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Part 1: Butlins' head of communications and The Drum Marketing Awards 2013 chairman Jae Hopkins talks strategy, social media and compers


By Stephen Lepitak, -

January 21, 2013 | 9 min read

Jae Hopkins, head of communications for Butlins and chair of the Drum Marketing Awards 2013 talks about the brand’s recent change of direction in marketing strategy and the company’s growing use of social media which is at the heart of much of its ongoing activity.

Jae Hopkins

You've had a change in marketing strategy recently - why was that?

The big thing is that we’ve always been proud of our heritage but a little bit nervous about talking about it because we wanted to focus on the fact that we’re current, that we’re making changes to the resorts and have made changes having invested about £160 million in the last eight years. We’ve invested hugely, so we wanted to talk about all the new stuff, but actually, after some research, we realised that the warmth and nostalgia surrounding the brand, and the humanness of that is a part of what makes it really appealing to families. We looked back at what Billy Butlin was originally trying to do with the brand and we felt that we were still trying to do the same thing as him and decided to talk about that with pride.

The strapline that he used for the brand, which he’d taken from a fairground organ that was originally a Shakespeare quote; “Our true intent is all for your delight” and that’s still true now, the difference is how you delight a family in 2013 to how you did in 1936, but the intent is still that same. We know that the person who makes the decision on a short break is mum, she’s the person who we need to influence and she’s the hero or villain at the end of the holiday, depending on how it’s gone.

Mums care a lot about values in a brand and the feeling that a brand cares. It might sound a bit ‘wishy washy’ and a bit trite, but it’s true. Mums are interested in whether the brand has a heart and where that heart is. The adaptation of Billy’s intents and all of his original thoughts about holidays such as the importance of the seaside and of trying something new, he said a lot of things that ring absolutely true for us. Our whole brochure this year is around those tenants, taking the things he said and centring it around those. That has just led us onto this lovely, warm nostalgic look which we’re now using. We adopted the original Butlins logo and dropped the previous blocky one for our 75th birthday in 2011 and we loved it. The plan was to only use it for a year, but everyone loved it and felt that it was so much more real and actually less dated, despite being a much older logo. So we decided to keep it and the spin off from that from concentrating on our heritage is that we’ve now got a retro, warm, nostalgic feel that still allows us to talk about the changes we’ve made to our brand that make it real and relevant to families now.

What reaction have you had to the recent activity?

We are researchers at heart. Everything we do we test with panels and mums and people who have or haven’t been to Butlins before it goes live and then afterwards. We haven’t got around to doing much research yet on the new TV ad as it only went live on Boxing Day. The brochure has been really well received and it almost feels like a brand book now, but that’s what we’re selling to people. It’s the concept of Butlins, it’s not like a holiday brochure when you’re going to Mallorca, where you flick through and every page has a different hotel telling you about different facilities. If you come on a Butlins holiday, then you’re buying into the Butlins ethos and what we can do for helping families enjoy their time together, across whichever of those three resorts you go to. So it feels like a brand book makes sense as that is what we’re selling to people, the concept of our brand, and that has gone down really well. The social conversion is higher than ever too.

The TV advert is an interesting one using the ‘Trololo’ song. It’s quite a kitsch internet meme of a Russian guy who was singing in the Russian Royal Variety Show and for some reason, relatively last minute Russian TV wouldn’t let him sing the words, so he had to sing ‘Lalalala’ all the way through it instead. That’s become an internet meme with millions of views on YouTube, which made us think it was really warm, fun and it would get some social chatter going as well, which it has. We’ve been responding to some of that as a brand where it’s been positive. Where it’s been negative I’ve been responding personally instead so that they can see who I am and people believe the response more if it comes from an individual. Actually people have responded with a great sense of humour, even the geeky students who believe it’s theirs, when I tell them that at least it’s got them tweeting about the ad, which has been lovely and pushed up our views on YouTube. We’re about to launch a giveaway of ringtones of it through social media, which will hopefully continue to drive chatter about it.

The brand seems to have a real social media focus. Where do you introduce that activity when it comes to campaign planning?

There are two things for Butlins when it comes to social media. The first is to respond to stuff, which is the guest communication, customer care side of it where people are asking questions on our Facebook page or tweeting about us. We will engage with as many people as we possibly can. We’ve got the brilliant Amber and Serene working here and one of them is always here every day replying to everything. They are fantastic! And although that’s a customer care option, because it’s on social, that’s also a reassurance about how we treat our guests to people who haven’t come to us yet because they can see exactly what we’re doing and that we’re responding. Where we have an opportunity to respond, we will. People who book holidays with us have said they’ve done so because they’ve seen how we responded through either to a review or a Facebook comment or a tweet. We know that actively makes a difference to how we’re seen.

The second part is a more strategic aim to push information out. We’ve got a content roadmap to ensure that we have interesting stuff going up on Facebook all of the time. We created an advent calendar last year on Facebook which massively increased our page 'likers’ during December by a third. And the point of doing that was because the biggest buying period for holidays is January/February. More than half our holiday stock for the year is sold by the second week in March. So we know that is when people are looking for holidays and now is when we have to try and capture them. In order to do that, we wanted to increase our audience on Facebook leading up to that time. We’ve also just hit 20,000 Twitter followers through the use of a competition to giveaway a break and now we have over 60,000 Facebook likers, which for a relatively small company of 3 resorts is doing ok. I want it to be bigger and better but we’re doing ok. The advent calendar helped us make a large leap there. We’re now in a position where we’re thinking about the next project and that’s likely to be about food because we know that one of the preconceptions that people have about Butlins is that we don’t care about food when actually we do. Brian Turner has a restaurant at one resort, and our chefs have all been training with him and other professional chefs and we care deeply about ensuring that family mealtimes are great. It’s really important to us that people have good choice and good quality and we thought working on a project around food using social was absolutely in line with that.

There will also be some above-the-line activity included. It will mainly be social, a little bit of PR and also rolling it out through marketing, although that won’t include TV or press.

The second part of Hopkins interview will run tomorrow, where she discusses the importance of competitions, what 2013 holds for Butlin's and what she hopes to see from entrants to The Drum Marketing Awards.

Jae Hopkins will act as chairman for this year's The Drum Marketing Awards.

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