Born on the historic Mississippi River, the American Queen Steamboat Company was an icon that had gotten stuck. Although its parent company, Hornblower, had acquired ocean and lake cruises, the pandemic hit, taking a deep toll on travel in general and cruising in particular. When American Queen turned to us to transform their business, we needed a way to get the brand “unstuck.” After delving deep into the future of travel we found our solution in the paradoxical insight that “motion creates connection” and the brand idea that “discovery runs deep.” This strategy inspired us to invent a data-driven design system, “Nauticode,” that fundamentally changed not only the American Queen brand but the experience itself. Nauticode used nautical data from each journey to shapeshift the brand’s paddlewheel iconography according to the boat’s movements, ports traveled to, and times at port.
Our strategy centered around the idea of delivering on discovery. Across channels, we sought to create an experience to educate, inspire, and elicit action under our new notion of discovery and emersion into the world around you. Our design system was built to give the consumer a feeling of discovery, motion from initial contact, and spark their curiosity. Their experience with American Queen begins at their first interaction with us.
We first announced our rebrand to the industry at Seatrade Cruise Global, the world’s annual cruising industry conference. To educate our audience on our brand transformation and design language, we used CRM, social, and digital to inform on the new design meaning for both the brand and for the customer. In paid social, we used broad, lookalike and retargeting audiences, to deepen engagement among users that were most likely to book a trip with American Queen. Across channels we communicated the meanings and significance of this new system, careful to tell the story in a concise, clear way, for those already familiar with the brand and those who are net new. It was important to us and our consumer that we keep the American Queen heritage while still moving the brand into the future, an important distinction we made throughout marketing efforts.
To inspire, we leveraged this design language in our new Cruise Atlas, bus wrappings, and on social. These methods helped us spark curiosity and engagement into the new experience customers can have with American Queen. To elicit action, we leveraged our design on our new website and seamless, modern booking system. We drove to the website and bookings through CRM, social, and digital channels.
We needed to help people find their place in the world through experiencing, not just seeing.
Brand Transformation and Consideration
The launch of Nauticode broke American Queen’s single-day booking record, surpassing the previous high mark by 10% (Source: Travel Pulse). Average monthly website visits increased 52.4% YoY from August-October 2021 to August-October 2022 (Similar Web). The work also worked hard, earning media attention from outlets ranging from Fast Company “Harnessing the Power of Virtual Systems to Boost Innovation” to Campaign “American Queen Voyages Hits the Seas with a Data-Driven Rebrand.” Nauticode triggered more consumer requests for information (2022-2024 Voyage Atlas cruise catalog) than at any other point in the company’s history.
Social Engagement and Growth
Meta ads over-indexed for retiring or retired seniors who vacationed regularly (MRI-Simmons). In February of 2022 (post-launch), AQV saw the best performing Facebook post since January of 2021 with 241% above all other posts since launch and 1,511% above post average for total volume of comments for AQV’s channels (Source: Ads Manager, Meta). American Queen follows on Instagram grew 12.4% from launch to Q3, 2022 (Source: Ads Manager, Meta). For the duration of our campaign, the Meta LCTR was 2.15%, with paid social average being ~1% (Source: Ad Manager, Meta and Statista). Email subscriptions went up 71% after our paid social campaign launched (Source: Google Analytics).
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