Aviation Marketing: Ryanair, the marketing brilliance behind the commodity-priced airfare

Call it what you may, Ryanair’s marketing is shrewd and laser focused

Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary recently called his customer “idiots.” Having never had the pleasure to fly Europe’s largest low cost carrier, I was glad not to be classified as one of the above. Yet from the decidedly colloquial North American viewpoint, it is a revealing look into Ryanair’s branding strategy.

Ryanair at a glance:

  • Founded: 1985
  • Current fleet: 294 Boeing 737-800
  • Passenger traffic: 75.8 million
  • Revenue: €4,325m
  • Profit after tax: €503m
  • Number of routes: 1,500+ per day operating from 51 bases in 28 countries

Ryanair practices marketing known by such names as gotcha marketing and aggression marketing. Gotcha marketing is based on pushing the boundaries of acceptable advertising in both truthfulness and taste, and penalizing customers that don’t follow the rules.

The penalties for not following the rules come in the form of additional fees such as:

  • Administration fee,  €6
  • Boarding pass fee,  €6
  • Reserved seating fee, €10
  • Airport boarding card re-issue fee, €60
  • Infant equipment fee, €20
  • Sports equipment fee, €60
  • Musical instrument fee, €60
  • Flight change fee – based on season, €30 – €90
  • Name change fee, €110 – €160
  • Government tax refund administration fee, €20
  • Oxygen reservation fee, €100
  • Checked bag fee, €15 – €150
  • Missed departure fee, €110

Advertising plays a critical role in these forms of marketing, starting with media placement. One-color ads are placed in tabloid newspapers. The fare prices are misleading because they don’t include the multitude of gotcha fees and usually include provocative imagery that is associated with tabloid journalism.

Because the ads are offensive to some, what follows is a formal complaint to the British Office of Fair Trading or the European Commission for Mobility and Transport. Interestingly enough, O’Leary has called the commission an evil empire populated by morons.

Which leads us back to the brilliance of Ryanair’s marketing. The formula starts with aggressive advertising, which leads to a complaint. Then CEO Michael O’Leary, stokes the fire with an inflammatory remark, escalating the pitch of the conversation while gaining free PR in the press and attention for the low cost carrier. This ultimately turns a $30,000 ad campaign into a million dollar public relations bonanza.

Ryanair understands its customers – price sensitive travelers. Ryanair’s brand promise is cheap fares and on-time service. Their customers understand the value proposition – do it yourself, follow the rules, and get from point A to B for as little as possible.

Ryanair and O’Leary are comfortable in their own skin. Each knows what they are –  the premier low cost carrier with a master marketer who knows how to differentiate his product and turn a profit in a super-competitive business.

The changing role of Public Relations in aviation marketing

Jet Blue external communications

Public Relations should be viewed as a tool for engagement and brand building.

At the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ (4As) PR conference, industry thought leaders and influencers came together to provide their views on emerging trends influencing PR in the digital age.

I want to recognize 4A’s information specialists Rebecca Samson and Christine Pelosi for pooling their impressions from the conference and drafting their original observation document. Below is my interpretation of these themes and how they could affect aviation marketers.

From Jet Blue to Google to IBM, three areas emerged that aviation marketers should consider when developing public relations and social media plans.

The power of the influencer

Thomas Gensemer, Managing Partner, Blue State Digital, focused on changing role of today’s influencers. No longer are celebrities and urban cities setting the trends. Influencers can come from anywhere, aided by accessibility and quick distribution models of social media.

Gensemer cited 3 factors involved when conducting a campaign to embrace influencers:

  1. Participation: Encourage supporters to become involved in a campaign using real-time and digital events.
  2. Integration: Integrating both traditional and digital media into the campaign allows the brand message to reach the largest possible audience.
  3. Celebration: Social media has given fans a chance to enter the conversation and have a hand in trend-setting.

Transparency builds the brand

Jet Blue communications team attributes the airline’s focus on transparency, both internally and externally, as one of the key factors responsible for building the Jet Blue brand.

Externally, Jet Blue has an excellent crisis management strategy in which it responds quickly and truthfully to issues while updating information frequently, using multiple social media platforms and networks.

Internally, Jet Blue practices open communication between management and employees. By implementing companywide email, internal Facebook pages, and having a CEO actively posting to his Twitter account, Jet Blue engages employees in day-to-day issues. Such transparency enables employees at all levels to become brand stewards.  They are trained on the Jet Blue brand story, empowering them with knowledge to serve their customers as the company serves its employees.

Telling your story through brand journalism

Ingrid Bernstein, Director of Experience at J. Walter Thompson (JWT), touched on the theme of brand journalism. Digital distribution has created a world of fast news cycles, decreased attention spans, and brands have less control over their story.

Ingrid suggested that, in response to these factors, brands practice brand journalism – an editorial approach to brand-building that uses journalistic practices and assumes non-fiction stories can be more interesting than fictional ones. The goal of brand journalism isn’t to sell products but rather the brand’s expertise.

