Airline spreads wings on back of business travel

Board-level marketing director Peter Duffy talks to MaryLou Costa about his role in easyJet’s strategy to attract more business passengers, the use of customer data and spoofing BA advertising

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Marketing Week (MW): Your background is with brands such as Barclays and Audi. What has been the biggest learning curve since joining such a different industry?

Peter Duffy (PD): I set up the internet banking platform at Barclays so I have a good knowledge of digital platforms. Lots of businesses turn out to be about volume and yield; what you’re selling at what price.

The automotive industry is very much about that and I guess the airline sector is too. But aviation is very complicated. It is an industry that is affected by external conditions, such as oil prices and events like ash clouds. It’s the nature of the business that gives it its own challenges and makes it all the more interesting to work in.

MW: How do you handle such difficult events as ash clouds or snow?

PD: No one is going to be thrilled if their flight is cancelled, but how we handle that will be the differentiator – how well we give customers the information they need to make the right decisions.

In terms of service, it is now a given that the consumer wants to be treated in a personal way. We want to deliver what the consumer wants and if that isn’t possible, we look at how we can help customers through that.

Chief executive Carolyn McCall has put a focus on our on-time performance. We are now the second best airline in Europe when it comes to on-time performance. This is what customers say is really important to them.

MW: You were appointed in December 2010. What has your time so far been like?

PD: This is a really exciting business to be part of. Carolyn is great in terms of re-energising the airline and absolutely focusing us on making travel easy and affordable for the customer.

The big thing we’ve worked on is the new campaign with our agency VCCP that went live about two months ago. Our new ’Europe by easyJet’ strategy has taken us onto television for the first time.

MW: Is it difficult to promote and expand travel across Europe given the economic situation in Italy, Portugal, Greece and Spain?

PD: Our ambition is to be Europe’s number one shorthaul airline. That’s what we do well and where we see lots of opportunity over the coming years.

We are acting in difficult times so you can’t do anything without considering what the economic climate is like in each of those destinations. The opportunity easyJet has is that it brings value to the markets it operates in. We tend to go to markets where air travel is expensive, so as a consequence of us arriving, the consumer gets a benefit and we do well as a result.

MW: How are you using customer data?

PD: We are building a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. Our new website will be going live shortly, with a big focus on personalisation – what the user wants to do online and how we tailor the site around that.

We will use IP addresses to understand where someone’s nearest airport is, look at last searches to understand the things consumers are interested in, look at previous flying behaviour and reflect that in terms of offers we put in front of people. We are also bringing our email programme in line with the website update so that it becomes much more bespoke based on the behaviour of each recipient.

MW: Is mobile part of your marketing plans?

PD: We are launching new mobile services to enable customers to buy tickets and seats online but to also get all their flight information, so that becomes their journey companion. That will be an app for Android and Apple and will be out by the end of the year.

MW: What impact is your position on the board having?

PD: Being on the board means that marketing is involved in all the strategic decisions easyJet takes. Marketing’s view is present in everything we do, from operations to security procedures.

MW: How successful has your strategy to attract more business customers been?

PD: One in five of our passengers are business customers. We make up over 40% of Gatwick’s flights by volume and we fly to more of the top 100 European destinations than any other airline. We also take people to central airports. And we have easyJet service – nice people on the planes.

MW: What does your tone and messaging need to be when targeting business passengers?

PD: The important thing is to present ourselves consistently. Our customers in the UK are very similar to those of British Airways. In terms of demographics, socioeconomic profile and age, we’re not massively different. What we’re trying to do with the new communication work is to establish an ’every person’ positioning that reflects the nature of the people who fly with us.

MW: Spoofing a rival through advertising is common in the airline industry. Why do that?

PD: BA came out with its recent ’To Fly. To Serve’ campaign. Our ’To Fly. To Save’ line was actually thought up by one of our accountants and we all fell apart laughing. We were working on our own brand campaign and we couldn’t resist adding that. We hope BA took it in the spirit it was meant.

MW: As a non-Olympic sponsor, how is your relationship with the 2012 organising committee following your photo shoot with athlete Sally Gunnell at Southend Airport?

PD: We’ll fly more people into London next year than any other airline but because we aren’t an official Olympic sponsor we have to be careful about how we behave. Southend Airport has been a huge success and it is the closest airport to the Olympic Village. Organising committee Locog wanted to make sure we stuck to the rules about how non-sponsors generate publicity surrounding the Olympics. We were happy for it to come along and help us get that right.

MW: The BA Airmiles programme, now Avios, has attracted controversy for charging fees and taxes. Has this been good for easyJet?

PD: If you wanted value you wouldn’t go to BA in the first place. We fly more than 54 million people a year because we consistently offer good value. The operation at our head office in Luton is geared up around offering value. We don’t have ’glory’ offices and we don’t have expensive first class operations to pay for.

MW: Marketing Week reported in May that you would increase the brand partners you work with. What prompted that?

PD: We’re interested in routes to market and partnerships that make things easier for our customers or introduce us to new groups of customers. For example, anyone using Nectar can now redeem their points for flights.

MW: What does the next 12 months hold for you and easyJet?

PD: We are on a journey to make this airline more customer focused, to continue to offer great value but to respond to what customers want us to do – continuing the programme we have set up to ensure the marketing activity revolves around delivering that. It’s all about making travel easier and more affordable for the consumer.

easyJet – the real story

Budget carrier easyJet is seeking to increase its market share by targeting business travellers with a more flexible fare scheme, while also chasing growth across Europe. Earlier this month, it announced profits of £248m, up 60% on last year.

Spearheading the business targeting is marketing director Peter Duffy, who was appointed in December last year and is the first marketer on the easyJet board.

But the brand must also overcome a dispute with founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, most recently when he claimed easyJet has breached the terms of an agreement between it and easyGroup Licensing.

Stelios also touted plans to launch a rival airline, Fastjet, in September.

easyJet real-time reader responses

@JemmaKJackson

What do you think of the Ryanair prepaid card in terms of how it affects brand loyalty?
Peter Duffy (PD): I don’t comment on Ryanair. More generally speaking, you have to look at how the customer wants to pay and how can we offer that. That is our focus.

@EcoLuxHotels

EasyJet is much improved regarding fees and charges but the public don’t know it. Is this because you are rebranding?
PD: This business is high volume and low profit. Everything is online so the customer is a few clicks away from our competitor. We charge a booking fee per booking, not per customer. That covers our booking costs. Our average seat price in December is £45 with an £8 booking fee. That value is what we communicate.

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