Q&A with BA marketing head Richard Tams

ABTA Malta: British Airways head of sales and marketing UK & Ireland Richard Tams explains the tactical marketing decisions that have helped the airline retain customer loyalty and business through a period disrupted by the volcanic ash cloud and cabin crew strikes.

MW: What was the first tactic deployed to keep the business afloat after flying resumed and after industrial action ended.

Richard Tams: We put some great sale prices into the market. We have a sale three or four times a year and are as competitive as we can be. But we have tried to be a little cleverer than just a straight sale and have been working closely with some of our tourist board partners. Early in the summer we carried out a successful campaign with the Caribbean tourist boards. We are trying to retail more effectively to customers with great targeted offers and sell on value.

MW: What channel mix do you now use to market BA products?

RT: We are driving more of our tactical budget into digital because of the ROI. We still believe traditional media is still relevant so we continue to use outdoor, press and radio. Email is still a good tool but for Generation Y and Z email rather last year. We do need to make sure we resist the temptation to go into email overload – we need to email is a way that gets cut-through to customers.

MW: How does the marketing team approach using social media?

RT: As we know, 85% of people engage with social media and are likely to give more weight to recommendations from their peers. We do have to be careful with social media that we don’t turn into a selling shop, we want to have a more interactive experience. We talk about our Winter Sun offer on Facebook and Twitter and when we tweet, for instance, we put some commentary around it. It’s about creating interest and making it more of a conversation. And during and after the strike we created YouTube videos that created a lot of interest.

MW: How does BA respond to conversations about the company in the social media space?

RT: We monitor conversations and respond in a social forum. We are upfront and honest when we respond and will correct an inaccurate thread. Engaging in chat rooms can lead to extraordinary things. There was a lot of talk about our new long haul aircraft, especially on the FlyerTalk forum. We laid on a FlyerTalk bus and showed a group of them the aircraft. It wasn’t linked to making a sale but it was great engagement with the brand.

MW: What is the strategy for BA’s online business?

RT: We are trying to emulate best practice online, as shown by someone like Amazon. We take existing content but present it differently to customers. We are looking to move BA.com much more into the space of a travel website rather than a flights website. We want people to hang around the website and we show them if they buy hotels and flights together, for instance, it’s cheaper. We show them how much money they can save.

MW: Is there a deliberate move to diversify the revenue stream?

RT: We are devoting more and more of our creative in any given campaign to talking about holidays. People do not necessarily associate us with holidays. We are addressing the perception that we just sell flights and the perception that we are expensive. We have to demonstrate we can do holidays at prices people do not expect from us – we do need to get a value message across.

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