Saga overhauls advertising in bid to become member-led organisation

With its new cruise ship ready to set sail in June, Saga is hoping to defy the Brexit gloom with a confident campaign focused on the positive impact holidaymakers leave behind on their travels as it looks to transition to a member-led organisation.

Saga is hoping to surge forward in 2019 with a bold, “more confident” approach to its marketing strategy, amid plans to invest more in its brand over the next year than ever before.

This fresh creative approach kicks off in its travel business, as Saga hopes to cut through the crowded New Year holiday booking market with a new campaign tapping into the adventurous spirit and passion of its travellers.

Positioned around ‘The World is Waiting to Meet You’ tagline, the campaign, devised with creative agency VCCP, flips the concept of bringing memories back from your holiday by looking at the mark Saga customers leave behind on the places and people they meet.

At the heart of the campaign are three 30-second TV adverts shot in Mongolia, Norway and Spain featuring locals reminiscing about the Saga customers they met during their travels.

Going live today (3 January), the campaign represents a significantly larger investment in TV advertising than Saga would typically make, combined with a wider mix of programmatic display and native formats across content, social media and cinema.

For example, Saga is rolling out a wider selection of videos on Facebook using edits of the TV ad. Direct mail will also remain a huge part of the marketing mix but the aim is to use it in a more personalised way.

Taking a holistic brand approach

This is the first time the company has integrated its Saga holidays, Saga Cruises and travel insurance products into one campaign. This holistic approach plays into a wider ambition for Saga to become a membership-led organisation spanning its insurance, travel, content and personal finance products.

The new campaign features local people reflecting on their experiences with Saga travellers.

Now, for example, insurance customers signed up for the Possibilities Membership Programme will be offered advanced access or exclusive deals for Saga holidays and cruise products.

Saga group chief customer officer, Stuart Beamish, believes this new creative platform marks a different, “more confident” direction, which is decidedly brand focused and leads with an emotive tone hooked on experiences rather than the destination. And it comes despite wider concerns in the travel industry about the impact of Brexit uncertainty on bookings, especially early next year.

Beamish, however, stresses that Brexit has not impacted the campaign, which is being rolled out ahead of the unveiling in June of Saga’s first new build cruise ship, the Spirit of Discovery. Co-designed with its members, the new ship will be followed by the Spirit of Adventure in 2020.

It’s about trying to have a deeper experience rather than just selling. A more engaging interactive experience with customers across our products, services, information and advice.

Stuart Beamish, Saga

“This is the perfect time for us to do this because it’s not just advertising, the product is changing. We’re pushing for growth. We want to bring new members to the brand to fill our new ships,” Beamish explains.

“We regularly survey our members, we speak to them every few weeks. The most recent survey showed there was no intention to change holiday behaviour for the year ahead. Obviously, that may change but everything we’ve heard so far is still upbeat from a travel perspective.”

Offering an experience beyond selling

Saga’s renewed experience focus is being pushed out via the company’s latest boutique cruising brochures, using a high colour scrapbook style that intersperses traditional booking information with content to help consumers get closer to the destination.

“It’s about trying to have a deeper experience rather than just selling. A more engaging interactive experience with customers across our products, services, information and advice. That is what consumers expect,” Beamish states.

This shift to engagement is being driven by a digitally-savvy, independently-minded consumer base of over 50s, who are just as at home booking via the Airbnb app as they are flicking through a brochure. Saga is conscious not to think about age, instead choosing to focus on attitude and making sure the new campaign feels ageless.

The new look Saga travel brochures have a content, experience focused edge.

Recognising that bespoke, curated experiences are not just for millennials, Saga wants to shine a light on the breath and innovation of its travel portfolio, which includes routes to places as off the beaten track as Uzbekistan.

“A lot of the Saga products are to places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Saga has been an innovator in travel, it’s the first tour operator into a lot of destinations,” says Beamish.

“There’s very much a theme here that you wouldn’t expect this from Saga, which is a theme we want to bring across in our communications and not just in this campaign.”

READ MORE: Former Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson on his new role reinventing Saga for today’s over-50s

In September, for example, Saga sponsored Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure on ITV. The sponsorship drove “fantastic results” for the company’s long-haul travel products, says Beamish, who explains that the overall strategy is to amplify the adventure and experiences offered by Saga, which are less well known elements of the brand.

Saga has 97% recognition among over 50s but Beamish hopes the campaign will shift consideration, particularly among travellers who have not used Saga in the past.

“The numbers are important as well, so we’re looking for that to convert into new leads for both holidays, cruise and travel insurance, but then it’s a strategy that will continue to other areas as well,” he adds.

“The awareness of the brand has been there, but it’s maybe not been considered as relevant. Hence the change in the media mix with more broadcast, the change in the creative style and really making it customer-centric.”

The data dividend

In its company strategy, Saga outlines its “unique opportunity” to use rich proprietary data to better identify customers, build deeper relationships and use its marketing resources “more effectively” by targeting and rewarding higher-affinity consumers.

Beamish explains this approach makes perfect sense for Saga because it is a business built on going direct to the customer. The task over the past couple of years has been to modernise the company’s data capability and then turn this data into personalised experiences, a core strand of the marketing strategy going forward.

Saga is moving away from the classic, old style travel brochures.

Being absolutely single minded about catering to the over-50s customer, coupled with Saga’s direction as a membership organisation, gives the company a constant source of focus, Beamish explains.

Furthermore, his appointment as Saga’s first group chief customer officer in December 2017, following the departure of CMO Matt Atkinson, makes a statement internally that the customer is at the heart of the business.

“Pursuing that customer-centric organisation is a journey you have to stay on, it’s not just a one task and you’ve achieved it, and that’s really important for us to win in the market,” Beamish explains.

“Throughout my career, customer and marketing have been intertwined. If the role had been CMO, it would have been customer anyway. But I think the chief customer officer role is really tied to that ambition around being a membership-based organisation.”

Beamish initially joined Saga in 2016 as marketing director for its holidays and cruises business. He has previously worked at Barclaycard, British Midland International and British Airways.

Saga didn’t start with ‘we’ve got these products, who should we sell them to?’. It started with the customer in mind.

Stuart Beamish, Saga

Reflecting on this career trajectory, Beamish explains that while he has worked in a broad array of businesses, what appealed about Saga is the fact that it is a British brand with a variety of different products in one.

“I absolutely love this role. There’s such support internally for marketing to be at the heart of the organisation, so I’ve got to deliver on that expectation,” says Beamish.

“Of course there are challenges along the way but actually what has made this a fantastic transition from the travel role to the broader group role is we are a business that’s focused on change and ambitious to grow, so it’s just making sure I deliver that growth.”

While the launch of the new cruise ship is a “big moment” for Saga in 2019, Beamish is also focused on taking forward the business’ overall membership strategy. The team will be working on implementing new product development, translating the innovation in the cruise sector into new products and services across the group.

“The thing that’s interesting about Saga is that it was born from the most customer-centric starting place. It didn’t start with ‘we’ve got these products, who should we sell them to?’. It started with the customer in mind,” he concludes.

“For me the opportunity is to bring all those products and services together around the customer. This is a British brand with a strong heritage but which I actually think has huge untapped potential.”