Content Marketing All-Stars Q&A: Greg Hounslow of WestJet

By NativeAI / August 3, 2015

What makes WestJet’s content marketing

It all starts with emotion. The Canadian
airline creates beautiful pieces that truly inspire and connect; from thrilling
Christmas surprises to
thoughtful profiles of people who
are seeking to make the world a better place.

Recently we sat down with Greg Hounslow, Advisor
on Emerging Media for WestJet, to chat about the company’s approach to content
and to find out the story behind some of its biggest campaign successes.

Check it out below:

Q: Fill
in the blank, the best content ______

A:  The best content is content that an audience
can relate to.  If someone can either see
themselves in the other person’s shoes, or relate in some way, they’re more
likely to take action via a share, a comment, a like, et cetera.  Ultimately, that’s what leads to content
marketing successes – if people actually take action on it and share your
content with their audience.

Q: What
role does content marketing play at WestJet, and what are the major objectives
for it?

A:  Content marketing is definitely a firmly
established piece of our marketing toolkit at WestJet. We use it to help
reinforce our brand, and to highlight the various features of the destinations
we fly to as well as the new products that we offer.  

For us, it’s a multichannel approach; not all
the content that we produce is intended to convert into an immediate sale or
get somebody directly to our website right at that time. But it all does help
to contribute positively to our bottom line.

At the end of the day our ultimate goal is to
get our name out there in front of consumers as widely as we possibly can and
in front of the right audiences. We want to be in the channels they go to
everyday so that we are top of mind when the time comes to book a flight or
vacation package.

As I said before, sharing is key. If people
are sharing our stories, they’re likely to book with us – as are their

Q:  How do you measure that? Which metrics do you
track? How do you track the ROI on creating a story that’s relatable to
ultimately somebody thinking to come back to WestJet to book?

A: This is
the big challenge of content marketing: how exactly do you measure it and how
do you determine success?  

For us, we look at the short-term metrics as
well as the long-term metrics.  

The short-term metrics are primarily interaction-based
– the views, the comments, the shares the likes, the retweets, all that sort
of thing.  

Then, additionally, we also measure website
traffic and bookings. We’ll do a content piece and include links to our website
or to our blog or to some other site that we have tracking – so we can
determine if there’s an immediate sale right there.  The digital tracking is really key for us
because it gives us a sense of how many people are coming to our website from
the content we put out.  

However, it’s not perfect because of the
long-term aspect of things; a lot of the content that we produce doesn’t lead
to an immediate sale. So we may have somebody come to our website today and
then ultimately book two months from now when they’re ready to finally make
their booking, or when they finally decided where they’re going.

What we’re seeing is that a lot of our
content marketing pieces are helping to reinforce that decision making process
– learning about the destination, learning about WestJet, learning about what
the options are. Ultimately, they are moving the consumer down to the funnel to
that conversion moment.

We get a lot of data out of our various sites
and we’re able to correlate a lot of that to the things we’re doing.  But there’s also a piece that’s not trackable
– the things that aren’t digital.  So if
somebody books a vacation package by calling us, we can’t easily say: “Oh, you
watched our video and therefore you booked with us.”  

What we can do is look at our year-over-year
data.  We can say: “What are the types of
places we’re highlighting via our content marketing program? Are we seeing incremental
increases beyond the regular growth we’re seeing for other destinations?”  

In terms of what we’ve been doing for some of
our destination-themed content marketing over the last year and a half, we’re
seeing large increases in bookings to these destinations. We’re seeing it in
that sense – the bottom line is more bookings and more vacation packages are
being sold, so we know that the effort we’re putting in is working.

Q: How
does social media fit into that? How do you balance social with content?

A: We’ve
had a very active social media program at WestJet since 2009.  It’s an important customer service channel
for us. We have a dedicated team that monitors Facebook and Twitter for
comments, questions, concerns, kudos, and all that sort of thing.  They’re very knowledgeable and they’re
empowered to ensure that our guests’ inquiries are addressed as quickly and as
accurately as possible.  So that is the
foundation for social media success for us.

Now as a platform, how does social media fit
into our marketing program? We also use it for one-to-many marketing
messages.  We have a team that is dedicated
to looking after all of the outbound marketing. We work with a variety of
internal departments as well as external partners to ensure that we have the
best content possible, and that we roll it out in a way that helps us get the
best results.  

So it is a bit of a juggling act, to make
sure that we make the most of our limited resources and our limited time on our
channels.  We found that by taking this
approach – by having different hands on the pot – everybody is knowledgeable
about what we’re doing, we can react quickly, and we have the necessary
resources on the back-end to make sure we get good pieces of content out the

Q:  We’ve seen great pieces of content come from
you guys, and we probably saw them largely because of the social plan that you
had in place to support them.

A: That’s
an important thing about social; if you don’t subscribe to our email or come to
our website all the time, you may not know about what we do. So some of the
things that we do in the social world allow us to reach a wider audience – to
engage people we wouldn’t normally be able to reach through more traditional

Q:  Speaking of content we’ve really enjoyed, can
you talk a bit about the Best of
Canada campaign
? How did it come about and what are the goals for it?

A: So
summertime in Canada is traditionally the season when Canadians like to fly
within the country, since they tend to visit family and friends.  The Best of
Canada campaign
is a way for us to highlight the best aspects of our home
country, and to share interesting things to see and do with our followers.   

So in some cases, the things that we’re
sharing are very well known; examples would be Niagara Falls or pictures from
the Canadian Rocky Mountains. In other cases, the type of things that we’re highlighting
may not be as well known.

