How Emirates implemented personalization to get closer to their customers

We recently held a webinar on personalization in the travel industry with guest speakers Brendan Witcher from Forrester and David Galovic, VP Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand (Digital) at Emirates. Emirates have been on their personalization journey since October 2014, when they started working with Qubit. In this blog post we’ll outline the process that allowed them to move from simple testing and CRO (conversion rate optimization) to more sophisticated personalization at scale. We’ll also share our framework that you can use to get started on your own personalization journey - in the form of a free personalization workbook.

The spectrum of personalization

Defining personalization can be difficult, especially since it has matured incredibly quickly over the years. As we explored in our ‘Getting 6% more’ research, the sophistication of personalization can be assessed along a spectrum.

Simple A/B testing and site optimization using cosmetic changes falls under the lower end of the personalization spectrum. The travel industry in particular has successfully embraced optimization tactics. Booking.com and Expedia are just two businesses who transformed the industry landscape with their digital offerings.

The more advanced end of the spectrum - what we like to call the ‘holy grail’ of 1:1 personalization - can seem a little out of reach if you’re just getting started on your journey. Luckily, both Brendan and David emphasised that delivering personalization at scale needs to follow an evolution, so not many companies are likely to start out with 1:1 personalization straight away. Brands are well on their way if they combine the best of:

  • Tactical approaches like social proof based on basic segmentation (Think ‘200 consumers booked a flight today’)
  • Strategic personalization to key consumer segments (‘100 Diamond Tier members booked our chauffeur service’)
  • Targeted personalization to specific users (‘You’ve the booked chauffeur service on your previous 5 trips, add again from JFK’)

Advancing from delivering purely tactical messages to also applying strategic and targeted personalizations is something that requires time, resource and a process. It’s not a case of simply selecting and implementing a technology platform. As we heard from Emirates, once you get past trivial use cases, executing across multiple channels can become challenging.

So how to get started?

There are three key areas to consider when it comes to implementing a personalization program: the people, the aforementioned process, and the technology.

People: Create a test and learn culture

Personalization can have an impact on many areas of the business. It will influence how you acquire, engage, retain and develop loyal customers. This means there’s inevitably going to be a lot of people involved. Getting buy-in from key-stakeholders, as well as the wider business is key. Emirates started out by implementing a personalization programme with 3-4 people - it now involves over 50. Creating a culture that understands personalization is important to have in-place from the outset. Here’s why:

  1. A test and learn approach removes subjectivity from decision making via data, putting everyone's ideas on a level playing field.
  2. It allows for features or personalizations to be validated i.e. that they drive the right behaviour.
  3. Taking this approach allows the downside risks of launching new features to be reduced
  4. Learnings can then be applied to future roadmaps, with minimal up front investment.

When using this approach, it’s a good idea to start small, prioritizing the experiences you deem high-priority and involving just a few channels. When you’re sharing results with the rest of the business, be transparent and include successes as well as failures - both offer learnings for next time. Then once you’ve got a few experiences that really drive value, think about how you can get people involved across your organisation - which communication channels work well for your organisation? Is there a workshop or a lunch and learn session you can hold?

Process: Collect & prioritise

Once you managed to prove some value and get everyone on board, you then need a process to collect and prioritise ideas. How you do this is up to you, but it’s best to have a formal process so that everyone is thinking about personalization in the same way, and understands why certain ideas are being prioritized above others. Here’s an example:

Collecting ideas: questions to ask

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Who will you target?
  • How will you measure success?

Then evaluate and prioritize, think about:

  • How to measure success
  • Impact on revenue
  • Impact on customer experience
  • Feasibility/effort
  • Size of target audience
  • Anything else that impacts execution or results.

Using this process should help you get started with your thinking around implementing personalization. But if you still need a little help, we’ve created a Personalization strategy workbook outlining all the basic steps. Download it below and use the framework to get started on your journey!

Free personalization workbook