Dispatch, American Queen: Common ground on the Mississippi

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Emma Weissmann is aboard the American Queen Steamboat Co.'s American Queen, sailing to the Mississippi River towns of Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, Mo., and Chester, Ill. Her first dispatch follows.

As I looked around at my fellow passengers onboard the American Queen, it wasn't difficult to pinpoint the company's target demographic. Simply put, it did not include me. As a 20-year-old from the Midwest, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Many of the guests were couples, the majority over the age of 50. As I later learned, they hailed mainly from Southern California, Florida and Texas (although there were a handful of Australians and Canadians onboard, as well).
I also noticed a few younger kids with their families, but they were few and far between, as were single travelers like me.

By the time I sat down to dinner that night with Jeff Krida, vice chairman and co-founder of the American Queen Steamboat Co., I thought I had the company's customer profile figured out. But as I soon learned, these customers had more in common than their age and marital status.

"It used to be about demographic profiling, but it's now about the psychographics," Krida said. "[For some,] it's lunch money for them, while others have saved their whole lives for this. But they have other things in common."

According to Krida, psychographics are what "makes your heart beat faster," and it can be a variety of things: the car that a client chooses to drive, the entertainment he or she enjoys, the type of cruises he or she prefers to take, etc.

By determining the similarities in his passengers' lifestyles, Krida believes that he, as well as travel consultants, can better market the American Queen product.

Recently, the American Queen Steamboat Co. partnered with Experian, a global information services group that collects lifestyle data and provides companies with "cohort profiles" that reflect consumer commonalities.

The agreement with Experian, Krida said, does not involve any consumer information reaching the American Queen Steamboat Co. directly, but rather offers an efficient way for both the American Queen and travel agents to ensure they are marketing their product to the right clients.

A high percentage of the American Queen Steamboat Co.'s clients have already taken a river cruise on international waters and have turned to the American Queen to avoid those "15-hour, red-eye flights," Krida said.

Now, when a travel agent compiles a list of his or her customers who have already taken river cruises in the past, the information can be sent to Experian, where other customer commonalities can be sorted out within that predetermined group (for example, similarities in purchasing habits).

This enables the line to market to a specific target base by using methods such as direct mail, eliminating other clients who are not in the same "cohort."

"It makes marketing the American Queen a no-brainer for travel agents," Krida said.

Out of curiosity, I asked Krida what car his guests preferred to drive.

"A Buick," Krida said with a smile.

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