Marketing Lessons from Ryanair — Customer Engagement

In this final installment of my three part series, I explore some of the techniques Ryanair will need to utilize to drive customer engagement in 2015.

1. Customer Retention

Since it’s inception Ryanair has primarily treated customers as discrete transactions. You bought a ticket for a flight, you flew. That was it. No frequent flyer club, no segmentation and no customer account where you could ‘log in’. But this is slowly changing.

The new Ryanair model is rooted in relationship marketing, where a completed flight will no longer signal the end of the transaction. With recent developments, the extensive customer data Ryanair has access to is slowly being utilized, enabling them to engage and retain passengers, as well as to serve segments with different propositions.

So what do they need to focus on as their marketing strategy evolves?

a/ The Website

While there have been significant improvements with the website of late, the customer experience when seeking to transact is still pretty awful. While most shopping carts are designed to move prospects along the purchase funnel as quickly as possible without distraction, Ryanair’s focus on selling add-on’s is at odds with user experience (UX) best practice. The contrast with Amazon’s 1-Click ordering could not be starker.

The primary reason for the poor checkout experience is that the various add-on’s represent a significant chunk of revenue, appealing to certain buyer segments. Who all these people are remains one of life’s big mysteries.

The shift in focus towards relationship marketing is increasingly evident however. Even the language has changed. Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs is increasingly using words like; segmentation, engagement and retention. Words that simply would have not crossed CEO Michael O’Leary’s lips.

Gaining a deeper understanding as to the different users’ preferences is an important element of this transition to a more relational view of their customers, based on segmentation and personalization. And it is the addition of the MyRyanair link on the homepage and the ‘Register now’ pop up that renders in the shopping cart, that signals Ryanair’s intentions as they encourage more visitors to ‘sign up and to log in’. As Ryanair’s use of technology improves further it is likely that certain segments like business travelers will be able to log in from a mobile device and to quickly transact (given time and convenience are key requirements) for this cohort. Similarly, knowing a visitors ‘hometown’ will also ensure they are not offered car hire or hotels when ‘going home’.

Whether the offer of gambling on the ticket price is retained remains to be seen?

Figure 1: Ryanair Play to Win

Over time the site will become more responsive (in design terms), so when visitors to Ryanair.com access the site from a mobile device or tablet they will be offered a richer mobile experience than the current options (‘full desktop’ or ‘download the app’).

b/ Content

Offering valuable content is an increasingly important element of companies inbound marketing strategies, and further investment in content creation by Ryanair will be required. The benefits of this investment in content are numerous including:

2. Customer Acquisition

The ability to serve the needs of passive browsers and customers alike (attracting the former, informing the latter re ‘things to do’).

a/ Search Engine Optimisation

Helping to ensure that Ryanair can compete against other travel sites on ‘destination searches’ on Google e.g. “top things to do in Rome” (rather than rely primarily on branded search terms such as “Ryanair” as the key traffic drivers).

Finally, they will likely invest heavily in images and video content, as these lend themselves well to the travel sector.

Figure 2: Easyjet’s Happy Bums Campaign

The investment in visual content will also help align them with the increased popularity of visually rich applications like Vimeo, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. As these popular apps often reside as Apps on the home screen of a large number of people’s smart phones it is vital that these medium are explored in terms of advertising opportunities.

b/ Mobile

The launch of a new mobile app in 2014 offering customers the ability to check-in online on a smartphone and also to generate a boarding pass were welcome improvements. There is nothing exceptional with this though, given these are standard for all airlines. Hence, Ryanair needs to invest significantly in mobile, as customer usage continues to grow exponentially. Ensuring their mobile app is ‘best of breed’ increases the likelihood that their target market will download it ensuring the brand stays front of mind (otherwise it is likely only frequent travelers will bother downloading).

