wander-lusting individual, but somehow in the midst of glossy photos of faraway islands and mesmerizing wildlife, Culture Trip stands out. It’s not just the descriptions of stunning getaways that entices readers and customers. It’s their distinct approach to illuminating what’s special about a location, the people, the culture. Bringing the world together by highlighting similarities, showcasing each location’s unique identity– and all through the mouths of captivating storytellers. In her own words, Culture Trip’s VP of Product Marketing, Natalie Malevsky, shares her take on product marketing, the travel and leisure category, and her favorite vacation location.
Let’s talk shop. How did you get your start in marketing?
“I actually describe myself as a third culture kid. I was born in Russia, raised in Austria and Germany, and I’ve settled in Britain for nearly 25 years. But I’ve had a very diverse career with American companies, media companies, and technology companies, and I worked both in product and marketing with Disney, AOL, The Wall Street Journal, and Experian. Most recently, I shifted to product marketing at Culture Trip, a very exciting startup in the travel and media space in London. I look after marketing positioning and go-to-market strategies for the products that we develop.”
So, you have quite an extensive background and I imagine that within each role, your day-to-day looked pretty different. What’s on your daily to-do list at Culture Trip?
“Culture Trip, being a startup, means that your day pretty much starts with Slack. And I’ve developed the habit of checking any messages that have come in overnight from New York or Tel Aviv. I’ll then look at my diary and see where the meetings are and where I have time for individual work, for collaborative work, and meetings. It doesn’t always go that structured, and because things always come up, some days are quite chaotic. We’re very interactive with each other in the marketing department, so things are always up for discussion. After transitioning into more leadership roles, I’ve learned to better deal with context switching and even to enjoy it. So, yeah. I think context switching is the order of the day.”
And now, you have something else to add to your plate; Culture Trip just announced their own print magazine, and it’s somewhat of an unorthodox move-especially in the digital age. I’m wondering about the role of product marketing, and why the company decided to go with a magazine as a way of claiming its space in the travel/leisure world.
“Product marketing is very much about customers and customer behavior. And when it came to the magazine, we looked to customers to see what’s actually happening in the market and then applying those observations to a classic marketing mix. So, we obviously have a website, an app, it’s only a natural transition to extend into print publishing. And particularly in the metropolitan areas, we’ve observed that there are plenty of free news magazines, plenty of perhaps fashion and makeup magazines given away in public spaces, but there wasn’t anything to cover the gap in the market for a beautiful and inspirational travel magazine. So, these kinds of innovations, they’re both a natural extension of a marketing strategy but also derived from everyday observation.”
And now that readers can pretty much find you wherever and however is most convenient for them, what’s next for Culture Trip?
“It depends. Culture Trip being the brand that it is, combines media business with the travel use case, and I think the future opportunity for lifestyle content such as ours will be either to extend into new content formats or focus on the more practical aspect of the travel. It could go either way, or it could go both ways. In the content space, video is a natural extension to make travel inspiration visual, exciting, and really dominate that category of travel on this platform. We’re in the midst of growing our video team. We’ve had fantastic and absolutely stratospheric numbers of video views on our social channels. And so really owning that content on video is a natural progression for us. That said, with mobile growth being what it is, there is a huge opportunity to enhance people’s travel experiences with augmented reality experiences, or any kind of location-based data enrichment. We think of it as a kind of twin-track approach into video and an interactive extension into mobile platforms and making richer mobile platforms, too.”
This feels like it directly ties into your mission then, to ‘inspire people to go beyond their cultural boundaries and connect with the world around them.’
“A company’s mission is always the ultimate checklist to make sure that teams are aligned in doing what’s right for the business and of course, for the customers. And it really starts at the very top of the funnel with understanding who your customers are and who’s actually interested in that mission. In our case, this tends to be open-minded, curiosity seeking, mobile individuals. Product marketing translates this mission into a segmentation model.
And as soon as you have a segmentation model, you can have both a creative and effective marketing plan on how to reach those segments, turn audiences into readers, and ultimately users and customers. And as you thread this mission throughout your marketing activity, it’s just making sure that the customer experience and the products you offer your users speak to that mission and meet customers’ expectations.”
Happy you brought up segmentation. What are some of the ways you segment your readers, or I guess a more accurate word now would be customer base?
Any kind of segmentation has to be done both from an external market perspective and an internal behavioral perspective. And personally, I feel that the magic happens when the two talk to each other in a very coherent way. My primary responsibility is to segment the market externally, which is done through traditional ways, like surveys, and research at scale. And it does work. It creates clusters of customers that have common traits, but are also distinct from each other. And that makes it possible to tailor messages and address those audiences in the channels where we can reach them. Translating that audience into readers and users is where the magic of behavioral segmentation comes in.
Our aim is to engage customers in a much more precise way, match them to the kinds of content that interests them, and detect and serve them the right content depending on whether they’re in the research phase and feel inspired to go somewhere, or are looking to plan a holiday. So, this is how we conceptually and practically think about our segmentation efforts. It’s a very synergistic and holistic way to look at audiences and work with external marketing and our own channels. I come in across those two functions. I don’t necessarily manage them directly, but I influence decisions by providing audience insights and matching them to the products and content that will be most suitable to them.”
