Adrian Peter Tse
Apr 21, 2016

How Skyscanner uses data to craft UX, content and feedback

HONG KONG – Flight search site Skyscanner says it is constantly using data to improve its user experience, product and content, with marketing staff also expected to be data scientists and product managers.

How Skyscanner uses data to craft UX, content and feedback

Fang Fang, senior marketing manager at Skyscanner Greater China, compares the role to running a startup.

“We are divided into country squads,” Fang told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “You’re basically the CEO of that country. You wear many hats. You work on the product and you work with the commercial team."

Skyscanner’s engineers sit under a “regional features squad” and are expected to understand the marketing team’s product metrics as well. In other words, when the engineers make an adjustment to Skyscanner’s product, they are mindful about it serving a marketing purpose as well.

“The engineers help us create dashboards for gathering data in real time from the site. Using SQL [Structured Query Language], the data can be brought into Excel,” says Fang. “The best way to make your team more data driven is to democratise data and let everyone use it. That’s how you turn more people into data experts.”

Fang said the data-driven approach to marketing and the business itself comes from Gareth Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Skyscanner. The idea for Skyscanner was born out of a frustration with finding cheap flights, which led Williams to start the company in his bedroom with a simple spreadsheet that consolidated booking information.

“Our marketing focus is actually about solving the user’s problem and achieving that through our product,” said Fang. Founded in 2003, Skyscanner currently works with over 1300 partners and serves approximately 50 million users per month according to the company.

Here are some of Skyscanner's approaches to marketing and data that may be useful to other marketers.

Growth-hack marketing: Skyscanner takes a performance-driven approach and believes in running campaigns in “small batches and short cycles that focus on EBITAS”. Rather than throwing a budget into a “big idea” the company prefers to start small and see what works in a market before building up campaigns. They run a lot of ad tests and look at their data.

For example, with EDMs, Fang said if Skyscanner simply assumed when the best time to send out a newsletter in Hong Kong would be, they might think that people would want to see Skyscanner’s “travel-related content on Monday because of Monday blues.”

However, from testing over a period of time they found that Tuesday 10pm was the most active time for people to browse the Internet on mobile. Sending emails at that time also had the highest open rate. “We rely a lot on our data to tell stories,” said Fang.

A longer-term view of marketing: When Skyscanner considers its marketing activities in a market it takes a longer-term strategic view. The questions it asks as a company is: What’s our position? Are we mature enough? Is the market mature enough?

For example, when Skyscanner launched in Hong Kong their first consideration was whether the product was good enough or not for Hong Kong users. Again they asked more questions: Is it useful? Is it easy to use?

Skyscanner’s strategy when going to market is to build the foundations of the localised product and wait until it’s good enough to promote.

“When we saw that traffic to our site stable and that the quality and conversion rate was good, we started to really position ourselves,” said Fang” We then focused then at looking at the external environment like competitors and the best channels to market further.”

Branding is about the details: Skyscanner doesn’t like to do “big integrated campaigns about Skyscanner”. Instead the company prefers to focus on the details. For example, Fang said most marketing decisions relate to Skyscanner’s user experience.  

“We have over 1300 partners working with us. Sometimes their prices might not be accurate,” says Fang. “In our system, if a user sees a cheap price and clicks on it and doesn’t get the price they see, it’s a very bad user experience. We monitor that vigilantly to make sure prices are accurate. That’s how we protect our brand and our users.”

Another point is transparency. For example, listed prices include tax. While users can filter flight information by price, duration, and other variables Skyscanner tries to ensure that data isn’t manipulated or that fees are hidden.

“It goes back to creating a bad user experience,” says Fang. “Your value propositions have to be true. That’s the focus. For us this starts with something as simple as price accuracy. That’s the first step before you do any branding campaigns.”

Using data: Skyscanner uses data to try to improve key areas of its business including product experience, utility benefits, commercial value and insights.

At the core of Skyscanner’s approach is a “flywheel strategy”, in which the premise is that the “more partners and users Skyscanner can acquire, the more traffic it can deliver to it partners.”

However, Fang said that increasingly it’s not just about traffic, it’s about helping Skyscanner’s partners improve their performance. Skyscanner has a “user satisfaction team” that collects feedback from users.

“Whether users book with a specific airline or OTA, they might have an experience they liked or didn’t like,” says Fang. “We collect all the specific data to find out what the customer problem was. It could relate to anything, for example, luggage or cancellation fees.  We give these insights to our partners so they can improve their service, reputation and conversion rate.”

Using data to give users more utility is another important area. For example, users can search when the best time of year is to book flights for their specific routes based on historical data. “By connecting up more data points, we can find new ways of using the data,” said Fang.

Data is also used for cross-selling services on Skyscanner. For example, if a person started booking a flight, what are they likely to do next? Probably look for a hotel. “That’s the kind of data that is useful to our partners,” Fang added.

Content marketing is data-driven: At the most basic level, when it comes to crafting content, Skyscanner monitors search terms and search volumes to create stories on the go.

"How to holiday in Japan on a budget" is one such such example.

“It goes back to our motive, which is to help users and solve a problem that they have,” said Fang.





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