The app will need to evolve such that the focus on a simple user interface (UI) is not lost, while adding best of breed features; ranging from currency converters, to flight trackers to relevant offers e.g. relevant to the context. Finally, the feature set will need to mirror real user behaviours along the customer journey from search to purchase, rather than focus exclusively on the features required for the ‘day of travel’.

c/ Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

A leading edge CRM system will need to be in situ underpinning all of these activities to ensure Ryanair takes advantage of the customer data opportunities.

Using customer data to good effect (while ensuring data privacy) will offer significant value and their ongoing investment in top IT talent like data scientists will pay dividends.

Figure 3: Ryanair Labs

The ability to send customers timely, contextually relevant information based on customer data will help shift Ryanair away from an advertising approach akin to the flashing lights of Times Square, to inbound marketing based on email communications offering helpful advice linked to upcoming travel plans.

Similarly, this CRM will afford a stronger relationship with customers, ensuring timely messaging can be sent, as well as ensuring that offers are tailored to the individual as much as is possible. The offers of car hire and hotels I receive when flying back into London (where I reside and hence have no need for these services) will hopefully be a thing of the past.

d/ Email Marketing

As part of their engagement strategy, a policy of shifting the millions of eyeballs on their site to prospects they can engage with represent yet another opportunity. Adding a simple Hello Bar (drop down bar with a simple ‘call-to-action’) at the top of the site or scroll triggered box, represent simple unobtrusive additions that could be used to capture emails which could then be used to market to. A monthly newsletter marrying best offers, and compelling content will serve to cater for non customers and passive browsers.

Aside from growing a database of prospects, more effective marketing to existing (and past) customers needs to improve. As emails are captured as part of the purchase process, Ryanair can initiate a drip campaign of ‘post purchase’ emails along the customer journey i.e. from the initial receipt through to ‘1 week before’ to ‘1 day before’ to the ‘day after’. All of these communications offer opportunities to provide value. Identifying a range of segments will also help tailor offers, as the requirements from a family holiday versus a business person traveling on a day trip will vary considerably.

e/ On Board WiFi

The recent announcement that Ryanair plan to offer on-board WiFi represents a significant opportunity. Given the huge penetration rates of Smartphone’s and tablets, a large and growing portion of their customers will likely have WiFi enabled devices with them on board.

  • Can Ryanair offer free WiFi access in return for the customer signing up as a member?
  • Or offer free access in return for exposure to adverts?

These options would be preferable to ‘paid for’ access, which is unlikely to drive adoption (witness the growing backlash against hotels charging customers for wifi). And with flight times rarely exceeding 2 hours buying ’24 access’ simply isn’t going to fly.

As mobile payments evolve further, travelers should also be able to transact directly from their devices, paying for on-board purchases and removing the transaction costs associated with different currencies and ‘managing cash’.

Finally, given the growing focus on segments like business users, figuring out a way to provide free WiFi access will likely unlock significant value. And while streaming content like videos will be out of the question given bandwidth challenges, downloading emails and browsing news sites should be possible in the short term. The key will be to facilitate easy access in as frictionless a manner as possible.

3. Summary

As I have outlined in previous articles current conditions are extremely favourable for Ryanair and the ‘always getting better’ approach is paying dividends. Given the sheer numbers of passengers, the gains from having the best engineers and data scientists working with them is paramount.

Evaluating Ryanair against best practices indicates there is much to be done. While part of their digital lag is cultural, it also reflects the historic lack of competitive pressures (from other low cost carriers) on many of their routes. However, with further industry consolidation likely, and more choice for customers as other low cost carriers replicate Ryanair’s business model, they need to up their game. After-all, increasing numbers searching for ‘weekend breaks’ will be content to travel anywhere for the right price. And that brings them squarely into competition with the likes of Easyjet who have had a digital focus for some time. Enhancing their digital marketing efforts represents a key element in helping them achieve their ambitious growth goals in 2015.

Alan Gleeson is a B2B Marketing Consultant based in London with a passion for helping SaaS businesses to grow.

Follow Alan on Twitter or visit Work With Agility to learn more.

Further Reading

How Digital Helped Transform Ryanair’s Fortunes

Ryanair’s Digital Strategy for 2015