If your strategy is solid, just ignore the haters on Twitter

Despite getting a less than favourable reaction to our latest ad on Twitter – one user said they wanted to murder the person who made it – the On The Beach marketing team gained five valuable lessons, which are taking us forward.

When I first saw the comments on Twitter, my stomach turned. In a panic, I think a little bit of sick came into my mouth.

Just 12 months into my new gig at On the Beach, and after a two-year Covid-inflicted trading drought, our CEO had set the marketing team the challenge of exiting the pandemic stronger than we entered it.

And so after a period of desk research, market analysis, consumer research and rereading the best of Mark Ritson in Marketing Week, we were super clear on who we were targeting (pleasure seekers), what we stood for (making the most wonderful week of our customers’ year even more wonderful), and how we were going to bring this to life (free lounge access for 4- and 5-star customers, providing a tangible nudge at the point of purchase).

Our creative was developed to punch above its financial weight versus the sector incumbents (TUI and Jet2). We used a Christmas song when it wasn’t Christmas, and cast a family that looked, behaved and interacted like a real family (in fact they were a real family), rather than some bland, vanilla, hand-holding, smiley, beach body ready, fantasy family. And our product and tech teams had done the near impossible task of getting the free lounge proposition integrated throughout the on-site journey in record time, despite significant data and integration complexities.

Believe in what you’re doing and make sure you are head over heels in love with your strategy.

Zoe Harris, On The Beach

And now, when it was finally out in the open, in our busiest booking month of the year, and we were ready to sigh a big sigh of relief at a thorough job well done, people on Twitter had the audacity to publicly slate it. Actual real people. Not just industry types stuck in an industry bubble.

“I wish that On the Beach advert would fuck off somewhere far away and take that fucking song with it,” said one user.

“That On The Beach advert boils my piss no end,” said another.

And “I got a 3-day suspension on Facebook for saying I wanted to murder the man who made the On The Beach advert that plays on television every half hour of the day,” from another still.

So you’ll understand the stomach turn, little-bit-of-sick-in-my-mouth reaction.

Luckily, other KPIs were going our way (and boy, was I scrutinising them).

But I have to say it was a fairly long four months, as we waited to have enough media spend behind the campaign to carry out our bespoke tracker.
When it did come back, the picture from consumers, beach holiday makers and our ‘pleasure seekers’ core target could not have been more different to the reaction of Twitter.

We had achieved our goals of record increases in both spontaneous awareness and top three consideration, and were now ranked a clear number one on ‘enthusiasm for beach holidays’.

So I wanted to share a few things that helped us through those months; things we learned along the way and are now taking forwards with us.

1. Simplify your strategy

I’m as guilty as the next marketing bod of loving a bit of PowerPoint SmartArt. But the more bumph, marketing fluff and waffle you use, the less likely people will be to get how your strategy will drive growth. And the more questions you’ll get if things don’t appear to be going to plan. Kill ambiguity early on. Fewer slides, fewer words, and definitely less marketing jargon.

2. Be clear about expected business outcomes

Set expectations about what should happen when. Use metrics that relate clearly to P&L inputs and outputs to make your spend as tangible as possible. Share of search that will reduce cheap traffic for competitors; different sales mix that will deliver higher average basket value; top three consideration that will drive higher converting direct traffic.

3. Hold your nerve

What we do is an incredibly public thing. When it comes to marketing, and advertising in particular, everyone has an opinion, and everyone loves to give you their opinion (just ask my CFO’s mother-in-law).

You need to have the courage of your convictions, especially when targeting an audience that might be different to your colleagues, your social circle or the industry. Work with people and agencies that care more about your core target consumer than their peers, and that will help you stay the course at those crunch moments. Thank you Quiet Storm – I owe you.

4. No egos, amigos

Don’t be pig-headed though. The best laid plans may need to change – adapt things based on feedback as you go. We changed planned campaign laydowns, edits and second lengths as we got learnings back, optimising our traditional above the line assets in much the same we would our site or our performance creative.

Have agencies that will react to your business results in real time, rather than waiting for an end of campaign review and new brief – it’s too late then. Quiet Storm and Good Stuff moved heaven and earth to turn around some pretty fundamental campaign changes as we went, and it paid off in spades.

5. Enjoy the ride

We may not be saving lives, or keeping the country fed and watered, but what we do can be hard, public and lonely at times. Believe in what you’re doing and make sure you are head over heels in love with your strategy. Because if you can truly win the hearts and minds of your team, colleagues, exec, board and agencies, you really are half way there already.

Zoe Harris is CMO of On The Beach. She took on the role in January 2021 after two and a half years at GoCompare, prior to which she was group marketing director at Reach, formerly Trinity Mirror Group.