Expect the unexpected says easyJet’s Lis Blair, who spoke to WARC as part of a series of interviews with CMOs from around the world for the Toolkit 2019 report.

What are you proudest of in 2018?

I continue to be proud. I did work with a really talented and passionate bunch of people, inspirational people based within my team across easyJet and all of our partners. So there's not one particular thing that stands out. Although, there have been a number of great achievements by the plant, by the company, with our TV campaign, Imagine. Which has researched brilliantly. And it's going down really well in markets as well. It's really helped to transform the brand and to lead us on from just being named for value to creating a true emotional connection with our customers.

Toolkit 2019

This interview is part of WARC’s Toolkit 2019 series

Find the full report here

So we are known across Europe for delivering the right value, for our great staff, for our great network. They’re very rational reasons. And we wanted to take the opportunity to evolve that into a more emotional connection with our customers to help inspire travel. And so we created our plan campaign this year called Imagine, since Imagine Where we Can Take You is the strapline. Which is really about celebrating all the wonderful destinations in Europe that our customers can enjoy through our extensive network and with our brilliant people.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned this year?

Always to expect the unexpected in every walk of life. Be prepared for every eventuality. And I think the Brexit situation makes everybody feel that too. Although consumers are still confident enough to book travel, which is fantastic. I think everybody prioritizes their holiday. And yeah, we'll just kind of watch and wait. Clearly as an organization, we're very well prepared. But it's an ever evolving story.

In 2019, how do you expect your category to develop?

This is a hugely interesting sector. It's historically been cyclical anyway. We've seen a considerable amount of consolidation over the recent couple of years. And that does seem to be a thing set to continue with rising oil prices, increasing capacity across Europe, and growing cost of disruption. We've obviously seen a couple of the weaker airlines across Europe not being able to weather those challenges. But on the positive side, consumer demand remains really strong for easyJet. We've got ever-growing brand strength across Europe, which is fantastic. We've had a couple of record-breaking trade-in days in the recent months, and we're already starting schedules for 2019. Let's say, our brands go from strength to strength across our footprint in Europe. And so I think it's going to be a story of consolidation. And yeah, consumers focusing on brands they can trust.

What's the biggest challenge your brand faces in 2019?

Well, I'm going to say that they're opportunities, not challenges. It's how we continue to deliver against that great customer experience consistently as we grow, how we embed and strengthen that emotional connection to our brand and deepen our relationship with our customers.

What tech are you investing in or scaling up?

We've stated for most of this year that we want to be the world's most data-driven airline. So clearly, we've been investing heavily in our data capabilities across the airline. And I don't see that stopping. So that can be for all elements of how we make sure that we put all of our data together in a coherent and well-structured and easily accessible way, so that our data scientists, who are a growing team, can use their avenger skills to help us move on. That can be anything from the operation tree to crew rostering to how many bacon sandwiches we should have on a plane. But I will say, from a marketing perspective, it's been how we drive our loyalty and CRM and customization capabilities.

What skills will you need to hire into your team?

So 2019 is going to be about how we more closely work with data scientists and our digital officer’s team. So it's going to be more about how we syndicate across the organization so we can integrate between data, digital, and the more traditional corrective marketing methodologies.

No marketer worth their salt can survive without data these days. Whether it's about simple campaign evaluation through performance marketing and econometrics as well. It's this having to use insight to drive strategy through to performance. Data's everywhere. And if you do it right, then you can then use machine learning to supercharge your people. So the two are better together.

Integrating machine learning and creativity is a midterm project for us. It's an area that we're interested and we're developing. And certainly, for personalization capabilities to drive our CRM program across all of our channels. And that will be an area which will absolutely be driven by machine learning.

Looking across the industry, how do you see the agency business changing?

Total integration is now firmly embedded, and it just becomes table stakes from day to day. I wouldn’t necessarily feel confident enough with an agency that wasn't data efficient.

Where are your biggest 'knowledge gaps' in terms of measuring the impact of your marketing investment?

I don't think we have any significant knowledge gaps. I think marketing measurement is something that we have always focused on and held dear to our hearts – it’s an area that, as a data-driven marketer, I’m going to continue with.

Can you talk a bit about how marketing and other parts of the business have come to trust each other?

We are an inherently cost-cautious organization, so we've always thought like it's our own money. We've gone through a process over the last five, six years of increasing our CRM capabilities, which has meant we've been able to reduce our marketing cost per seat by 25% over that time frame. So we've been able to demonstrate year-on-year efficiencies anyway. So it's an ongoing story that means that it builds trust. I would think being able to demonstrate the effectiveness of your marketing through econometrics, which the campaign evaluations of brand strength is tantamount to being able to then go about trust and kind of have that relationship ongoing.