Instead of price-focused ads, Ryanair’s marketing plans for the coming year will increasingly focus on customer service improvements and building its travel content business after investing in an in-house studio last year, according to its chief marketing officer.
Despite being hit with a slew of criticism last September after cancelling over 2,000 flights due to a staffing oversight, Ryanair announced today (5 February) that it had delivered a 12% rise in profits to €106m for the third quarter.
Though insistent that there was no lasting brand damage as a result, chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs admitted to The Drum that the brand learned some tough lessons and plans to introduce a number of new customer service tools that will be talked up in its marketing efforts in the coming year.
“We needed to protect punctuality because it’s the second biggest reason that people choose Ryanair,” said Jacobs of the decision to ground over 25 aircraft. “It was challenging to get through but I think we done OK.”
According to YouGov brand tracking data, Ryanair’s Impression score (whether someone has a positive impression of the brand) dropped to -52 among the general public during that time.
Since then, things have begun to recover, though it still remains someway short of its pre-crisis levels, with its Impression score currently standing at -36.
Meanwhile, its Buzz score (whether someone has heard something positively or negative about the brand in the past two weeks) follows a similar trend. Its score dropped to -45 at its lowest point, though that has now improved to -18.
However, Ryanair remains at the bottom of the airline sector in terms of both Impression and Buzz.
Jacobs takes YouGov stats with a pinch of salt, putting more credence on its internal surveys of people who have travelled with the carrier. And according to those, 86% of the customers who flew with Ryanair in December were “satisfied”.
But that’s not to say the outrage of 300,000 passengers in the cancelled flights saga hasn’t had a longtail impact; as a direct result, Jacobs said more investment would be made into digitising customer serves to make the process of claiming compensation easier.
Bringing its previously outsourced compensations team in house, Ryanair claimed it will soon halve the time it takes to process claims to just 10 days while people will be able to access “clearer, simpler forms” to make a claim via the app.
“Those learnings from the last six months will be brought into the next year. We will invest in customer service in 2018.”
Jacobs has made no secret of the airline’s vision to be “the Amazon” of travel, and by that he means that like the e-commerce giant, he wants passengers to buy into more services, and buy more often.
According to its financial results, ‘ancillary revenue’ – the revenue generated from add on services like checked luggage, speedy boarding, reserved seating and more recently hotel bookings – grew 12%.
Like Amazon’s Prime, at the heart of Ryanair’s revenue generation plans is the MyRyanair app which now has 40 million members. Expanding the add-on services people access via the app in the coming year is priority and the next addition will be “connecting tickets”, sold in partnership with rival Aer Lingus. This means that if someone has an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to London and a connecting flight to Paris they can check-in, along with their luggage, for the entire trip.
“We’re going back to basics of driving visits and monetising those visits into customers buying flights from us, and then buying more stuff from us. We’ve increased those conversations,” he said.
Ryanair claims to have achieved all of this with the lowest marketing spend compared to other major airliners. Since embarking on the long running 'Always Getting Better' programme, the most “efficient” metric for Jacobs on effectives is spend per passenger and he claims that Ryanair is spending sub €0.12 on advertising to each flier.
“If you contrast that with other low-cost airlines which are around €5 or legacy airlines which are around €10 then we’ve got the lowest,” he claimed.
The massively reduced cost is down to its reliance on email marketing, on which Jacobs would “spend on until the cows come home.”
“We now have a sophisticated programmatic approach to email. And when we announce a flash sale and we launch a social and follow up with a big email campaign it drives traffic like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.
“We don’t spend anything on PPC and take great pride in that. It’s quite something to be the world’s most visited airline platform with the most efficient marketing spend without spending anything on Google. That’s a rare achievement.”
And that doesn’t look likely to change in the coming year. But where it will be investing heavily is with content. Jacobs recently set up a six-strong in-house division of content marketers, supported by 10 freelancers, all producing everything from short videos to full destination guides which sits in an online hub.
“We’ve now got 1,000 pieces of bespoke content,” he said, saying its growth is currently being fuelled by customers uploading their own content, such as reviews of hotels.
“There’s a genuine space in the industry for every day destination guides for everyday people. Not everyone is a Conde Nast reader going to the Maldives; for every one of them there’s probably 100 that are deciding whether to go to Benidorm or Alicante,” Jacobs continued.
“That’s really what we’re pitching it at. Covering all the destinations we fly to and promoting the new destinations we add. It gives us another club in the bag, moving beyond talking about how we get you from A to B for a low price.”
This will soon be amplified in its above-the-line marketing. It launched its first campaign for Ryanair Rooms – also the first ever marketing activity that didn’t promote cheap flights – last month in the UK and Ireland, which is “working very well for bookings” and “will expand to other markets” imminently.