Erik-Jan Gelink – Transavia

Erik-Jan Gelink – Transavia

Erik-Jan Gelink, number 11 in this year’s top 100 marketeers, is the Chief Commercial Officer at Transavia and has a broad responsibility such as scheduling, network planning, revenue/yield management, direct (online) sales, indirect sales via tour operators, customer service, branding and all marketing, communications and campaigning. Transavia is part of KLM but can operate independently from its parent company. He says: “Of course we coordinate on, for example, network planning and pricing, but from a branding perspective, we should improve coordination. Brand portfolio management is not in our DNA.”

For Transavia, Erik-Jan applies the classic KPI’s for brand growth. “For us, these KPI’s are brand awareness, attitude and brand preference. But to be honest, it’s always nice to know how many people know Transavia, but it’s far more important to know what the key associations with our brand are. So how we’re scoring on our four key values is what I think is important. These values are decisive, friendly, inspired and responsible. We have defined what these values mean in communication, attitude and behavior for all touchpoints. Friendliness, for example, is not only a smile to the passenger on the plane; it goes much deeper than that. We treat our passengers as guests. And decisiveness, strongly connected to flight safety, means that, if necessary, we will act to the one passenger that is causing trouble in a plane, to ensure the wellbeing of others.”

When asked about the main ingredients for growth, Erik-Jan first provides some context about the category. “We are limited in our growth due to the maximum of number of flights permitted at the airports in the Netherlands. So, it’s a relatively stable market where market shares do not shift a lot. So, we what we do in this situation is keeping the Transavia brand in the minds of customers using our four key values. Our promise is somewhat different from the other low-cost airlines; we are balancing low-cost with feel-good. We have been investing in a friendly approach since the ‘60’s. This is a strong part of our DNA.”

The promise
“But due to the scarcity, it is difficult to grow as fast as we want to. We can’t add a lot of extra aircraft to the fleet, since we won’t get the slots on the airports. We therefore will add larger aircraft to our fleet in the future (more passengers per flight) and further improve the load factor (% of seats that are sold per flight). We must deal with this category effect. Another major category effect is the rise of the online travel agencies and meta search engines like Skyscanner. Our turnover is still 50% direct sales, but you can imagine that this current development of online price scanners influences our sales channel mix. In the indirect sales channel, we have less control over the user experience. It makes the Transavia brand and our promise even more important. If our logo appears in these online shops, it should immediately link to our promise. For example, if a flight to Malaga is €10 cheaper somewhere else, we hope — and we see — that people are still more likely to choose Transavia because of our key brand values.”

This also means that the role of media has changed. With a built-in growth limit, Transavia no longer buys a lot of TV advertising. “But we need the more classic campaigning to get online traffic,” says Erik-Jan. “Nowadays we use more and more targeting; we conduct data analyses to develop specific offers that fit a certain profile. Next to campaigning, we started Transavia Studios, our own content development platform. They develop formats for web TV, aimed at the younger generations.”

“For the older consumers, our logo already has the right associations when they see it on a comparison site. That’s different for the younger generations. For them, we need to show what we do. We use vloggers and influencers to do that. Recently we used a vlogger to invite people to pick up our new plane at the Boeing factory in Seattle. The result was 200,000 registrations, which is one of our biggest media successes this year.”

Transavia decided to develop content and communication in-house. But that didn’t change their definition of media effectiveness. Erik-Jan: “No, that did not change for me. It’s the same: ‘If we spend a euro, what do we gain?’ But to be honest, in a low-cost environment, spending in media is sometimes difficult, especially when it comes to branding. It’s the first budget that is being cut, since there is no direct return of investment. But yes, we changed the way we use media. Producing in-house fits the low-cost model, and it makes it also more agile. This means no major bursting on TV anymore. We need to be always-on, with less classic media and using social instead.”

“The role of the agencies we work with has changed. For reaching our customers, we use our in-house media platform, where we can use at least 20 touchpoints to reach them. We have a network of agencies that help us out on specific tasks. Media buying, content creation, online advertising, SEO/SEA, and so on. We currently don’t have an advertising agency.”

Erik-Jan explains the main KPI for determining the success of media investments. Erik-Jan: “We need to sell tickets, so traffic and conversion. For the medium term, the other brand KPI’s come into play. We monitor these KPI’s closely in our branding dashboard, but I’m mainly interested in the reason why the KPI’s are moving (or not).”

According to Erik-Jan, people like Byron Sharp shake things up. Erik-Jan: “We use some of the aspects we do with other ideas. For example, the brand consistency (the Transavia green) and physical availability, that is something we use a lot. But we really trust on our common sense as well.”