How Flight Centre uses video and content to build customer relevancy

Travel retail group head of creative and content shares how he's tapping the power of video, content marketing and video production to drive stronger brand engagement

With one of the best known travel retail brands in the country, Flight Centre Travel Group head of creative and content, Luke Wheatley, isn’t exactly worried about traditional brand building.

Instead, his content and customer engagement strategy today is heavily focused on articulating the ‘why’ behind Flight Centre’s proposition for the modern consumer.

“We know our business has to keep evolving. We’re in the lucky situation that we’re not focusing on reach too much anymore as our brand is so well known,” he told CMO. “Our problem is to be constantly relevant to the customer. That’s what we’re really trying to push now, and answering the question ‘why Flight Centre’ is our ultimate goal.”

Wheatley heads up creative and content engagement strategy for the Flight Centre masthead. He’s been in the group for three years and initially looked after all brands across the portfolio.

The remit changed six months ago, following a realignment of the ASX-listed group. This restructure saw Flight Centre eliminate two brands, Cruiseabout and Escape Travel, absorbing both businesses either under the core Flight Centre masthead, or luxury travel division, Travel Associates. The work included rebranding a quarter of its retail outlets nationally. Flight Centre also has a youth brand, Student Flights.

“All signs are really positive; we’re on the right path. Yet we know we have to keep on reinventing ourselves – that can’t be the end of it,” Wheatley said.

“Flight Centre is a market leader in change. We know if we continue doing what we were doing yesterday into today, then we would fail. For example, we survived the GFC - our share price went up. And it keeps going up as we keen looking at technology and how we move with the times.”  

Fuelling innovative thinking

Innovation lies at the heart of this quest, and being open not only to exploring ideas from all parts of the organisation, Wheatley continued. It’s also about accepting failure.

“You have to be brave enough to recognise someone else has a good idea and follow it, or realise your own ideas aren’t right,” he said.  

One of the earlier changes Wheatley participated in was reshaping the brand from ‘airfare experts’ to ‘best in the air and everywhere’. That launched two years ago and saw the retail group bring its number one asset – the consultants – to the front, he said.

Being innovative is also about not taking no for an answer, Wheatley said. He highlighted his efforts to launch Flight Centre’s own TV travel show 12 months ago as a case in point.

“I’d noticed we spent all this money sponsoring other travel shows and raised the question: What if we made our own travel show? Who better than Australia’s biggest retail travel business?” he asked.

For the next 3-4 months, Wheatley said he listened to leadership feedback against the idea, then pivoted and refined the concept each time. Eventually he secured enough money to make a pilot, and went to Queenstown in New Zealand for four days to shoot the pilot. Encouraged by these efforts and management team buy-in, Flight Centre secured Network Ten to take the 13-part series of 30-minute episodes. The team is now shooting the second season of The 48 Hour Destination show.

A key differentiator is it features a real consultant as a host. “When she’s not travelling she’s booking, and she meets other travel consultants around the world,” Wheatley said. We’re also utilising SEO data to feed into the content.

“The TV show helped answer that a bit by showing our people, travel, our knowledge and passion.”

Video has arguably become a key part of the media and engagement mix, with short pieces garnering more than 3.3 million views. Today, the Flight Centre team produces 1-2 videos per week, ranging from content on popular destinations and short clips for social media, to internal videos explaining its guiding philosophies and uniform standards to employees. Using video for this latter purpose has improved conversion rates on the Flight Centre employee learning portal by 49 per cent.

Video also increases clickthrough rates by as much as 96 per cent, while the average user spends 88 per cent more time on a website with video content feature, Wheatley said. All of the video is being produced using Adobe’s Creative Cloud, and more recently, the team has moved the video production workflow to Team Projects, allowing editors in Australia to work in parallel with colleagues on location globally.

Building relevancy with customers is also about listening to them and responding accordingly, Wheatley said.

“Flight Centre has always liked to think it’s customer centric, but sometimes you can lose sight of the customer,” he said. “To borrow the words of Mark Ritson, it’s really important to realise you’re not the customer, no matter want. Too often, marketing teams fall into the trap of asking ‘what would I do’? But we’re too close to the brand to be the customer.”

Related: How Flight Centre is mapping out a new kind of customer journey

Related: How Flight Centre’s B2B teams harnessed marketing automation

One big shift in the way Flight Centre strives to be more customer-led is by listening to a wider array of customer research and insights. What the group has then done is take that information to create products. In each case, marketing is part of the discussion, working closely with product and operational teams on the ground constantly listening to customers.

“We just introduced interest-free holidays, and price-drop protection, which is different to the lowest airfare guarantee,” Wheatley said. “It’s protecting you so if the price of the airfare drops before you go away, you get the difference in money back after you depart. These are things the customer actually wants.”  

Another content project is utilising SEO data to determine the top 20 things people are searching for in a destination.

“We’re finding our destination experts, taking that information to them and answering those questions. Now only do we get great SEO, it’s giving us amazing content,” Wheatley said.

Being responsive is also a big piece in the puzzle for Wheatley. One internal goal is to get tactical media product out into the market in under 45 minutes. To do this, Flight Centre has created a tactical team in marketing to support those efforts.

“When we find Jetstar is putting a good price out on an airfare, we want to beat them. That’s how we’re going to get our brand to be more relevant. Across outdoor, TV, EDM – any channel we can get it out there, we will,” he said. “But we have to be careful we don’t just throw every price point into the market; we have a whole system to quickly make decisions on that.”

But whatever the content play, Wheatley said it’s vital Flight Centre restricts itself to themes relevant to the realm of travel and where it’s built brand authority.

“We’re never going to talk about things outside of that and that is how we keep our engagement,” he said. “And if we don’t have anything to say today, don’t say it. Our blogs have an average read time of six-and-a-half minutes and we only do one per day instead of three stories per day. It’s about more engagement, not always more content.

“We also don’t use influencers – our people are our influencers. We are a known brand. It again comes back to relevancy.”

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