If you have ever walked out of a restaurant because it didn’t look clean enough or put on nice clothes to make a good impression on a first date, you’re a living demonstration of a fundamental truth: Perception is reality.
No matter how many times we’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover, we do so every day because that’s the way our brains are wired. We constantly make decisions about people, places and things based solely on appearances and first impressions, often without even realizing it. This habit affects how we buy things, how we build relationships and even how we travel.
Unfortunately, too many small businesses and organizations don’t grasp the power of brand or don’t think they can afford to harness it, and so they miss out on a lot of opportunities by making less-than-stellar first impressions on potential customers and partners.
The issue is especially problematic in group travel, where many small organizations and home-based travel planners don’t take the time to refine their brand identities. Thankfully, though, it’s never been easier to create a brand for your organization that looks inviting and professional.
1. A Name and Logo
If you’re planning travel on behalf of a larger organization, such as a church, a community center or an alumni group, you don’t have to think much about your travel club’s name or logo. But if you’re trying to build an independent travel business or put together a group based around your personality, you should be strategic and intentional about these things.
First, you need a name: Many group leaders call their organization something simple like “Fran’s Travelers” or “Happy Travel Club.” Casual names like this are easy to come up with, but they often give the unintended impression that a travel organization isn’t serious or that its leaders aren’t professional. Consider a name that has more weight to it while still communicating what your organization is about.
A logo is also important. The logo doesn’t have to have your entire name in it — rather, it’s a visual of what you want your brand to represent. It’s worth a small investment to have a professional graphic designer create a great-looking logo for you.
2. A Website
The first thing many people do when investigating an unfamiliar organization is check out its website. If an organization has no website, it immediately casts suspicion on it. And even a website that looks outdated or lacks critical information will make people think twice before doing business with that organization.
There was a time when building websites required a lot of technical and design expertise, and hiring those experts was expensive. Times have changed, though; now, a variety of services, such as WordPress, Squarespace and Wix, offer attractive website templates that are easy to customize, all for just a few dollars a month.
At a minimum, your website should have your name and logo, a short overview of your organization, and your phone and email contact information. From there, you can add photography from past trips, descriptions of upcoming trips and a host of other features.
3. A Custom Email Domain and Signature
You may have been using the same email service for decades, but just because you’re comfortable with your age-old email address doesn’t mean your customers will be. As much as you love it, an email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org” doesn’t exactly make you look professional to potential clients or partners.
The ideal address for a professional should look something like “email@example.com.” If you have set up a website for your group, the domain name you purchased for the site should have also come with the ability to set up email addresses that use that same name. And if you still prefer to use the interface of a mail program you’re familiar with, such as AOL, Yahoo or Gmail, you can set up your customized email address to automatically forward your messages to your personal account. Your customers will never know the difference.
4. Headshot and Professional Photography
To a certain extent, your professional brand identity is always going to be linked to your personality. If you’re excited about planning travel for your friends, you’re likely a people person, so make the most of that fact and use your personality in your branding.
Every professional should have an up-to-date headshot, preferably taken in the past five years. And although it’s common to have this done in a portrait studio in front of a boring backdrop, the fact that you’re selling travel gives you the leeway to exercise a little more creativity in your headshot. Use a picture of you in one of your favorite travel destinations to showcase what your organization is about.
You can use your headshot in your email signature, on your website or on any printed newsletters or flyers you distribute.
5. A Social Media Presence
You’ve heard about the importance of social media in business for years, and perhaps it has sounded too intimidating or time consuming to get started. But you don’t need a comprehensive social media strategy to make social media work for your organization. You just need a simple presence that helps people feel positive about your brand and that gives them a way to interact and share with you if they desire.
Just as many people judge you based on your website, some shoppers will look for your social media pages to tell them important information about you. So start by setting up simple Facebook and LinkedIn accounts that represent your business, as opposed to you personally. Include your headshot there, and post some pictures of your groups having fun in various places you have traveled.