Yannic Pluymackers, CMO, Lastminute.com: On management and creating moments for users

You don’t have to be a data scientist to be a CMO these days, but it helps.

That might be stretching the idiom a bit – but a data-centric background certainly hasn’t hindered Yannic Pluymackers. The chief marketing officer of Lastminute.com for more than two years – while admitting he is no data scientist himself – studied economics and statistics at university, and feels being conversant in these disciplines is key.

“There is some truth to an extent,” he tells MarketingTech. “You need to have a very good data understanding, maybe statistical understanding, and some technical knowledge as well [to be a CMO].”

Yet all the data expertise in the world won’t cut it if you don’t have the people and management skills to back it up. “You need to be comfortable with leading people of various different backgrounds in order then to connect them and find a common purpose and a common goal,” says Pluymackers of his ‘very diverse’ marketing team.

The landscape for Lastminute, as well as the online travel agency (OTA) space in general, is a fascinating one. When the company was founded, out of the original dot com bubble, it was right at the cutting edge of technology. There was certainly no Airbnb in the last millennium. So how does Lastminute play today, and how does it differentiate itself?

“Looking at today’s marketplace, which is crowded full of OTAs, full of devices, full of platforms, the question is how to get our message across and how to reach those users,” says Pluymackers. “What we have done from a brand positioning perspective is to focus on experiences, to focus on moments, and to show to users that in the end life is about experiences, about relevant moments which you are actually experiencing when you are on holiday.”

So how is the company achieving that aim? Its marketing mix is naturally part in-house, and part vendor-led. On the former is a bidding algorithm for search marketing aimed at “bringing the right package to the right user in the right moment”, in the words of Pluymackers, while the latter involves a series of usual suspects. DoubleClick is the partner of choice for display, although noting it is a minor tactic due to the lack of ROI, while RTB House is used for remarketing.

Social, meanwhile, is of course an ideal medium for engaging the ‘moments’ concept, whether it is Facebook or Instagram. One of the key tenets Pluymackers maintains, aside from engaging customers at the right time and when they want, is the concept of retargeting existing users. He says it is where he would prefer to spend his time, rather than primarily on acquisition marketing.

“Sometimes when I talk with other players in the industry, acquisition marketing, especially for new clients, is still very important for OTA,” he says. “I don’t want to say that we’re much different, but I think our focus is absolutely on reengaging our direct customers, on repeating customers via all different channels. Competitive advantage for an OTA, particularly an OTA with the brand of Lastminute, is key that we have figured out how to reconnect with our users and how to become really the one stop shop where you plan, book, and manage your travel.”

The key is to focus on each channel in turn before putting it all together for a targeted marketing operation. “The need to have very good execution for each individual channel is what you want to focus on first,” says Pluymackers. “Do we have the right execution, for instance, on the SEM side? Then second is to really orchestrate those channels, especially on the display, email marketing, and social side, in order to deliver a personalised message cross-platform and across devices.

“If you don’t have good execution on the individual channels, the orchestration in the second level doesn’t really work.”

Last but not least in this mix is the old bugaboo of email marketing. As this publication recently mused when speaking with cold email strategist Jon Buchan, it remains a vital artery to any successful marketing mission. Indeed, recent research from Omnisend found that email marketing was the backbone to many successful Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays for retailers this year.

Pluymackers notes that Lastminute’s email marketing database ‘could be bigger’, but that the company is working hard on that front. But in this post-GDPR landscape, MarketingTech counters, a smaller but healthy and engaged database is more desirable than a bigger, dirtier one. Pluymackers agrees and emphasises the aspect of loyalty while still remaining true to his ethos – and keeping the needle moving.

“Today email marketing is tremendously important for businesses like ours,” he says. “So we are again, very dynamically and in a programmatic fashion, trying to deliver email messages to our users which are relevant, hitting the user in the right moment and with the right content, to engage them when they start thinking about their next trip.”

One of the primary aspects of becoming chief marketing officer, for an organisation of any size, is to ensure you think of all members of your team, from your data scientist, to your SEM optimiser, to your event marketing manager. “I think getting this understanding and putting yourself in the shoes of this individual person is very important,” explains Pluymackers. “I have conversations with Google, with Facebook, on how to better support us, and I always tell them I want to be in the details.

“I don’t want to get the big CMO message. I want to understand the issue for my team, what we can do together in order to be better at what we are doing, and by inserting myself into those discussions, I can then better guide what the team needs to do.”

For Pluymackers, the recipe has been sketched out and the ingredients have been bought. Now it is all about seeing how it comes together. “This is where we are today,” he adds. “Over the last two years, we have spent a lot of time restructuring the team and becoming a programmatic, data-oriented, and very technical team.”

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