This also helps you see potential trends. What are you looking towards these days?
“From the perspective of a product marketer, I’d say that there are two trends that I’m particularly passionate about. The first one is personalization on a one-to-one basis. It’s going to be within reach very, very soon, and I believe many brands will embrace that opportunity. And the ability to match that external data to internal behavioral data, and even predict future behavior, is going to be a reality. But the next big trend in marketing is to inject surprise and creativity into those algorithmic predictions so that a brand cannot just serve whatever the customer always wants, but also surprise customers with something, with tastes and experiences that they didn’t know that they were interested in. Surprise and delight, I think will be one of the biggest things that we will be facing in the next five years in marketing.
And the second one is a little bit closer to my heart, is how to get research right. Because it is a very important function in marketing. The insight that drives marketing functions, and positioning, and go-to-market strategies is very important to success, but calculating return on investment for research activities is very difficult. And the methodologies that we use for research are still quite traditional. So, getting research modernized and connecting it to a performance-based research model is going to be something that the research agencies and the research professionals will need to come to grips with in order to make marketers more successful.”
If everyone is looking towards these trends, or at least other travel/leisure content sites and resources, what sets Culture Trip apart?
”I think what sets Culture Trip apart is the unique lens through which it looks at travel and leisure as a category. Our mission is to bring the world closer together by making people understand what’s special and unique about a place, its people and its culture. That’s not a mission that is similar to anything you have out there in terms of the travel category. And also the way we’re doing it is dominated by storytelling techniques and a laser-sharp focus on content. And that is by far something that sets us apart and is reflected by the feedback and the reviews that we get.”
Speaking of feedback and channels where customers can digest your content, let’s chat about your newsletter. How do you encourage more engagement, more subscriptions?
“Well, two things. One, is making sure that we serve the message at the right time to the right audience. But, to me as a product marketer, it always comes back to the proposition. Having the newsletter as a core channel to promote our content is critical to get reader engagement on a regular basis. A newsletter is something that we send out twice a week, so, that definitely drives engagement and keeps our brand at the top of people’s inboxes. We look at targeting, frequency, and, above all, the proposition. Which, again, we’re experimenting with on an issue by issue basis. The team that manages the newsletter also have a very strong culture of test and learn, and we’re constantly refining both our content and our targeting strategy on site.”
In one of your recent lectures at Optimove Connect, you talked about how important it is to be patient in the process of acquiring and retaining customers. How thoughtfulness and patience are important qualities. How do you get your team to work by these guidelines in more of a stressful, result-oriented business?
“I think this is the nature of the beast. That balance between customer insight and empathy; playing the long game when it comes to business longevity and future-facing opportunities vs. the need to meet immediate targets and goals. I’d be lying if I said it was easy. But the way to do this is really by bringing the customer to life. And you do that through segmentation, richer profiling, being date alert and constantly enhancing your understanding of customers, segments, their behavior with data, and the test and learn culture. So that you get that fine balance between testing something in order to get quick actionable results, but also keeping an eye on your customers in a much more holistic way.”
How do you view the communication machine that is social media?
“Social media is a channel that’s definitely about the long game. It is all about having a consistent brand voice and messaging. It’s unique and hugely exciting that it’s both an acquisition and an engagement channel, so you can have a constant dialogue with your social followers. And it isn’t always about traffic driving. It is about conversations, it’s about engagement, it’s about brand awareness. So if you keep that in mind, you actually have a very strong idea of what’s needed when creating a social media presence.”
You work at Culture Trip. What vacation for you has been the most memorable?
“One of the most memorable vacations I had was actually just recently when I extended a trip to Tel Aviv with my family. I really enjoyed the amazing combination of deep, cultural history with an incredible landscape full of contrasts, exceptionally friendly people, and amazing food. And this was the perfect combination to make the relationships between the people you travel with actually thrive, and everybody enjoys themselves. I’ve been there three times, both by myself, with friends, and with family. And all these three times it’s definitely on the top of the list.”
Memorable is a very fitting adjective for Israel.
“Definitely, yes. And actually, this is the core of a travel proposition, it’s enabling and inspiring memory-making. So, this is where Culture Trip’s heartland lies as a fundamentally honorable product marketing proposition. Memories are certainly something that I’m encouraging my team and my colleagues to be mindful of when we are designing propositions and marketing campaigns. It’s what makes travel so special.”
Lastly, any advice for the future marketers of the world?
“My first and foremost tip would be to be very technical. Marketing has changed profoundly in the last five to ten years. It is not just about the creative execution of beautiful messages or creative, though those components are very important. Product marketing, and engagement marketing, and even channel marketing is exceptionally technical now. You have to be data-driven. You have to understand the capabilities and opportunities that tools and platforms offer. And you have to interact with engineering and product teams to first understand what it is, what kind of features and functionality they’re building, how fast they’re building, what those capabilities are. But also bring real insight and customer-centricity to product and engineering teams so that they can build innovation. And that sometimes means exploring things like augmented reality, or chatbots, or any kind of emerging technologies to see how you apply this for the customers. It’s no longer just about the creative execution, but it’s really about understanding product and technology and applying it to the field of marketing.”