Flight Centre head of content on change, choice and customer voice

Luke Wheatley’s simple idea for a Flight Centre content campaign was picked up by a major network. Marketing hears about his customer-centric outlook and the brand’s celebration of its people.

Luke Wheatley is the head of creative, content and digital marketing at Flight Centre. Heading up brand marketing for the company, his job as he describes it, is simply to help consumers answer the question: ‘why should I book my holiday with Flight Centre.’

At August’s Adobe Symposium event, he sat with Marketing to discuss his answer to that question, Flight Centre’s content strategies and changes in the travel industry.

 

MarketingHow do you answer that question?

Luke Wheatley, head of creative, content and digital marketing, Flight Centre: We have multiple answers on that. We have brand advertising. Our brand advertising has been surfacing our number one asset, which is our people. All our advertising has our real people in the ads. Back in the day that used to be The Captain. He’s still in it, he still represents security, he’s at the end.

From a content point of view, we don’t use influencers. Our people are our influencers. We’ve created our own TV travel series [48 Hour Destination], which is on Network 10, so we control our own branded content. We show our people enjoying travel and experiencing travel. It actually features real consultants as the hosts.

We have a blog that talks about our authority of travel. Yeah, we try to keep it pretty single-minded.

 

Is that a big differentiator for you? These days a lot of travel booking and promotion is online and digital.

Some people really enjoy the planning phase. Some people love to have 20 tabs open, checking this site, checking that site. Personally I enjoy that too. But sometimes you need someone who’s been there to say ‘you’re on the right track.’

That’s where we come in. That’s where the people side of things comes in.

Say you’re doing a simple trip from Sydney to Melbourne. Do you really need a consultant to give you that information? Not necessarily. But that person can give you that whole trip. Book your flights, your hotel, your car, everything instead of having multiple itineraries all over the place.

 

You come from a creative background. How do you marry the creative and the digital in your role?

I have come from quite a creative background, but everything I’ve done has always been customer-centric. That’s the thing: I know that I’m not my customer and I never will be, so I can only think about what I would do. We put our customer first in anything we do, whether it’s a 15 second ad or it’s a 22 minute piece of content, we think about what the real customer would get out of it.

From a digital point of view, it’s exactly the same thing. We shouldn’t be thinking differently from digital to press, to TV, to outdoor. Digital is another medium that we can talk to our customers through. We’ve just got to be mindful of how they’re going to take in that information. We know it’s mobile first. We know that they’ve only got a little bit at a time. People are scrolling, but our messaging still has to be the same.

 

What will you be talking about at Adobe Symposium?

I’m talking about how I had an idea and how that idea came to fruition. It was a simple idea – I think they’re always the easiest: ‘why wouldn’t Australia’s biggest travel retailer make its own travel TV show?’ 

I was constantly told no. I was told ‘you can’t do it, it doesn’t make sense, let’s just get professionals in.’ I kept saying ‘no, we can do it.’

And it was a success. We’re in our second season, Channel 10 and National Geographic have picked it up. From a viewership point of view, it has been a success. We’ve seen sales of destinations that we promote go up in Flight Centre. It’s been a really good success story.

 

Do you think of it more as a branding tool, or does it deliver a strong call to action?

It’s more of a branding tool. We talk about it like this: ‘every dollar that we invest into this brand is going into the brand bank.’ 

We know that most people that walk into a store today go in because they saw a piece of advertising or content at some stage. But they’re not going in because they saw ‘fly return to Bali for $500’. They’re walking in because they want to go to Paris. They’ve thought of us because of the brand work that we’ve done. 

The TV show is all about the brand. It’s our people experiencing travel. However to go over the line and to be smart marketers, we’ve tied in an integrated sales campaign. This week on Channel 10, for example, we’ve got a California road trip. Greer [Gardiner] our consultant goes from Santa Barbara all the way up to Sonoma. It’s amazing, it’s great. But the reason behind it is we want to actually increase our room nights in California, we also want to increase our hire car sales in California. 

When that episode’s playing, we’ve also negotiated that we have 15 second ads popping up that promote flights to LA and car hire. Then, as you’re watching it, on social we highlight product, on our digital screens in store we highlight the product of what you will see in the show. Everything you watch in the show you can book with us.

It’s balanced. It’s a very integrated marketing approach.

 

What are some of the biggest trends and shifts that you’ve seen in travel that influence things like this ?

The biggest change that we’re looking at, at the moment, is the way we approach travel. For so long Flight Centre has been known for cheap flights. For example, ‘lowest air fare guarantee’. Not necessarily everyone wants to have the cheapest flight. The cheapest flight sometimes isn’t the most convenient and maybe it’s with a low cost carrier.

What we’re looking at is providing choice to our customers. I think that’s probably the big change in travel. People are looking for choice. I mean, it’s never been cheaper than today to travel. You can go to Italy right now for $800 return I think. When has it ever been that cheap to get to Italy? It’s incredible. Travel’s so much more accessible. Which is great.

It means we can start promoting emerging destinations as well. For so long you’d only promote London or LA, but because travel is so much cheaper and so much more accessible, we can start talking about some emerging destinations. Destinations like Iceland and Sri Lanka, we can start promoting those, which we’ve never done before, which I think is really cool.

In the age of digital, advertising’s not so expensive. We can do different things. We can target people differently.

It’s all about choice. That’s really important. I’m not only talking about flights here, I’m talking about the industry in general. People are savvy now. You can’t just give them two or three choices for a hotel, everyone knows there’s multiple options.

At the same time, they want the choice to be curated. You can’t just go, ‘Here’s a hundred hotels. Pick one.’ It should be curated to, ‘here are some really good three star, here are some really good four star, here are some really good five star.’ 

At the moment you go to one of the websites, type in [that] you want to stay in LA and it comes up with all these options. How do you know you’re making the right choice? It’s a big commitment. How do you do it?

I think user generated reviews are really important, to see what other people have said. But you have to sift through that as well, because some people just want to complain. How do you get through it?

We’ve been talking about this a lot. How do you sift through all this stuff, to make sure that what you’re going to do is worth it? You’ve only got four weeks of annual leave per year. How do you make sure that when you go to LA for two weeks, that every day is amazing?

We’re always looking to improve ourselves. Any business should be looking at that. Whether it’s travel or it’s toothpaste or it’s Coca-Cola. You need to keep improving. If you keep doing what you did yesterday today, you’ll be gone tomorrow. What’s really important is to keep looking at reinventing yourself.

Look at Flight Centre. Flight Centre has been around for so long and it keeps reinventing itself. We have the people that go ‘That’s not good enough, let’s improve.’

Change is inevitable so let’s go with it, let’s not fight it.

 

The author of this article attended Adobe Symposium as a guest of Adobe.

 

Further reading

 

Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

Ben Ice
BY Ben Ice ON 15 October 2018