The concept behind the campaign is that we
hope people are able to discover new places to explore while they’re jetting
across the country this summer, as well as to highlight some of the amazing
things that we have here in Canada. We’re very proud of being a Canadian airline
and of our country, there are a lot of amazing things to highlight here, so
it’s rich content.  

The beauty of the Best of Canada campaign is
that it’s hashtag-based. There are a lot of people out there who like to share
their own content – great photographers who have really unique things to
share.  We’ve seen some really cool
pieces coming in from people across the country. We can’t necessarily be in all
those places ourselves, so with user-generated content we get a lot of
different perspectives. 

Q:  How would you compare that with the Above and Beyond campaign?

 A: Above and Beyond is a really interesting
one for us.  

We have had a lot of success with our YouTube
video marketing in the past. We had a number of viral hits and one of the
common messages that we heard was how much our videos inspired others.  So, for the Above and Beyond campaign what we wanted
to do was essentially turn the camera lens around and show everyone else what
inspires us as an airline. What inspires WestJet?

By having amazing stories of Canadians who
have gone above and beyond in their daily lives, we hoped to inspire others to
do the same.  Quite naturally, video fits
very well into this campaign.  We talked
with individuals who would tell us their stories and then we had a team work on
the pieces with our agency to make sure that the look and feel was what we
wanted it to be.

One of the most popular
we did in that series was about schoolteacher in a small town who
would have his students write a note to themselves. Then they would graduate
from high school and 20 or 30 years later he’d track them down and mail their
letters to them. That type of dedication is amazing.  He did for decades – so it was life-changing
for many people, and inspirational for us.

That’s the type of story we wanted to

Our second most popular
on our entire YouTube channel is one of our Above and Beyond videos
which touches on the topic of bullying and how one individual dealt with it. It
was a great one, it’s been watched around the world. It touched viewers.

What’s your favorite piece of content created by WestJet?

A:  That’s
a very difficult thing to do because we have so much content out there. So, my
current favorite is always going to be our newest piece.  

For now, I’m going to have to go with the video
we released as a lead up to the Canadian Open Golf Tournament; it’s a great golfing video.

But from a long-term perspective, I have to
say my favorite piece is our original Christmas Miracle
.  I think it’s impossible to be
part of something like that and not remember it fondly.  It was such an amazing video with the right
timing and the right tone, everything about it was right.  The impact of it has was so huge. 

Q:  What about other companies, what brands you
look to for inspiration in terms of how they approach content?

A: In the airline industry, Air New Zealand is
producing great content regularly, they’re doing a great job.

I also like a lot of the things I see from
Molson Canadian.

GoPro has an amazing library of video content
from professional athletes around the world. The NHL also does a great job with
social media, with sharing the right things on the right platforms.

I’m a basketball fan and my team is San
Antonio Spurs, and I really like what they do and how do it – how they get
their fans involved.  

Some of the destination marketing
organizations in Canada are doing a great job too.  I could single out Travel Alberta and the
Explore BC campaigns. Also, something that’s brand new on the radar,
Newfoundland and Labrador just shared an amazing
series of whale videos
for whale-watching season. They each touch on a
personal story from someone in Newfoundland and Labrador that works in the
industry who has a really cool story to tell.

I also love the personal stories that are
shared on Humans of New York.

I think all those channels and organizations,
they have a message, they have a very engaged audience and the message is well-received.
They get a great amount of interaction. 

Q:  Can you pick a favorite piece from another

A: Sticking
with the airline industry, KLM did a great video where they
showed a dog that they use to get lost items back to the owners in the airport.
It’s a cute little beagle with a KLM vest on it, and they put a cellphone that
they found in a plane into his little vest pocket. He smells the phone and then
he goes running around to find the owner.

It was really creative because it has a
number of themes that people can relate to.
Whether it’s true or not isn’t really important. It’s just a fun video
to watch, and it’s one of those videos where people say: “I can see myself in
that person’s shoes”, or “I would love to see that dog when arrive in an
airport.”  That is what helped it reach
more than 20 million
views on YouTube
and almost 5 million on Facebook. 

Q:  How do you see the role of content marketing
evolving for brands? What do you think they’ll be talking about at Content
Marketing World two or three years down the road?

A: Obviously the content pieces themselves
are going to evolve and you’re going to see a constant change with that – so
that’s one aspect of it.  You’re going to
see a lot of things relating to video marketing.  In the last six to eight months, video
marketing has just taken-off across platforms. Now you’re seeing Facebook
putting a heavy emphasis on the video side of their platform; the same thing
for Twitter. Livestreaming is now becoming a lot more common with apps like
Periscope and Meerkat, so you’re seeing a big evolution.

I think you’re also going to see an evolution
of how everything is measured. Measurement is really key – you want to make
sure that you’re getting the most out of your efforts. So, one thing that needs
to be more standardized is: what is a video view?  Is it two seconds?  Is it seven seconds?  Is it 30?
Is it 95% of the video?

Content will continue to evolve. As we saw
with our Christmas Miracle video, you can’t do the same thing again. It won’t
get the same 35 million views that it did a couple years ago. Marketers have to
become more creative.  They have to find
new ways to tell a similar story.

Q:  How do you think that specifically applies to
WestJet? Where you see content marketing going for WestJet in particular?

A: Over
the last couple of years, content marketing is becoming more integrated into
our overall marketing plans. So you’re seeing a much more synchronized approach
across different channels; it’s not just social channels but also things like
the WestJet blog, our website, our email marketing program.  You’re going to see a mix of how content
marketing is shared within all those different platforms.

We’re also going to continue to keep our eye on the
new technology that’s coming out, the new platforms – and take advantage of
them when we feel that there’s a good fit for the types of stories we want to
tell and for what our audiences are looking for.

Written by NativeAI / August 3, 2015