Three years ago were turbulent times for Qantas, as the airline undertook a major transformation programme to restructure cost. Despite the rough ride, the firm never lost sight of its customer while laying the foundation for change.

Under the stewardship of chief marketing officer, Stephanie Tully Qantas re-platformed their digital capabilities to create a future–proof business.

By investing in the brand, and using data and technology to drive its business and customer strategy, Australia’s iconic national carrier foresees another 100 years of life ahead of it.

In between sessions at the recent Adobe Symposium, Tully spoke to Which-50, about Qantas’ multi-brand structure, marketing and trust as a competitive advantage.

“I think one of the things we are most proud of at Qantas is that even through our toughest times we never lost sight of the customer,” Tully said.

“Though we are a very functionally structured business we know winning on the customer experience perspective relies on cross-functional success.

Differentiation

“Brand, data and technology are key as those things can give you a competitive advantage; however it is the way you are set-up and your people that deliver a point of difference.”

When Tully talks about customer experience at Qantas, it is a conversation that moves well beyond time on the plane.

“We want to engage you even before you are thinking about the next flight — be it business flight or leisure flight — right up to the end of the relationship we have with Qantas frequent flyers.”

Tully believed by placing the customer at the centre of their thinking; the airline had the credibility to recreate its relationship with the Australian public.

“Customers were telling us that our service and product was better than it had ever been. That gave us a huge opportunity to go out to the public and start talking about the consumer brand — not just advertising,” she said.

Customers picked up on Qantas’ customer focus at a time where trust levels in large firms were eroding. In bucking this trend, Tully attributed transparency with all stakeholders — customers, the media, investors and its employees — to be the driving force behind confidence in the Qantas brand.

This trust enabled Qantas to leverage its brand into other markets to establish new growth businesses that provided more sustainable earnings during downturns in the highly cyclical aviation industry.

“From our loyalty business, the data we have on our customers and the trust they have in the brand, we launched into businesses where data gives you an advantage — insurance, financial services and retail,” she said.

From a consumer perspective, these new Qantas business verticals created new everyday ways to earn points that its customers could ultimately use towards a holiday — which also ties back to the master brand.

This strategy was no accident for Tully, who is well familiar with the gravitational marketing pull frequent flyer points play in driving market share. A long time Qantas employee, she rose through the ranks leading the airline’s loyalty business before her promotion to chief marketing officer for Qantas loyalty — which immediately preceded her current role.

Qantas now seeks to extend the success its loyalty business enjoyed in the consumer market to the small-to-medium enterprise segment with its B2B loyalty programme, Qantas business rewards.

With 150, 000 SMEs already enrolled in the programme, Tully wants these businesses to be as engaged with Qantas as consumers are with Qantas frequent flyer.

“By offering them relevant experiences and rewarding them as a small business when they choose Qantas, and also rewarding their people as they fly, you are almost double dipping from a points perspective,” Tully said.

“The business can then choose how they want to use those points. That means points on Qantas and also all the partners we bring into that small business coalition — such as Caltex and Westpac that will be rewarding businesses for their decisions as well.”

Accumulating 30 years of customer data history from customer flying behaviour, 11.7 million frequent flyer profiles, customer feedback, mobile, social media, and web interaction with 8 million visitors a week to Qantas.com and Jetstar.com, has created a lucrative feedback loop for Qantas.

The cumulative effect of Qantas Loyalty data led to spin-off business Red Planet, which gives outside companies the opportunity to benefit from the airline’s propriety data — one of the most valuable datasets in Australia — to enhance their marketing effectiveness and make more informed business decisions.

Internally Red Planet is Qantas’ programmatic team enabling it to buy digital media in-house and protecting the brand by sourcing where ads are placed as well as avoiding irrelevant audiences.

Tully cautioned that while data and technology are critical enablers, they are not strategies in themselves — companies need a business or customer strategy then they work out what data and technology they need to execute that strategy

“You always start with ‘what is the change I am trying to create?’ and then how can the data support that change,” she said.

“And if anyone ever asks ‘what is your big data strategy?’ You should say I do not have one. I have a customer or a business strategy, and this is how am I using business data and technology to enable it.”

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