How WestJet Settled the Best-of-Breed Versus Marketing Suite Debate

For many passengers, air travel is a means to get from one destination to the other. But for Canadian airlines WestJet, it’s about care.

“The way WestJet carries itself is it’s not about just getting you from A to B,” says WestJet Senior Digital Strategist Ahmed Elemam, who runs digital marketing and analytics for the airline. “It’s about the experience.” To WestJet that means providing its customers with hospitality-like care.  

WestJet’s digital analytics team wanted to find a way to help the airline and its WestJet Vacation brand better deliver this care cohesively by providing company leaders with a 360-degree view of the customer. So, the team revamped its strategy, tools, and structure to deliver connected, high-flying insights.

The strategy

The ability to track customers’ digital behavior is important in any industry, but it’s especially important for the airline sector. The reason: Web behavior is the best indicator of whether a customer is going to purchase an airline ticket or vacation package, Elemam says.

“You need to know what’s going on on the website because [it generates] millions of dollars…per day,” he says. “One small change in the conversion of bookings could mean losing a few hundred thousand dollars.”

WestJet had implemented Adobe Analytics shortly after Elemam joined the company at the beginning of 2014. A year later the airline’s marketing and analytics teams realized that the analytics solution alone wasn’t providing the full view of the customer they desired. So, the airline decided to broaden its marketing technology stack to better identify its customers and understand their intent. The next decision was whether to add other best-of-breed solutions or invest in the full Adobe Marketing Cloud solution.

To help decide, the teams outlined their objectives. “Not having specifics or not knowing what you want is a lost cause,” he says, “because you can get the best-in-class, but you don’t know what you want out of it.”

Knowing more about the customer was a greater priority than the bells and whistles best-of-breed solutions could provide. The analytics team also wanted to seamlessly integrate its Adobe Analytics data into its new tools and provide a centralized view of the customer; plus, it needed to generate customer insights in close to real time. Some of the other solutions considered weren’t able to stitch this data together, or it took 24 hours to do so. “Web data is like fish,” Elemam explains. “Once you leave it for a long time outside, it just dies. Web data has to stay fresh.”

Finally, the teams wanted to ensure that using the technology would generate ROI.

The tools

The company decided to implement several products within Adobe’s Marketing Cloud suite of solutions throughout 2015 and in early 2016.

Today, WestJet uses Adobe Analytics, Adobe Audience Manager, Adobe Media Optimizer, and Adobe Target. These tools allow the airline to track everything from shopping conversion and specific hotel bookings to booking-flow metrics, profile and device metrics, and engagement-to-conversion metrics, Elemam explained at the 2016 Adobe Summit in Las Vegas. He added that WestJet classifies this data to each user, integrates it into statistical computing suite R, and then can track metrics quickly and identify customer intent.

The airline experienced some turbulence during the implementation process—mainly, it took more than a year to add and implement all of the cloud solutions.

As is the situation with many companies implementing a suite of marketing tools, the marketing and analytics teams also faced the challenge of “running around the company finding tech support.” So, the airline worked with a consultancy and had a single point of contact at Adobe who specialized in the travel vertical to iron out any pressing issues.

The team

But it wasn’t enough for WestJet to have its tools in place; it needed to have the right people in place, too. The biggest change WestJet made after implementing the Adobe Marketing Cloud was to move its marketing team into the digital group—before, the two departments were separate entities, Elemam says. This allows the organization to share insights faster and operate with a bigger, unified budget.

WestJet also aligned its outside partners. It did so by having all of its agencies use its Adobe dashboard and paying them based on the performance metrics shown in the one common scoring system the airline uses.

“Making a relationship with an agency successful has to do with the company doing a good job and the agency doing a good job,” Elemam says. “If one fails, both fail.”

The results

Since implementing the Adobe Marketing Cloud, WestJet streamlined its business processes and improved its marketing results. Productivity improved, as well; the airlines was able to reduce employee training time because its staff now uses one marketing suite with a unified interface, instead of several disparate solutions. And at the Summit, Elemam noted that the airline saved more than one million dollars in marketing costs. Some of these savings, he tells Direct Marketing News, were due to lower agency costs as a result of the unified dashboard.

“What we paid in cloud, we saved in agency because we could score properly,” he says.

Despite the benefits gained since the implementation, Elemam points out that the success isn’t about the technology itself. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether companies invest in best-of-breed or suite solutions, Elemam says. What matters is that they invest in the technology that best meets their goals and ensure that they have the right data, people, and strategies in place to take advantage of it.

“[Buy] the best product for you,” he says. “If you don’t go to your internal house cleaning, you’re not going to be able to meet guests.”

Correction 4/14/16: Ahmed’s last name is Elemam not Eleman as it previously appeared.

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