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“We’ve seen how manual offers tailored to the customer work better”

We picked the brain of lastminute.com's CMO to hear his thoughts on future trends, his marketing team org, and the booming travel industry

Rebecca Wojno
March 06 2019

Like many travelers, Yannic Pluymackers had several stops on the way to his current destination; CMO of lastminute.com. In our most recent Powwow, he shares how his previous experiences helped him structure his marketing team. Why email marketing remains one of his go-to tools for one-to-one personalization. How he attends to the customers of today and their ever-changing needs. Take a journey with us into the mind of this CMO…

Check our latest Powwow interviews and many more special features here.

You have quite an extensive background. Which positions prepared you for your current role at lastminute.com?

“During my time in Dublin working for Google, I started consulting clients on online marketing, building up my expertise in Google Analytics, customer analytics, attribution modeling, reporting, and billing. Then afterwards, I joined Kayak to lead their online marketing, build a martech team, work on UX optimization to increase conversion rates, and establish a SEM system that didn’t exist within their system before.

These experiences where I built or redefined the marketing departments eventually led to lastminute. We have a lot of data and we try to make use of the data when delivering the right messages to our customers. And we have a very technical, data-driven marketing department where the focus is always on making sure we’re delivering growth.”

How is your marketing team structured?

“We truly try to be lean, but we’re talking about 60-70 people working towards our goals and we’re especially performance driven. At lastminute, our head of performance marketing has three team leads under him who manage SEM affiliation and HR acquisition for us. And under each of the team leads, we have managers responsible for the campaigns. Then in parallel, we have a marketing tech organization, which is essentially responsible for landing pages, SEO optimization, business development, personalization, and data management, so reporting data, targeting, things like that.

And then apart from those two sections, we have a branding department where managers for each market oversee the creative development with our agencies and offline campaigns in terms of TV and telephone.

Our content marketing team works with partners that produce content for us, alongside our video editing unit. And lastly, we have a group we call ThisDay, which is essentially social and email marketing.”

Why (and how) do you create a global brand image and maintain a unified presence across different languages and cultures?

“It’s very important for our brand to connect the right message to the right user in a programmatic fashion. And in a similar way, we need to be able to create content not only for different personas, but on a one-to-one basis. Then, we need to adopt this to individual channels that all have different degrees of granularity, depending on the media. Within our content marketing organization, our video team produces the videos themselves or manage the agencies we work with and our content managers oversee external partners who provide us with unique and interesting content. One of the latest initiatives we’re trying to build is user-generated content, but all of these aspects are central to our content marketing strategy.”

How do you provide for the smart customers of today who know exactly what they want? How do you get them to return once they’ve booked a flight or a vacation?

“We have very sophisticated tools and very sophisticated competitors who provide similar services. What’s important here is that we provide additional services. And we do this by creating more content, helping users plan their trip with better tools, all in a dynamic package product.

First of all, we have the full suite in terms of hotels, our own packages, flights, etc. But we also offer experiences too, such as theater tickets. Essentially, we’re a one-stop shop for travel. And therefore, our users don’t necessarily need to turn to another brand to complete their planning. Our content plays a big role here because we’re working towards generating more user-generated content, more curated content so users can find all the information they need for their trip. And of course, we also have loyalty programs that provide a range of special services for returning customer. I think that’s what sets us apart.”

Do you see email marketing as a key point of growth for your company? Some experts state that email marketing is dead in a way…

“I think it’s a key factor of growth for our company when we are talking about one-to-one communication to travel audiences on social, especially on platforms like WhatsApp and others. And email marketing is still a central part of that. And as we’re also trying to encourage sign-ups for our website, email marketing is still a channel where we can drive this one-to-one communication.”

(From lastminute.com website)

What does the ideal combination of AI and data and human touch look like to you?

“Surprisingly, what we see on social is that dynamic solutions—where the customer sees a fee-based ad or a fee-based creative—don’t work that well because they understand it’s automated to a certain extent. So, what we found works better is manual offer creations that are tailored to the individual customer. Then, you need to find ways to scale this with automation. For the AI part, I largely think that this is about targeting optimization.”

Any favorite marketing campaigns or brands that really nailed their marketing strategy?

“For me, one of the big marketing trends–if I can jump back to your previous question—is the merger between product and marketing. If you want a successful marketing strategy, it needs to mirror the product or completely integrate into the product and vice-versa.

So going back to your question – I liked how TripAdvisor helps users better manage their trips and engage with other travelers, making trip organization and socialization a lot easier.”

You mentioned you have a separate data team. How do they manage all your data and what technologies do you use to make sure the information doesn’t resemble a giant tangled mess?

“Our challenge is making sure our customer data is available on all the platforms: email marketing, public displays, SEM, our website, etc. So far, we’ve relied on our own database and even built our own audience data storage. We work with an engineering team to make this data available for other channels and we also use Optimove to drive the customer experience no matter which platform we use. We’ve basically built our own audience data storage and we are working with an engineering team to make this data even more available for our different channels and to make it better. It’s a real work in progress.”

You recently signed a contract with Optimove, PostFunnel’s parent company. What inspired you to seek a multichannel marketing hub solution? What benefits you are expecting?

“We decided on Optimove largely because before, we worked with one of your competitors, who mainly focused on the Italian market. Optimove presented more of an out-of-the-box solution, but what really interested us was its ability to optimize our marketing efforts across different channels, as we see social interchangeable with email marketing display, retargeting, and so on. I think what was very interesting for us is that Optimove optimizes across these different channels, delivering one customer experience no matter where the customer is. And this was very, very interesting for us. Then at the same time, we appreciated the flexibility in changing our templates, our messaging, working directly on the codes, AB testing, and so on.”

What does the marketing future look like? 

“One trend we’re seeing now is that it’s not so much about providing a search engine for the user (where they can do their own research), but about providing a plan.

And obviously, AI plays a huge part here, because you need algorithms to find the right trip for the right user. The tech side gives users the right content, but the content comes from the community, so having these functions work side by side will be big.”

Now for the fun parts – Where would you go for a spontaneous vacation?

“I think at the moment, you need to go to Sicily, and because lastminute is partially Italian-based, we have good offers there. It’s winter now so my colleagues will all tell you to go on a ski vacation!”

What tips would you give to future marketers of the world? How should they prepare for their roles?

“I have a lot of conversations with marketers who are afraid of data and who are afraid of the developing marketing tech. What we see in our organization is that data enhances the entire customer experience, so don’t be afraid of this component, embrace it.”

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Rebecca Wojno

Rebecca is a marketing content writer and copy editor. Aside from writing about the importance of customer retention, she spends her time searching for good Mexican food and watching "Suits" reruns.

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