For many years Ryanair revelled in its reputation for being a brash, almost antagonistic airline.

However it is currently undergoing a major rebranding exercise as it seeks to refocus on the customer experience and adopt a friendlier image.

At the Festival of Marketing this morning Ryanair CMO Kenny Jacobs gave an outline of what the process had so far entailed and how it had already impacted the business.

Rebranding campaigns of this scale often take place when a business is on its last legs, so Ryanair is somewhat unique in that it is pivoting from a position of power.

As Europe’s largest airline, Ryanair flies more than 1,600 routes to 30 countries. 

It has achieved growth of this scale by relentlessly focusing on offering customers the lowest fares – its average tickets costs €46 compared to €84 on easyJet and an EU average of €163.

But Jacobs said that if Ryanair is to achieve aggressive growth targets of 40% in the next five years then it needs to offer more than just low fares.

New focus on customer experience

Prior to the rebrand Jacobs described that Ryanair brand image as “straightforward, rough and ready, and we never took ourselves too seriously.”

Though it will maintain that light-hearted tone in its communications, it will drop the antagonism and become more customer-friendly.

Jacobs said the new marketing plan is very simple. Ryanair needs to be likeable, useful and different.

Our low fares mean we’re very useful, but we need to become more likeable. And we’ll always be different.

To achieve this Jacobs wants to take the company’s relentlessness and refocus on the customer experience.

This entails several key elements:

  • Need to start to listening to customers.
  • Stand for low fares and better service.
  • Use data and digital to drive conversion, not just retention.
  • Develop product without losing the low cost leadership.
  • Innovate: mobile, Google, content.
  • Add new capacity, bases and route.

The focus on customer retention is something that Ryanair has neglected in the past in favour of acquisition.

This will be improved by utilising data to provide more targeted communications and offers, but also by improving the entire customer journey from discovery through to the day of travel and post trip.

These are the metrics that Jacobs uses to measure whether the marketing plan has been a success:

  • Bookings and load factors.
  • Visits and conversions.
  • % margin.
  • Marketshare.
  • Retention rates.
  • Brand perception.

Refocus on digital

Digital has been a major part of Ryanair’s rebranding project.

It launched a new website in 2013 and has adopted an agile way of working in order to roll out weekly updates and improvements.

In addition the airline launched a new app in August, which now accounts for 4% of overall bookings.

Other digital initiatives include working more closely with Google flight search, producing new content and selling seats through corporate booking tools.

Obviously the focus on CX hasn’t only included digital channels. Ryanair has also introduced new routes, allocated seats, cut its fees, increased baggage allowance and offered a new business service.

According to Jacobs:

These are the right things to do as it’s what matters to customers. But we won’t do the traditional airline tactics such as a loyalty scheme, or installing a blue curtain halfway down the cabin with smaller seats behind it. 

We will always be different.

The results

Despite being less than a year into the rebranding project, Ryanair has already begun to see a positive impact on the business goals.

Jacobs admitted to being surprised at how quickly the changes had taken affect, with the most recent financial results showing that traffic is up 4%, revenue up 9% and profit after tax up 32%.

Furthermore, Ryanair is the most-searched airline in the UK (accounting for 21% of searches) and since December 2013 it has leapfrogged British Airways and easyJet to become the most-visited airline website.