Skyscanner’s Bold Approach to Global Growth

“Buzz” and Joanna. Courtesy of Ad:Tech Conference, Technology for Marketing 2018.

How did Skyscanner set off on a bold mission with Studio INTO for global brand transformation?

Full length version originally presented at the Ad:tech conference, Technology for Marketing London, 26th September 2018 by Joanna Brassett, Studio INTO’s Founding Director and Steve ‘Buzz’ Pearce, Global Design Director at Skyscanner.

Synopsis: Segmentation, targeting and positioning are of course key to good marketing. But as businesses go super global and consumers expect increasingly authentic brand and product experiences, this is no longer enough. In this talk shows how Skyscanner set off on a bold mission with Studio INTO for global transformation and growth. Going beyond a travellers’ quantifiable data, the focus was on qualitative perceptions and the involvement of their biggest brand advocates (employees) and travellers in 10 key growth markets. Drawing on brand & design development, user research and global communication expertise, Buzz Pearce from Skyscanner and Joanna Brassett from INTO discuss how businesses and organisations need to take a smart approach to global brand communication. They share methods and strategies they successfully adapted during their future-focused brand transformation project in order to inspire future marketing strategies and content.

Developing products and services for people who live in a post-globalised world and have complex social and cultural backgrounds, has caused concern among many businesses. From this perspective Studio INTO helps brands not only to grow their local relevance but also to keep a global perspective. The project for Skyscanner focused mainly on understanding the traveller’s global context across 10 different countries. Here we present some key takeaways from the project and the recent talk.

Joanna: In a context of globalisation, culture has become a very powerful force. On one hand, we see homogenisation of culture as our high streets are becoming the same. On the other, we can see fragmentation where brands increasingly feel the need to connect with consumers and users at a very local level, because they know people will not accept “one size fits all” any more. Skyscanner knows that people are global and that this is not going to change any time soon.

The Steps of the Cultural Approach for Global Growth. Image taken from the keynote.

The main objective of this project was to understand the perceptions people have of this brand and the global aspect of travelling but through qualitative data. To do this we developed a five-step process across 10 different countries, with the help of our global INTO Cultural Guides Team.

Step 1. Macro /Micro. In order to be able to look at different perspectives, one Micro and the other Macro, we focused on individual travellers, their behaviours and attitudes. Then, by looking at wider social and cultural aspects, we found information that helped us understand why the travellers behave the way they behave. By intersecting these two perspectives, we started to see emerging behaviours and aspirations and so could prioritise which of these could be relevant for Skyscanner’s brand development in the coming years.

Step 2. Insider/Outsider. It also required to be an insider and outsider simultaneously. It’s crucially important in brand development to understand what employees at Skyscanner thought about the brand from an internal point of view and, then, to compare that with the outsider perspective of what travellers thought. This approach also allowed us to enrol employees at Skyscanner on the transformation journey.

Step 3. Reach out to your people. In order to do this, we contacted real travellers in 10 different countries and started comparing their specific needs, barriers, influences, drivers and even legislation. The key question here was: What connects all of them together?

Step 4. Collaborate /Cross-pollinate. Collaboration and cross-pollination are key. Here, before we started to work together, we mapped out all of the stakeholders and took into account how to onboard differences, what was the knowledge that different stakeholders could provide, how the insights that we were providing could act as a springboard for further development, what potential barriers there were to implementing change and how we could overcome them.

Step 5 of the Cultural Approach for Global Growth. Image taken from the keynote.

Step 5. Combine Local and Global Perspectives. Bringing these seemingly opposite approaches together highlights a challenge that many brands face: How do you keep the essence of a particular brand while showing you can adapt to local nuances? How can you show difference without losing brand identity? In order to deal with these questions, we knew we needed to see local and global not as two separate entities, but as opportunities in a spectrum. Local and global were no longer in opposition, but could layer over and seep into people’s lives in many different ways. A brand strategy can work across these different perspectives at these interfaces.

Buzz: This way, Joanna and the INTO team delivered a very comprehensive set of rich insights. One of the key insights that we got was, fundamentally, people did not really know the people behind the product.

That’s a classic thing of internet economy businesses, where you have an enormous amount of technology and you are delivering it at scale to the world, but then you lose that human connection. This was really quite interesting, we have been seen as socially stunted. Do people really understand what our purpose is and what our mission is? This knowledge became important for us in order to define the company strategy.

The Trust Equation. Image taken from the keynote.

That way, by following the trust equation, in Skyscanner, we felt confident about our Credibility and Reliability. I think that’s probably why you know Skyscanner, and that’s why you use it.

Therefore, we started to take a closer look at the concepts of Intimacy and Self-interest, mainly because we actually haven’t dealt with those interesting things. So, we started to develop a brand narrative. When you’re developing these things, you have to go back to the past, you have to understand, as Joanna said, the cultural context, and how the cultural climates would change people’s attitudes and behaviours. It’s a moving target, but how did Skyscanner get here? This was helpful for us to specify the need to build a brand that stands for something.

“Permanxiety”. Image taken from the keynote.

Another aspect that came across during the research was “Permanxiety”. That trembling feeling that goes: “Should I do this?” “Oh no, price is going to change. What’s going to happen?”. Here we realised that our business did not align with the joy and love of travel.

It is clear that many people might claim that they are customer-centric, but how much time do you really spend talking to your customers? These are the fundamental things that we get back to, provides very rich insights. This led to really embedding a company value we’ve always held dear, which is, “Traveler First, and Partner Second, and Skyscanner Third.” This was particularly helpful for developing our narrative and inform product development.

“A little love”. Image taken from the keynote.

In Skyscanner we also realised that all things mentioned are required to be done every single day, and that is how we are operating to now at Skyscanner. A “little love” is creating valuable relationships, best friendship. That is the trust equation. It is a little glimpse of what we are doing at Skyscanner. And I will hand it back to you, Joanna, as we become the traveller-first travel companion.

Joanna: If Skyscanner wants to develop their brand and operate in a post-globalized world, these are the kind of insights which allow us to understand the intimacy that could be built in between the travellers and the brand.

If you start to strategize looking into your numbers, you can improve them in your brand. But, if you actually start investigating the aspirations that are embedded in the social aspects and framed by the cultural contexts, as well as consider how to build trust, then this is how brands like Skyscanner can really inject trust back into their brand. And as a result, the importance of the cultural value becomes a springboard for further global transformation and growth.