Revolutionary Measures

Why Ryanair doesn’t care – lessons for marketing

Today’s media is full of the latest outburst from Ryanair’s founder and chief executive. Michael O’Leary described passengers who failed to print out their boarding passes (and consequently are charged €60 per flight as a surcharge) as ‘idiots’. Responding to a Facebook campaign by disgruntled passenger Suzy McLeod who fell foul of the charges O’Leary suggested she “should pay 60 euros for being stupid.”

Disobeying the cardinal rules of marketing and abusing your customers never normally works – remember Gerard Ratner describing his jewellery as ‘crap’?

English: Michael O'Leary

English: Michael O’Leary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Particularly given that the Facebook campaign had gained support from over 500,000 users it seems to demonstrate that Ryanair is ignoring the power of social media to spread complaints and criticism.

But it actually reflects Ryanair’s very simple brand proposition – cheap, no-frills flights with all the extras charged for (remember O’Leary’s threat to charge for using the loo on his planes?). Extreme, yes, and in many cases comes across as unfair, particularly when charges are added on that can’t be avoided, but in general people know what they are getting. It’s a classic case of market segmentation, coupled with a flair for hitting the headlines on a regular basis to reinforce the message. People can choose to fly through other carriers so there’s no monopoly that needs to be regulated which means that generally Ryanair can get away with it.

So what lessons can we learn as tech marketers?

Have a single focus
Firstly, you have to be very focused on what your company/product/technology stands for. Build a unique proposition that solves a customer pain point and make sure that it runs through everything that you do. While it is always best to be liked by your customers, if what you are offering is compelling enough they will continue to buy from you.

Use the power of PR
Yes, O’Leary is a motormouth but he knows exactly the value that his outbursts will bring in terms of column inches. These are not off the cuff remarks but a planned campaign to reinforce Ryanair’s proposition and keep it front of mind with potential passengers.

Have a figurehead
Companies are generally faceless, so make sure you have a charismatic spokesperson to get your message across. Again, O’Leary’s positioning isn’t going to work for most businesses, but he provides an instantly recognisable face to Ryanair. Don’t use too many spokespeople, make sure they are media trained but let them demonstrate their personality and how it reflects the business. This should be easy for tech entrepreneurs who’ve put their lives into a startup, but getting them to look up from their technology to engage at a higher level can be a struggle.

Invest in marketing through the right channels
Given it claims to offer the lowest fares and operates as a no-frills company, you may think that Ryanair has a minimal marketing budget. On the contrary, over its last financial quarter Ryanair increased marketing spend six fold (to over €51 million). While that’s not going on social media it is going on eyecatching adverts designed to persuade passengers onto new routes with what appear to be compelling offers. The company knows that a combination of its brand presence, O’Leary outbursts and advertising through channels that reach its customers will translate into sales. No waste, no free iPhone apps, just a focus on what is proven to work.

Clearly, very few businesses, tech or otherwise, can get away with how Ryanair markets itself and survive. But strip off the O’Leary bluster and there are lessons that can be learnt by all companies when it comes to successfully reaching customers and making money.


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September 5, 2012 - Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] of their way to antagonise interviewers. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair immediately comes to mind, but he seems to have mellowed – O’Leary has even said that “If I’d only known that being nice to customers was going to […]

    Pingback by Mike Ashley – PR star? « Revolutionary Measures | June 15, 2016 | Reply

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