SM: What was the market landscape like when you founded the company?
CL: When we started Travel Ad Network, Google AdSense had just launched its textlink product and everything was about textlinks and performance advertising. No one talked about users; it was all about clicks.
And the terms “branding” and “online” weren’t used in the same sentence.
We looked at the travel market and saw that airline inventory wasn’t increasing and that hotel inventory wasn’t expanding at all and made the leap that, in the future, travel providers wouldn’t want mere “heads in beds” and “cheeks in seats”; they’d want higher value customers, and branding elements were the way to attract the RIGHT users, not the best users.
So we went toward banners when everyone else was going toward textlinks. That opened the market up for us to walk in the door and sign on exclusive graphic advertising relationships with publishers.
Our Travel focus, expertise and targeting methods meant that we achieved three times the CPMs of other generalist networks.
SM: Describe the value proposition, including differentiation versus the rest of the market.
CL: We’re building the best travel audience online. Sounds preposterous, right? How could 50 websites representing a mix of premium sites (Lonely Planet) and niche sites (EuropeForVisitors.com) be a better media outlet than a massive site like Expedia?
People who visit the sites at the head of the tail (or the largest travel sites) are tire-kickers or late-stage buyers. These sites have undifferentiated “vanilla” audiences and shallow relationships with their readers. Our sites attract the seekers—the people who are really searching long, deep and hard for the right experience. They’re the ones who are going to tell a friend about their trip and take pride in discovering a new travel website, a new resort or a new place.
We vet all the sites in the network based on these criteria about their audiences: 1) are they seekers, 2) are they engaged, 3) do they trust their media, and 4) are they likely to interact with advertisers. So for advertisers we’re building the best travel audience online.
That’s the audience. That’s where it all begins—for either a travel audience or a non-travel audience. We have an audience of people planning the best two weeks of their year. Even within that group we have the most engaged and interactive segment of the travel planning audience.
On a tactical level, we empower publishers and provide value to advertisers by organizing niche audiences. So if you’re an advertiser, we know online travel planners better and can target them more effectively by virtue of having better targeting and more effective media than the other “generalist” competition.
If you’re a publisher, we bring a higher tier of advertisers at more lucrative CPMs by virtue of our knowledge and relationships in the travel space.