In 2010, Ryanair planned to introduce a €1 pay as you go toilet fee. The airline worked with aircraft manufacturer Boeing to develop a coin-operated door release system, so it could charge customers to use the toilet on-board. Although the plan was never implemented, the idea was so controversial that segments of Irish radio talk shows were dedicated to the topic. One caller rang in to say they’d pay the extra euro and spend the whole flight in the toilet for the extra leg room.
Gone are the days of Ryanair Chief Executive, Michael O’Leary charging passengers who forget to print their boarding passes “€60 for being so stupid”. There’s a new customer communications Chief in town. In February 2014, Kenny Jacobs was appointed the first Chief Marketing Officer in Ryanair’s 30-year history and was hired to take over Ryanair’s marketing strategy. Jacobs, the new face of Ryanair, talks about customer loyalty and improved user experience; words that would never have been heard from O’Leary.
Jacobs’ launched Ryanair’s Always Getting Better programme. He stated that “we’re a very functional brand, but I need to make us more likeable with our customers”. The programme captures the core values of the “new” Ryanair, which are a relentless focus on listening to customers and improving their experience. In the words of O’Leary, the programme will “fix the things our customers don’t like”.
The change in how customers perceive Ryanair is already evident. They have dropped a lot of additional fees and they’ve attempted to enhance the travel and service experience by introducing quiet flights in morning and evenings. Allocated seating means no more racing fellow passengers through the jet way to avoid being stuck in seat 32B with no space to store your hand luggage.
So what are the key elements of Jacobs’ digital strategy?
1/ The Creation of the Data Lab
Before Jacobs’ arrival, Ryanair, like most airlines, knew little about its customers. Jacobs came straight from Moneysupermarket after working in brand marketing with companies like Tesco and P&G, companies that are leaders in collecting and utilising customer data.
Jacobs remarked that “Working at Tesco with the Clubcard loyalty scheme, we knew everything about our customers. Airlines don’t do that. We’re now converting that data into a big asset for the company.” Jacobs set up Ryanair Labs in order to build the “best digital travel team on the planet”.
Unlike other companies, Jacobs understands the need for marketing and technology to collaborate in order to succeed – “my digital marketing team sit, alongside the technology team. That avoids the traditional marketing versus technology. We’re putting them in the same boat, because so much of marketing is technology and so much of technology has become marketing”.
2/ Looking to other industries for inspiration
Jacobs looks for inspiration from different industries to improve Ryanair’s marketing strategy. Jacobs said that “Airlines in general are not that good at data, retailers are much better, so we’re going to be learning from what Amazon do”. Jacobs combined his background in Software as a Service (SaaS) and retail in order to strategically move Ryanair away from a consumer transactional focus to a customer relational one.
3/ The Adoption of Market Segmentation
Ryanair didn’t really differentiate the product, whether that be for business or leisure travellers. 20% of Ryanair’s customers are flying for business. The launch of ‘Ryanair Business Plus’ gives business travellers the flexibility to change their tickets. They get priority boarding and they get an extended luggage allowance. It gives business travellers who are savvy the lowest fares but they also get things that they need for business travel, particularly a flexible ticket and fast track boarding.
A lot of business travellers who used to travel with other airlines are now travelling with Ryanair Business Plus thereby successfully attracting new customers to the company. Membership cards and curtains between classes will never suit the Ryanair business model. Ryanair is reaping the rewards of the new wave of ‘loyalty commerce’, a system where members gain access to a wider range of more relevant and attainable rewards, designed to suit them e.g. enhanced flexibility and boarding facilities and not the traditional token glass of champagne.
4/ Saying goodbye to the old Ryanair.com
Say goodbye to ‘full desktop’ or ‘download the app’. Ryanair.com has become more responsive, so visitors are offered a far richer user experience than before. Trying to navigate the old website was a real challenge and Jacobs focus on digital has led to a number of significant improvements with the website.
Thanks to Jacobs, you’ll no longer check your booking confirmation only to realise you’ve accidentally paid to travel insurance and rented a Hertz car for the weekend.
The addition of the ‘My Ryanair’ link on the homepage and the ‘Register now’ call-to-action signal Ryanair’s intentions to have more customers ‘sign up and to log in’. Offering valuable content is an increasingly important element of companies inbound marketing strategies, and further investment in content creation by Ryanair will be required.
5/ The Future of Ryanair and Mobile
Being ahead of the game in terms of mobile is a crucial part of the company’s aim to be the digital leader in aviation. Ryanair’s customers are always on the move, particularly on the day of travel. Mobile allows ongoing communication. It’s in your pocket the whole time, so Ryanair has an opportunity to keep engaged with customers.
Traditionally, Ryanair’s marketing strategy tended to revolve around Michael O’Leary’s colourful and controversial statements; a prime example being “Germans will crawl bollock-naked over broken glass to get low fares”. Making Jacobs the new face of the brand mirrors the company’s efforts to refocus their attention on the customer. That said, this mightn’t be the last we’ve seen from O’Leary at the forefront. It’s been four years since he suggested Ryanair would be introducing standing-only tickets and his wacky ideas on how to cut costs will be missed by many.
A year into his position, Jacobs stated that the key to Ryanair’s strategy was that they “just listened to customers”. Despite its re-position in the aviation space, Ryanair will never let go of its Robin Hood spirit. According to Jacobs “We’re still the Aldi of the air. There’s an element of authenticity that people still appreciate.”
Low fares will always be what makes Ryanair so special. Jacobs stated that “it’s never going to be sexy, and it’s never going to be too sophisticated to fly short haul with Ryanair, it doesn’t need to be, that’s not what people are looking for”.
Ryanair hopes to more than double passenger numbers in the next 10 years after agreeing a deal to buy up to 200 new Boeing aircraft. They expect 120 million customers to fly with Ryanair in 2020.
If Jacobs can change the perception of airports and flying from exhausting to liberating in the way Persil changed the perception of dirt from bad to good, Ryanair’s newest competitor could well be the London Underground. Why stand for 60 minutes on a tube when you can fly in 50? It could well be possible that those living in Shannon might make it to Waterloo faster than those living in Wimbledon.