9 rules for brand journalism:

  1. Access = success. Give people access to the story behind the scenes.
  2. Don’t be afraid to show difficulty.  Obstacles can be framed as opportunities for transformation.
  3. Drama comes from conflict. Setting up tension gives people a stake in the story, driving engagement.
  4. Transparency is powerful. Transparency is a storytelling device influencing the emotional connection with the brand.
  5. Embrace the trolls. Listening to and engaging your detractors can help develop the brand story.
  6. Identify and follow characters. You may not know who they are, but always be on the lookout for them.
  7. Show passionate customers. Integrate brand advocates into your story.
  8. Leverage good news. Connect with the news cycle and be responsive.
  9. Create an empowered approval team. Develop a rapid approval process with high-level executive involvement.

To view the research insight report, click on the following link: “Observations from the 4A’s 2012 PR Conference.”

photo credit: baratunde via photo pin cc

Aviation Marketing: Optimizing Press Releases for Search Engines

Aviation Marketers should take full advantage of SEO tactics when writing and distributing press releases.

Search engine optimization practices have evolved as search engines have made improvements to their algorithms.  Sarah Skerik, Vice President, Products – Customer Experience, PR Newswire has written an informative article on best practices for writing and distributing press releases over the web. Below are my interpretations of SEO press release tactics for aviation marketing.

General best practices:

Release Length – the optimum length is generally 400 to 600 words.

Anchor Text – these links you see on websites connecting a word or phrase to a related page. Anchor text, when used properly, can also deliver significant SEO benefit back to the website you’re promoting.

  • Link operative keywords or short phrases (2 words are ideal) to relevant web pages.  Link from keywords only.
  • Use your most important keyword in your headline and your lead sentence.  Link from the occurrence of the keyword in the lead.
  • 2 links per 500-600 words is recommended, in order to focus search engines on your most important keywords.

Context and Focus – A clear, concise message is a key component of a well optimized press release.  Too many keywords and concepts can dilute your message, causing it to drop in the rankings for the keywords you consider most important.

Language – Use plain, accurate, and descriptive language when discussing the product/service/initiative you’re promoting.  Stay away from aviation acronym alphabet soup.

Press release optimization tips:

Headlines – With today’s algorithms’ emphasis on the actual on-page content, the decisions you make about what language to use, placement of keywords, and use of anchor text will affect the overall quality of the optimization of the press release and its overall effectiveness.

  • Start your headline with the most important keyword in your press release.
  • Use descriptive language that you’ll repeat in the body of the press release when writing both the headline and subhead.
  • Keep your headline fairly short – 60 to 80 characters are optimal. Your subhead can be a little longer, but try to keep it to two lines or less.

Subheads – the subhead is utilized in the optimization of a press release in a variety of ways:

  • The Search Engine Results Page description (SERP) is key real estate for both search engines and your readers.  Your subhead will be used to populate the SERP if your headline is short – a total of 300 characters can go into that field.

To view the complete article click on the following link,“Press Release SEO: Writing Press Releases Effectively for Search Engines” 

Why people-to-people marketing is replacing business-to-business in the aviation industry

In aviation marketing successful brands are creating loyalty and commanding premium pricing by connecting on a personal and emotional level with their customers. 

Historically, aviation industry component and system manufacturers have practiced traditional business-to business outbound marketing (push marketing model). The outbound model relies on bought media to push key messages to a mass audience, segmented by demographic, SIC code, business title or purchasing authority.

Tactical execution takes the form of:

  • advertising
  • direct promotion
  • trade shows
  • sales literature
  • web banners
  • micro sites
  • company websites

Often public relations tactics such as press releases and product stories in trade publications support out-bound efforts.

The push marketing strategy is predicated on disrupting the viewer to convey predetermined key messages that support product features, benefits and value propositions.

For many aviation industry manufacturers, this has been a successful approach to building brand awareness. However, outbound marketing requires a large invest-ment in bought media and advertising return on investment is hard to track.

Customers are disillusioned with the “about me” aspect of the creative product further challenging the advertising’s ability to disrupt the viewer in the work environment. In addition, outbound lacks the stickiness to build community and form a one-on-one relationship with the individual.

Enter People-to-People Marketing 

People-to-people marketing is predicated on building relationships with individuals and communities through conversations that nurture and build trust. Technology is at the heart of inbound marketing (pull marketing model).

One of the most intriguing aspects of people-to-people marketing is its not confined to the workplace. Personal computing power in the form of smart phones and tablets makes it possible to connect with customers in venues not traditionally associated with aviation marketing.

Social media outlets provide the means to listen and carry on conversations with individuals. People-to-people marketing requires aviation marketers to reevaluate and rebalance their marketing mix to achieve their marketing goals.

Successful people-to-people marketing shifts the focus from “me oriented” to “story telling” to create the personal and emotional bonds.

In addition, personal computing power opens up new venues for storytelling through video, slide share and other syndicated platforms. Inbound marketing also comes with a wide array of analytics packages to help establish data chains for measurement and marketing investment.

Finding the right balance

Today, successful aviation marketing requires an integrated mix of inbound and outbound marketing to tell the brand story. Aviation marketers are challenged to accomplish more with less, forcing them to reassess traditional marketing efforts and move towards more cost effective inbound marketing venues.

Many of these new venues are reaching maturity, offering integrated marketing and viable ways to reach prospects, establishing relationships and forming one-on-one connections with your audience.