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Thomas Cook Airlines turns to performance marketing for building brand awareness

Thomas Cook Airlines is using dynamic creative and affiliate marketing techniques to bolster its overall brand awareness rather than direct response alone.

The travel company’s airline is upping its focus on affiliate targeting techniques, having struck a tie-up with e-commerce technology firm Bright North, which will extend its ability to influence customers further up the purchase funnel.

The brand, which has been steadily increasing its marketing team since last year, has now also introduced programmatic targeting to its campaign activity and focused its affiliate marketing to capitalise on the value of its long-tail publishers.

Thomas Cook Airlines head of online Helen Atkinson said raising brand awareness is at the heart of all on and offline activity, against a challenging competitive environment dominated by other major airlines.

“We are not known that well – people think of Easyjet and Ryanair – they are not thinking of Thomas Cook [as an airline] – so there's an important brand awareness objective in it too.” She added that the core brand messaging for the airline’s 2015 marketing is still being determined, but that for now focus is on “getting customers to understand we are an airline”.

Atkinson stressed the importance of marrying its performance-based campaigns with its brand awareness KPIs, saying that the two needn’t be mutually exclusive.

“We are using affiliate as a brand awareness piece, which is quite unusual but exciting. Last year we launched two different routes from New York and Miami and used the affiliate channel to drive brand awareness and got blogs, articles and banners on sites. We knew that wouldn’t necessarily drive a last-click conversion, but that was ok – we set them different KPIs, and looked at the path to conversion for customers too and where it fitted in the marketing mix along with our PR, display, email, and SEO strategy – it’s unique but exciting and I hope more brands start to do it as its certainly a channel that gets overlooked for brand awareness,” she said.

The brand will use Bright North’s tools to help it integrate its live-pricing feed to its long-tail affiliate partners and in doing so extend the reach of its dynamically targeted ads to those sites.

“People will go to Skyskanner when they want to look for specific flights, and it is very price led so as long as the prices are right we will get the traffic and the booking s. But it’s really these long-tail affiliates that let us really influence the customer higher up in the purchase funnel through these kinds of creative listings.

“It’s giving the customer the option and showing them what they do. They can go to Skyskanner when they want to plan a specific trip, but with our long tail partners the customers are more in the influencing stage – we can serve dynamic ads around it that are relevant to them.”

Atkinson's comments come as the airline refreshed its aircraft and fleet. Over the last week reports have emerged that Thomas Cook is potentially eyeing a sale of its airline business. Although it hasn't been confirmed by the brand, a Thomas Cook spokesperson said it was "open for opportunities which might include partnering with other partners / airlines."

It sent the following statement to The Drum: "We are very pleased with the development of our airlines and the integration our four airlines have achieved so far. Our Group Airlines have contributed more than £100m of synergies to our overall cost savings and they are working closer together than ever.

"We have also invested in the refurbishment of the cabins of our long-haul fleet and we have added long-haul aircraft to our Condor fleet in Germany and the UK. This shows that we see our airlines as an important part of our business and a support of our profitable growth strategy. Of course we are always open for opportunities which might include partnering with other partners/airlines."

Thomas Cook Airlines is also looking to expand its long-haul flight destinations, and will ramp up activity around promoting that accordingly.

Jessica Davies

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