The pilot helping easyJet fly higher

While many airlines are struggling, easyJet is flying high, with 2012 revenue up 12% and profit up 28%. easyJet's Marketing Director, Peter Duffy, gave his inside view on the revitalisation of the brand and business in this month's Marketing. I posted before on the role of the CEO Carolyn McCall in the revitalisation of easyJet, but it was good to read here about the leading role that marketing played in the brand's success.

1. The power of brand vision

Peter seems to share our view on the power of aligning and energizing the senior team behind an inspiring vision for the brand. 

"We started off with a lot of brand-definition work. The management board went away and spent two days working through what easyJet was all about and what the agenda should be. We were able to define a cause: to make travel easy and affordable for customers." 

It's interesting to note that this brand cause is not that spectacular. You could even argue that it is too generic, as people sometimes do on our brand vision projects ("Anyone could say that!"). However, a simple strategy is fine, as long as the execution is distinctive. As Peter comments, "We came up with what now seem simplistic concepts, but, at the time, were fundamental for us."

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2. From cheap to "smart choice"

easyJet has cleverly made itself distinctive to other low cost airlines, especially Ryanair, but making the flying experience a bit nicer. As Peter says, "I wanted to get to a situation where people were happy to say they flew easyJet – that it was a smart choice, rather than just cheap."

The most fundamental part of the easyJet revitalisation was the hardest: improving on-flight performance. Here, the company went from the worst on-time record to the best.

Perhaps the biggest innovation has been the introduction of seat reservations, that we posted on here. This takes away one of the biggest irritations with easyJet, and makes the service much closer to a full cost airline. 

3. Digital business, not social media

easyJet is not mentioned in the 2013 Social Brands Survey in the same edition of Marketing. And Peter doesn't mention social media once in his interview. In contrast, American Airlines came 2nd in the Social Brands survey. So, how did the two companies compare in business results? In 2012 easyJet made £317mill profit. And American? Er, they lost $1.9 billion.

When it comes to digital, Peter seems to be applying our mantra of "Follow the money":  

"We’ve taken 15% off the marketing budget. We looked to focus investment on things that added more value, we were ruthless about anything that didn’t, such as some digital media spend. If it isn’t good for the customer and isn’t driving a commercial return, what is the point of that activity?"

What Peter and his team did do is invest in digitally enabling the business. First, optimising the customer interface of the website. As he says, "400m people coming to our website, it struck me that if we could make a small improvement to our conversion rates, that would make a massive difference commercially. That conversion rate is now improving at double-digit rates." In addition, easyJet added an "Inspire me" feature, showing you where you can fly for a fixed budget. Third, the easyJet app has been downloaded by 4.6m, including me, with a trial of mobile boarding cards underway.

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4. Rally the troops

Rather than an expensive internal brand engagement campaign, easyJet used the new communication campaign to show people inside the business where the brand was going. This saves money, and is more effective I think, as it shows the actual stuff people will see on TV, not a Powerpoint straegy deck:

"We wanted to roll it out inside the organisation first, to get everybody to buy into it. The campaign was loaded up to intranet sites and employees were invited to give feedback. It was so well received. Some staff even made their own versions of the TV ad by VCCP. There was an appetite among staff for the brand to be positioned in the way we described, which I think has been a core part of our success." 

5. Distinctive brand properties

easyJet has used orange for a long time. But I like this way this has been evolved to look less cheap, and more sleek. The same distinctive typeface and visual style is used across the whole mix, including TV, online and press.

In conclusion, easyJet show the power of a clear and inspiring vision, excellence of execution and an unrelenting drive to "follow the money". To repeat the key sentence in the interview, "If it isn’t good for the customer and isn’t driving a commercial return, what is the point of that activity?"