River Cruising Your Travel Agency

Branding Your River Cruise Niche

Written By:  Tom Ogg



In order to sell yourself as a “River Cruise Brand” you must first establish your UVP, or Unique Value Proposition. Let’s start by asking this basic question. Why would someone buy a river cruise from you? What are your clients and potential clients probably asking themselves each time they make a buying decision? The answer in it’s rawest form is, “What is in it for me?”


The basic idea is to figure out and communicate a concise statement of what is the most compelling benefit why someone should book their river cruise with you. It has to be delivered in such a way that a potential client can automatically answer the “what’s in it for me” question. That is it, pure and simple. Sounds pretty easy to figure out, right? What do you do and how can you do it better than anyone else. Why you?


An effective UVP communicates your unique ability to fill a void in the marketplace or to define why clients should book their river cruise with you. Your UVP shouts your unique qualities that are the reasons clients should award their business to you. Your UVP can be your single most powerful marketing weapon and what establishes your “brand”.


To craft a UVP for your business, make a list of all the benefits of doing business with you. Don’t leave anything out.


Then refine the list using these guidelines.

What things on your list are unique to you specifically?
Which of these UVPs is most important to your clients?
Which of these would be difficult for other’s in your industry to duplicate?
Which of these can be easily communicated to potential clients?


Now that you have your list you can narrow it down to the top one to three benefits, as to why someone should do business with your agency. I think that if you try this exercise, you will find that “You” are likely your UVP. Your customers, like us, will want to do business with people who sincerely make a connection with them and make the buying process a truly memorable and positive experience.


Establish Your Brand

Your brand is the sum total of who you are and how you connect to your target market. A strong personal brand is a mix of reputation, attention and execution. By identifying your UVP, you most likely discovered that “You” are the most strategic tool in your business toolbox. Your personal brand gives you the ability to stand out in a sea of similar river cruise marketers. In essence, you are marketing yourself as something different than the rest of the pack. So now, you simply begin to use this chief benefit (or UVP) in everything that you do. Come up with statements that promote your UVP, put a statement on your letterhead, your business card, your email signature, your website and on every piece of marketing material that you use. The goal is to promote your UVP as if it is almost second nature.


Invest in your personal and professional brand everyday. First impressions count, so promote yourself by investing in quality products. Don’t cut corners on business cards and stationery. Design them with the “WOW” factor in mind. Make sure doing business with you is easy. Do you have a toll free number, cell phone number for voice and messaging, website, e-mail address and other detailed contact information on everything prospects and clients see?


Above all, be consistent. You are your brand, and in order to establish a strong brand position (and recognition), ensure all your marketing materials consistently promote you. Your website, blog, newsletters, Facebook page and all forms of communication with your potential audience should have consistent logos, colors, layout, theme, language, etc. The look, feel and message of who you are and what you offer clients is crucial to establishing yourself as a river cruise selling “brand” and engraining the value of your unique services in the minds of the travel consumer.


Building Your River Cruise Business Card

The above section briefly mentioned the importance of professional, quality business cards. So, let’s take a closer look at exactly how to create business cards, stationery, etc that deliver a “WOW” factor and promote “You” as a river cruise expert. Do you remember the movie “American Psycho”, where the Wall Street investment bankers spent hours critiquing every last detail of their business cards? They knew the power of personal branding. Your stationery, starting with your business card, is the foundation of your personal brand statement. Here are the key elements you want to consider:


Custom Logo: Without question, you should invest in a custom logo that shouts your UVP. Your logo should be used everywhere so that your clients come to recognize it and associate it with your personal brand identity. Logos are much easier to have developed by using crowd-sourcing sites such as 99Designs.com, CrowdSpring. com and many others. Just Google “Crowd Source Logo Development” and you will find hundreds of companies that specialize in producing logos. Be sure that your logo speaks to your specific value proposition to establish a strong personal brand. Also, while your logo will share your value proposition, don’t make the card all about your logo. Subtle is better than shouting.


Create Your Logo Tagline: Taglines are an excellent way to state your unique value proposition every time someone sees your logo. While your logo should clearly display your niche in a way that removes all doubt as to what business you are in, your tagline takes that identification to a higher level.


1. Research Your Competition: Let’s say that you specialize in selling European river cruises. You can easily Google others that do and identify others that also are in that particular niche. Some will be formidable and others may not, but it is important to find your competition.


2. Analyze Your Competition: Take a look at each competitor and see if you can identify their USP. Are they offering discounts? Are they knowledgeable? Focused on one particular company? Do they sell other cruises? What is there precise UVP? Do any of your competitors have professionally designed logs that shout their UVP? Are any of them using logo taglines? Jot down every tagline when you find one.


3. What Makes You Different From Your Competition?: Now is the time to really establish your USP and UVP. Why would someone buy their river cruise from you rather than one of your competitors? What is unique about you and your business that no one else can offer? What common traits have your clients that have purchased river cruises from you had in common? Is your uniqueness based on geographical location, demographics, psychographics, knowledge, experience or some other benefit that can be defined and expressed in words? You should be able to define your USP in a single sentence, as well as your UVP. The more you refine your USP, the easier it will become to come up with your tagline.


