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Ryanair’s CMO on the Airline’s Ambitious Low-Brow Content Marketing Strategy

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Skift Take

Having a bit of fun and not getting in the way of customers making their own fun is a very on-brand content recipe for Ryanair. It probably won’t matter to most the world, which is what makes Jacobs’ low-brow content strategy so very high concept.

— Marisa Garcia

Kenny Jacobs, CMO of Ryanair describes the future of content marketing as alchemy combining, digital, destination, interactive, customer-generated media.

During our conversation with Jacobs for Skift’s special CMO series, Ryanair’s spontaneous and creative marketing chief shared his views on developing a comprehensive (and frugal) content marketing strategy.

He shared unique—sometimes off the wall—strategies for content creation and delivery in a democratized air travel market which generate a conversation with and for the everyday traveller.

“There’s something interesting about Ryanair and content. You know, we are an everyday brand. We are a very democratic brand. If you take Condé Nast Traveller magazine—which is a great magazine, and I love it and read it myself—but it is not for everyday people. People who read Condé Nast are people who go on holiday to the Maldives. If you go on holiday to the Maldives, you’re not an average European citizen,” Jacobs says.

“Everyday people want to write their own destination guides on places: like Lanzarote for families, or a weekend in Manchester for sports fans. Basic things. It’s never going to make the Condé Nast magazine, but it’s probably going to be read by many more people,” he adds.

Host the Party

In Jacobs’ view, airline marketing content should facilitate and inspire an engaged customer conversation about travel, not get in the way of that conversation with pushed editorial.

“We’re the ones providing the room and the drinks but we’re not the ones doing the writing. That’s how I see the model evolving,” he says.

“In terms of how you make it different and have your content be different … having more user-generated content, turning content to mobile. That consumer with the mobile app in hand they want 90 second video content, 200 90-second video destination guides.

“[That’s what] I’d like to have on our mobile website and app already. So if you’ve just landed in Cologne for the first time you can quickly watch the 90-second video, with infographics from Ryanair, and that will keep you engaged with Ryanair while you’re in Cologne.”

Not Canned, Fresh Brewed

Those clips Jacobs says, would not be bought, nor necessarily created by Ryanair.

“[I don’t mean] taking standard ones, off-the-shelf from someone else, but having our having our own interesting differentiated ones,” Jacobs says.

“We’ve had over 1,000 pieces of user-generated content that have been created in the past six months. We’ve run competitions and got customers creating content.”

“It’s a really good low-cost way, and you end up with more interesting, more varied, and in some ways better content.

“You might get a mum with two kids who does a review of Lanzarote for young families. That’s exciting. That improves the quality of user generated content over time.”

Jacobs believes Ryanair is could build a powerful customer content engine. His rationale for the impetus for growth of this content source reflects a carefully considered understanding of human nature.

“I think we’re tapping into something innately human. There’s a trapped want to be writer in so many of us,” he says.

“I’m surprised with the desire that people who travel with Ryanair have, in terms of doing a destination review for us. We’ll be doing more of that this year. We’ll find ways to incentivize those customers.”

“We want our customers to keep writing content for us,” Jacobs says. And he’s not limiting Ryanair’s content scope to budding writers. “When it comes to the nature of the content, I think more and more video content is what we’re looking for. And we’re trying to find ways to weave the content and social together.”

The Blog’s the Thing

Ryanair has started creating content in-house, as part of its Always Getting Better turn-around campaign, and Jacobs has no plans to abandon that. But he believes there’s an opportunity to engage customers in that process too.

“We genuinely have a blog that’s very good today. I’m very proud of the blog. But I think we need to do a better job of exposing the great content we have on the blog on our website and our app. We have views to do that within the next couple of months and then we have a really interesting asset that we can do more of in the coming year,” he says.

Ryanair’s strategies to encourage customer content could enhance that in-house blog platform, Jacobs believes.

“All we’ve done so far is had competitions and given away a few iPads, but if I find within our customer base some really budding fantastic travel writers we will engage them as part-time travel writers. What we’re going to do this year is keep our in house team, we’re looking for part-time editors in chief in some of our key markets who will drive content for us there.”

To Jacobs, it takes creativity—even a little bit of magic—to nurture quality content development for a brand.

“It’s a new marketing alchemy,” he says. “The off-the-shelf approach gets you so far. You tick a box for the CMO to say: ‘Yes, we’ve done content. It’s wonderful.’

“But, you know, Ryanair should be the facilitator of a conversation that’s happening between Ryanair customers about the destinations they’re flying to.

