Z-list celebrities, tailgating drivers and calls from spam marketers would all appear high on my list of annoying things in society. Up until fairly recently I’d also have included the usability and booking experience of the Ryanair website. Clunky, awkward and slow, for many weary holiday-makers it was the Mount Everest of frustrating internet experiences.
However, Ryanair hopes the old days of its poor online customer experience will be relegated to history after making a significant investment in their new website. The revamped site forms part of its new marketing strategy aiming to improve customer experience. Last year Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary was forced to eat an uncharacteristic slice of humble pie admitting shortcomings in the company’s customer service and outlining a series of investments in the customer web experience. “These improvements”, O’Leary said, “will be accompanied by a new Digital Marketing strategy which will see Ryanair switch a significant proportion of its marketing budget from old to new media, with a particular focus on mobile and social media platforms.”
A closer look at their new marketing strategy reveals that their investment in digital marketing is the latest move in a very smart marketing and business growth plan.
Ryanair Marketing Strategy
Over the past 20 years, Ryanair’s business strategy has been devastating effective at growing their market share and cementing their position as Europe’s leading low-cost airline. The Ryanair story stands out as a prime example of how to deliver a ‘cost leadership’ marketing strategy. Their strategy centred on prioritising a ‘no frills’ low-price offering to budget conscious travellers compared to the traditional high cost grandees of air travel including British Airways. Ryanair also differentiated itself from other airlines by offering an incentive to save money by booking and checking-in online. In marketing terms, Ryanair’s proposition was very clear: ‘we offer significant discounts as long as you follow our rules which in turn allow us to cut expensive overheads.
Not only was their marketing strategy very straightforward and very sound, so to was their fresh and often brilliant approach to PR. Each and every time the tabloid media cried foul over a lack of customer service with headlines such as ‘Ryanair separate mum and tot on flight!’, Michael O’Leary used it to his advantage in interviews in which he repeated Ryanair’s price mantra over and over again. The result was that Ryanair secured free editorial coverage and reinforced the airlines unique price saving messages.
As competition in the budget airline market increased sharply in recent years there was a feeling that Ryanair needed to address their poor reputation for customer service. For years Ryanair’s attitude to customers could be described as uncaring at best and contemptuous at worst. Ryanair also needed to address their poor and outdated website experience which was increasingly embarrassing and ineffective in an era of mass internet and ecommerce usage.
So their new marketing strategy aims to utilise digital technology to help the company achieve the objectives of mass product promotion, boosting customer loyalty and improving customer service. To that end, Ryanair appointed a new Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs, and for the first time in 25 years the airline has invested in TV advertising to communicate the new customer-friendly site. However Ryanair’s commitment to utilising digital media and marketing aims to go well beyond their website. The company will use digital advertising, email marketing and social media to reach target audiences across different stages of the customer lifecycle. Effective use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) will also be critical for encouraging repeat custom and the company is investing heavily in developing systems that make it easier to sell more to current customers. Investment has also begun in using social media, and next month will see the launch of a mobile-friendly website and free boarding–pass app.
Airlines and Digital Marketing
There’s no doubt the global travel market has been transformed massively by the twin forces of deregulation and consumer power online. But while some companies have viewed the developments as threats, other more forward-thinking airlines have been fast to realise the potential opportunities. Jet Blue, the US regional airline, is a case in point. The company has grown significantly in the past five years by placing a very strong emphasis on customer experience including the use of social media sites such as Twitter and You Tube to speak to customers directly and promote the brand in an interesting, fun and friendly way.
If there’s one company that can has a lot of potential to improve its customer experience reputation it’s Ryanair. Up to now, the company has been highly adept at marketing its service on price. The next hurdle is to deliver on their plans for improved customer experience and exploit the massive rise in consumer use of digital – from mobile to social media. If they can achieve that, then they’ll certainly have a lot to trumpet about.