Steven Seddon, head of marketing and digital at Kuoni, tells Katherine Lawrey why the best approach to marketing is a customer-focused one
A continuous relationship with a customer is the cheapest form of marketing, says Kuoni’s head of marketing and digital, Steven Seddon.
“When budgets are tight, you have to tackle poor retention rates first,” he says. This conviction places customers at the heart of Kuoni’s marketing strategy – so much so that the operator’s next big digital project is a user-generated content hub. “We’re inviting customers to talk about ‘their amazing’ for a series of blog articles. It will be a storytelling site. It’s deliberately not heavily branded as Kuoni because it’s about the customer and their inspirations.”
Kuoni retail and partner stores are briefed to look out for customers with stories to tell. “There’s a customer in our Liverpool store,
who lost his wife and then his parents in quick succession. These losses galvanised him to see the world, and he’s incredibly engaging. We took him to Marrakech and filmed him there.”
Video is top of Seddon’s priority list for next year. “We can reveal so much more about our beautiful destinations using videos rather than words.” Agents shouldn’t assume video exceeds their budgets: “The high-definition quality from a £250 Go-Pro camera is fantastic.
And agents have great relationships with suppliers and tourist boards – use their content for free.”
Already live is kuoni.co.uk/inspiration, which carries in excess of 300 articles by Kuoni staff and journalists. “We’re no longer benchmarking ourselves against tour operators online but publishers – we want to be seen as an authority on travel, and replicate online the expertise we have in our stores,” he says. “This content we repurpose across all our marketing channels including our print magazine. Premium brands can be seen as out of people’s reach, but personal content humanises our brand and makes it more accessible.”
Quality control is important, he says – a team meets weekly to audit Kuoni’s content. “It has to be appealing, relevant and helpful to customers,” he adds.
This level of personalisation feeds through to a more customer-focused communication strategy. “In the past our communications were generic, but we’re moving towards trigger-based dynamic communications. For example, we can personalise email communications, based on previous holidays and online searches.
The technology is sophisticated, but once you’ve made that investment, it becomes an automated process.”
Seddon’s career has been varied. After graduating from Manchester with a marketing degree, he joined Thomson Holiday’s graduate scheme. He stayed for seven years, culminating in a stint as brand manager for Portland Holidays. In 2007 he moved to Virgin Trains, then worked for Cosmos and Monarch, before the call came from Kuoni in October 2014.
He hit the ground running, convincing managing director Derek Jones it was time to invest in Kuoni’s first TV advert, which showed a synchronised swimmer who appears to be running on water before surfacing in the Maldives. “What’s great about that advert is that no trickery was involved,” he says. “The brief to the advertising agency was to be quietly disruptive. There are so many adverts in January pushing sales – we had to do something that would make people pause and have a wow moment.”
Consumer research tracked an increase in brand awareness. The advert proved so successful Seddon felt compelled to ban his team from using its keyword “amazing”. “We heard it so much, unless it was used in the context of Find Your Amazing, we didn’t want to hear it!” he says.