We’re working with the original travel agent, the 175-year-old Thomas Cook, to help them transform their marketing to meet the needs of both customers and businesses in the modern era.

The travel market was one of the first to be disrupted by the internet, with the first online travel agent arriving in 1995, along with new customer expectations of choice, flexibility and control.

But as recently as 2014 the big traditional tour operators hadn’t yet faced up to the fact they could no longer win with dominant high street distribution. They were still running seasonal broadcast TV campaigns that did more to promote the category generic of sun & sand holidays than their own specific brands.

Before we were appointed by Thomas Cook, they were still running separate marketing activity in each region, and sometimes in each channel. They spent heavily on broadcast TV in the peak booking period in January, and digital marketing was siloed in the ecommerce team, focussed only on driving website traffic.

Remo Masala and Jamie Queen weren’t happy with this status quo. They are natural changemakers, and were hungry to push the organisation to do things differently.

They decided to tackle this by looking towards a very different kind of marketing, shaking up what they did and how they did it. We’ve partnered with them to help progressively restructure their marketing approach, adopt agile ways of working, and build a modern marketing model across every European market.

 
 

In our first year working together we helped them make significant progress by running the same integrated communications campaign across all of their 14 regions, creating a breakthrough ad ('Pool Kid') that was shared online and inspired parodies, and that spawned a no.1 music track on Spotify.

It drove record sales, increasing new customer records by 73%, growing their digital market share by 31%. But more importantly it started to give meaning and relevance back to the brand, and pride back to Thomas Cook’s staff through an an empowering new purpose: ‘Leave it to us, you’re on holiday’.

 
 

But while that was real progress from their previous context, we needed to take another bold leap in our second year, and it had to be about their marketing model and marketing operation as well as just the content.

We started by facilitating a 2 day workshop with their senior marketing leadership, agreeing the principles of a more empowered and collaborative cross-regional marketing operation, interrogating the CEO’s ongoing business strategy to ensure we were driving progress toward a compelling future vision, and defining some big shifts in how Thomas Cook needed to use marketing: from peaks to always-on; from broadcast to audience-led; from TV-led to digitally-led; from slogans to stories.

In parallel we had teams on the road, working with the regional marketing teams to understand their challenges, requirements and ambitions. To meet differing customer needs across Europe, Thomas Cook’s product is customised, and so there are a really complex set of communications requirements.

Of course we also drew on some very high quality consumer research, behavioural insights work that we developed working with chartered psychologists, that helped us understand the fundamental needs that package holidays tap into, even in the age of OTAs.

 

Over the following couple of months we worked closely with their marketing leadership to not write ads, but develop a creative platform, that could be systemised to meet every one of their known marketing requirements, and that was designed to be native to digital channels (but could flex to TV and press too).

“We’ve built a modular video concept that could work as well on TV as on Facebook video or YouTube,” Queen said, explaining how the video was designed so that it would work with clips of varying lengths. “We didn’t start with a 30-second TV ad.”

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The result was the idea ‘You want, we do’, which allowed us to reflect the variety of different consumer desires that the brand meets in their unique, tailored experiences.

We then ran a two week asset capture shoot at two Thomas Cook hotels. Even as we were still shooting we began the work of loading all of these assets into an online tool that meant they could be instantly pulled together into Facebook ads, GIFs, Boomerangs, or even TV ads.

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We then rolled our sleeves rolled up, working alongside their regional marketing teams to configure their campaigns for the start of 2017. But the system already contained enough assets that they could run always-on activity throughout the year, and had enough flexibility that they could respond quickly to changing market conditions or business needs.

Through this process their teams ‘learnt by doing’, picking up modern responsive ways of working by osmosis by being alongside our teams as they practiced them. So, for example, we built the capability in their social teams to collaborate with each other and share resources for better outcomes.

In summary, instead of "making an ad campaign", what we did was to co-design a new communications system, and a new marketing organisation, that will help with the next stage of their evolution to a modern marketing model.

 
 

 

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