4. Now, Come Up With Your Potential Taglines: Let’s say that I am the undisputed authority on European river cruise in San Diego County, California and that is my major USP. “San Diego’s River Cruise Expert” might be a potential tagline, especially if all of my clients reside in San Diego. You can see the process. Try to come up with 3 to 5 possible taglines based on the various unique selling propositions that you have over your competitors.


5. Try Them Out with Your Logo: Today, you can use social media in so many ways to test ideas and images. Try running a contest on your Facebook page to get friends and fans to vote on which logo and tagline best describes your UVP. This alone will spark interest in your business. Once you have developed a consensus of which one is the most likely to succeed, start using it in all of your promotional material. Use your tagline by itself and with your logo.


Quality Paper: Has someone ever handed you their business card and it was printed on flimsy paper? It gives one the impression that the organization that is distributing the business card is too cheap to afford quality paper on which to print their business cards. Everything else being equal, the business card printed on the nicest paper, consistent with the logo and message will win every time. The weight of the card stock and the texture are very important and send a strong subliminal statement to the person receiving the card.


Professional Fonts: Have you ever tried to read a business card that has used unintelligible fonts? Stick with the tried and true, easy to read fonts for your business card. Given that most river cruise clients are older, do not us type smaller than 12 pts and always use a font built to be read at that size. If your target market is seniors, use the largest font that will work on your card. Don’t make seniors get out their magnifying glass to try to read your card. They will toss it in the trash first. The function of your business card is to enable folks to contact you, not to be a designer’s idea of what your card should look like.


Use Appropriate Inks: Sure that red ink looks great on that green background, but did you know that 8% of all potential male clients that are color blind cannot see it? Avoid using reds, pinks, beiges, light greens and derivative colors, especially if they are being printed over a picture or similar background. Use colors that are highly contrasting and use lots of white background on cards that have a substantial amount of text. Raised inks are excellent if you sell luxury travel, as are contrasting colors, such as a dark brown text on a very light beige background.


Consider Using Multi-Fold or Die Cut Business Cards: To really set your unique value proposition apart from everyone else’s you may wish to consider using a two-fold or three-fold business card. We use a three-fold card that is our mini brochure for the books that we write. This gives us 6-panels on which to advertise and once it is folded, it is the same size as a normal business card. We get book orders from the cards all the time. If you do use a die cut presentation, use it all the way through your marketing materials.


Since selling river cruises can be defined visually, consider using a die cut business card that illustrates your niche. As an example, if you specialize in selling AmaWaterways, why not use a two-fold card with a die cut picture of the AmaMagna on the top panel? This will make your specialty crystal clear.


By following these suggestions, you will be one step closer to achieving success and cementing your brand identity. In the next chapter, we will discuss how best to use your business cards.


Promote Yourself

Okay, you have identified your UVP and developed a plan of action to establish and promote your “river cruise brand”, but there is one more component that is sometimes the most difficult, self-promotion on a personal level. Sure, you have promoted “You” as your brand in all your marketing materials. But, when it comes to selling yourself and not your product you fall short.


Do you ever find it difficult to promote yourself? I know, this sounds like a crazy question when in fact you are in the business of selling. Why does it seem easier sometimes to sell a dream river cruise to a client than it is to talk about ourselves and promote our expertise? Learning to sell a river cruise and learning to sell yourself are two different things altogether. The fact is, if you really care about to whom you sell river cruise experiences; you need to get comfortable with promoting yourself as part of the package.


Let’s delve into this a bit more and put yourself in this make-believe situation and think about how you might normally react. Then think about how you should react to build your business and your notoriety.


You are at a holiday party. Some of the partygoers are friends and others friends of friends that you have not met before. There are three or four of you just casually chatting about the weather, sports, or whatever non-travel focused subject that comes up. One of the friends of a friend asks what do you do? You answer, I am a river cruise expert. Perhaps they gaze at you with a look of confusion because they really wanted more. A five-word answer is simply a teaser to them. Do we not say more because we are afraid to be pushy or too self-interested? Maybe we think it is inappropriate to promote ourselves? What would you do if you had the opportunity for a do-over?


Certainly, we have only the most sincere reasons for not wanting to push ourselves on strangers. However, they asked. The conversation is expected to flow about you at that point because they want to know what you do. Not just what you do, but who you are and perhaps why you love what you do.


Program your internal monitor to set off your personal alarm if you find yourself shying away instead of moving toward a self-promotion situation. Don’t try to change anything yet, just notice. Make a mental note of the thoughts that run through your head at these moments. Just noticing and being aware of the feelings, will give you the chance to understand how your current fear of self-promotion might be hindering your business growth. As you become more aware of how avoiding sales or promotion opportunities keep you from authentic engagement with current and potential customers, your reluctance to sell or self-promote will become front of mind. This should allow you to shift your current reactions to the situation to actions toward the continued growth of your travel business.


This might be a response to the question “What do you do?”


“Having been in the travel industry for decades and experienced hundreds of cruises, I have fostered a deep love for river cruising. Of course, I am a certified specialist for all of the major river cruise lines, but I specialize in Europe’s fascinating rivers and have a strong working relationship with what I consider the best of the major U.S. lines in Europe. I completely know the ships, ports and attractions and enjoy helping people discover river cruising’s excitment and unique experience. While I have clients all over the world, I love to work with river cruisers here in San Diego because I can bring my expertise into their homes and offices. My clients call me “San Diego’s River Cruise Expert.”