That conversation should be based on destination content, and it should happen via social, but we’re very much in the background facilitating. We’re the ones providing the room and the drinks but we’re not the ones doing the writing. That’s how I see the model evolving.”

‘Kenny’ Burgundy?

Not that the sometimes outlandish generally good humored Jacobs wants to remain entirely in the background on this content initiative. He believes there’s still a role for the organization to play.

“I’ve got a recording studio with a green screen next to my office in Dublin. I’ve gone in and I’ve used that to make our latest video update—giving out about eDreams and Google—but I want to do a video every single week,” he says.

“I want to be Kenny Burgundy in Anchorman doing the Ryanair news, that we’ll push out on YouTube and we’ll push out on social.”

His reasoning for this blend of user-generated content and improvised in-house content is very much on-brand for Ryanair.

“It’s fun. We just love doing this kind of stuff. I’m trying to get the team to do more of this. Some people will call it wacky and some people will ask why we’re doing that, but it’s good fun. We can get away with this kind of stuff that other brands can’t do,” he says.

“I would love to have the Ryanair news channel on YouTube that would be a first one that could be served up on the plane, or we could have a Ryanair destination channel, or we can do both. This type of video content that you use for marketing that we use for helpful destination guides for customers. It’s the way people are engaging with brand. It’s the way people are consuming content. It’s something that we’re going to tap into and it can also be really, really good fun.”

Turned-On wIFE

Jacobs believes the content generated by customers and the content created in-house through the blog and news channel could help replace an in-flight magazine with digital delivery through portable in-aircraft wireless streaming of this content to passenger personal electronic devices.

Before anyone gets too excited by the word “streaming” Jacobs is not talking about onboard Wi-Fi quite yet. Instead, he tells us Ryanair is now actively reviewing suppliers for what is known in the aviation industry as wIFE (wireless in-flight entertainment). It’s a Near-Fi system which consists of a small transmitting server delivering print and video content through a closed onboard network.

Jacobs also questions the value of traditional embedded IFE, casting a no-confidence vote on its future.

“The plan that is absolutely certain is that we want to serve up content in flight on the user’s device,” Jacobs says. “We want to serve up content that can be written content, video content, destination content, etc..It’s all the stuff that people want to consume while they’re on a flight.

“We don’t believe TV backs on chairs. It isn’t the LCC model, and it’s also not a modern digital model because everybody wants to look at their own device. Nobody wants to look at some grubby screen in front of them anymore. It’s going to be the device in your hands.

“We are looking at the different ways you can do that. You can do that with the Near-Fi in the cabin, and that’s something we can do this year. That’s something we’re currently exploring and we’ve met a few providers of those Near-Fi solutions which give you a network within the flight so people can open up their device, they can download a specific app and that app can serve up content.

“Option two is to do Wi-Fi as best as Wi-Fi can serve up content in a flight in Europe—and that’s not great or good enough yet,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs believes in-flight Wi-Fi technology today is too expensive and too much of a drain on operations—because of increased fuel costs generated by the drag of the radome antennae which connect with satellites—to make it worthwhile. Were the performance dramatically better, he says, and the business case sound, then Ryanair would bring Wi-Fi onboard. Like the airline’s CEO Michael O’Leary, Jacobs is not discounting this possibility in future.

“I think it’s slightly and over-talked overhyped area. We’ll make the move right time when it’s low cost and efficient,” Jacobs says.

“Do we ultimately expect that connectivity will be resolved and every Ryanair plane will have adequately fast Wi-Fi? Yes. I think that will happen on every European airline and it will be done in a reasonably low cost way, when the technology allows. In the mean time, we’ll try this Near-Fi approach..then go from from Near-Fi to Wi-Fi at the right time,” he says.

The technical challenges of wireless technology, Jacobs believes, should not get in the way of progress towards a branded content connection with customers.

“I think the most interesting thing is that there’s an opportunity to serve up content to people onboard a flight,” he says.

On Ryanair’s in-flight wIFE network, Jacobs believes passengers could enjoy a blend of the in-house and customer content available on the airline’s various digital and social channels, including print, and video content on a dedicated Ryanair channel.

“You can have Ryanair customers making their own video content. That can be on the Ryanair channel. It’s not going to be competing with Fox and CNN. It might be more like Eurotrash–if you remember Eurotrash.

Ryanair’s take on Eurotrash would be far less trashy and more family friendly. “I would love to be fun. I would love to be interesting. I would love to be a bit tongue in cheek when we’re doing that. But those kinds of things become very interesting.”

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