Web exclusive: DMNews speaks with Chris Vukelich, VP of distribution and e-commerce for OpenSkies

DMNews sits down with Chris Vukelich, VP of distribution and e-commerce for OpenSkies — the new airline launched by British Airways last week.

Q: How big a role
does e-commerce play in the overall marketing mix for OpenSkies?

A: It’s pretty
significant, which is no surprise considering travel is the one industry that
embraced digital long before anyone else. We have an interesting distribution
opportunity at OpenSkies because it’s essentially a brand new airline. It has
an online reservation system and the ability to take direct booking online, but
because it’s a part of British Airways it also has distribution opportunities
presented by that company — all flights show up in all the British Airways
systems, and our strategy includes what British Airways is doing online. 

Q: What is the
general e-commerce/digital strategy — that is, what are the top focal points
for OpenSkies online?

A: The OpenSkies
direct channels include our Web site, our call center and our concierge desk.
Very specifically, the highlights on the digital approach are simply that we
built what we think is a good Web site that’s easy to use.  We want to offer a very simple user
experience and have a straightforward approach. As far as driving traffic to
the site, search is key — both natural and pay-per-click — so the idea of
building the site to be visible in search was key. We want to build natural
growth over time, and the paid stuff jumpstarts that. We believe in taking
advantage of the latest ad-serving capabilities, such as storyboarding.

Q: What is

A: We talk to a
person numerous times as they move along the Web, telling the OpenSkies story
where the target customer is likely to be. First, we may talk about the feel of
the airline, and then the next ad shows off the cabins and then the staff and
so on, so the storyboard approach gives an impression of us over a period of

Q: Where do you find
the best audience for these ads?

A: We do a lot of
ad optimization. The beauty of digital media is that you can optimize, which
you can’t do in traditional media. In the online world, you can absolutely
measure what’s working with one particular channel or one particular media
opportunity. The trick to this is not just about slapping out online messages
but relevant messages in a contextual sense and talking to people when they are
likely to be thinking about traveling.

Q: Can you give an
example of this?

A: Yes, our blog
is one. We were building an airline in a very short period of time, and we needed
to run the gauntlet of government approvals. In that period, we were not
permitted to sell anything, so we made the decision to launch a blog in
January. Part of the approach is that there are going to be conversations
taking place about you on the Web, so you might as well get actively involved
in shaping it. As word got out that British Airways was launching OpenSkies,
there was a lot of speculation and rumor, and we thought it was important to
communicate what we were doing. By the time we got government approval in May
we had 75,000 visitors or so to our site who knew we were coming. That’s part
of our digital strategy: play in the buzz of the Web. Everybody has an opinion
and a blog, and we want to participate. We generally post to the blog every

Q: What campaign work
have you done?

A: We only
started marketing at the end of May, so the digital work we’ve done to date is
brand building, creating an awareness that OpenSkies exists, and we will
continue to do that for a period of time. In that case, digital is just one
prong in the overall marketing and communication strategy. As we evolve, we’ll become
a lot more tactical.

Q: Who are you
targeting with online communications?

A: We have
communicated with British Airways customers in the Executive Club online and
introduced a bonus mileage offer for members. We also sent an e-mail campaign
to readers of The Fashion Journal
because a fair number [of its readers] are likely to travel between New York and Paris.
We’ve also targeted groups by industry or by other affiliation; we’ve been
working on business travelers. That’s why we reach out to bloggers — we invited
some bloggers on a flight so they could communicate to their own, which is
better than advertising.

Q: What’s the next
step for OpenSkies?

A: The problem
with digital is you can never forecast where it’s going. What I’m interested in
doing is creating an image of my airline and selling OpenSkies, and the Web
allows me to do it cost effectively. Stuff will be around a year from now that
we don’t even know about yet, but we will continue to take advantage of the
opportunities that digital marketing presents. Behaviors have changed and
conditions have changed. When I first got into digital it was about CPM, then
it moved aggressively to CPC and cost per transaction and now it is almost back
to CPM because media owners recognize their value. The industry ebbs and flows,
so you need to be nimble — the minute you think you understand it, you’re

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