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SAS® drives integrated customer-centric marketing for award-winning HF Holidays

Britain's biggest walking and outdoor leisure holiday tour operator use SAS® for campaign optimisation and digital marketing to understand and target customers more effectively and provide new management insights to help drive business performance

Voted 'Best Large Tour Operator' in The Guardian and Observer Travel Awards 2010, HF Holidays has provided holidays for almost 100 years. From the Cotswolds and Scottish Highlands to Tuscany, Nepal and New Zealand, it welcomes 50,000 guests each year. A co-operative society that exists for the benefit of its members, with a 'fair price' approach and profits ploughed back, HF Holidays faces the same commercial pressures as every other holiday business. To optimise marketing, to reach out to members and non-member guests in more efficient, integrated and successful ways, the organisation implemented SAS® Customer Intelligence and SAS® Digital Marketing.

"We use SAS for all campaign planning, selections, tracking and processing of records, and to create all email design and content, which is then linked to the customer intelligence side for campaign execution," explains Laura Sims, Head of Marketing and Development, HF Holidays. "Once we'd created our single customer view, our vision was to then use the solution for wider business information: for financial reports, sales reporting and so on." In a recession, holidaymakers tend to place an even bigger emphasis on 'value for money' – something HF Holidays has a strong track record in delivering. In this climate, retaining members, attracting new customers and converting guests into members, in part through more effective marketing, are critical. "Despite the recession our membership grew by 8 percent in 2009-2010," Sims adds. "That's in terms of share capital invested: people actually putting their money into the co-operative."

"We have to compete with other providers, particularly outside the UK – for domestic travellers going to Europe and worldwide," Sims continues. "So we're in competition for guests and especially repeat guests. In the UK we have very few direct competitors, and so have a repeat rate of around 80 percent." With previous UK customers very likely to return, the two main challenges are: increasing awareness amongst customers who don't know about HF Holidays; and making sure the repeat rate is as frequent as it can be - every year instead of every three, for example. SAS is helping to support both business requirements.

Creating a single customer view

From 1995, HF Holidays had used a campaign management tool from Intrinsic, a company later acquired by SAS. "Marketing campaigns depended on it," says Sims. "Because of our very high customer loyalty we've always put a big focus on direct marketing and targeting" - in terms of which holidays a customer has previously bought, the time of year booked, special interests, relative spend, and so on. When the time came to enhance its approach, Sims says, "We felt SAS would enable us to deal with the complexity we faced" – 850 different types of holiday across 120 locations. This new approach would enable HF Holidays to pull three critical data sources together to create a single customer view: customer booking and reservations history; email opt-ins and preferences; and membership database. "We wanted more customer insight, to take our marketing to another level," Sims says.

HF Holidays had used various criteria to select customers for postal campaigns, covering previous booking behaviour and patterns. "We wanted to emulate that in our digital marketing too, which at that time was a bespoke content management system built onto our website to handle email contacts, and deal with email opt-ins and interests," Sims says. "This was OK until we reached 60,000 records and became too unstable; sometimes we couldn't actually send out emails. That instability, and the fact we couldn't link valuable email opt-ins and contacts to booking history, led to the new approach." Combining new levels of customer insight with digital campaign capabilities, activity varies from month to month, reflecting the peaks and troughs in holiday purchasing.

Sims explains her team uses SAS Customer Intelligence on a daily basis for email campaigns; four or five run each week. SAS also supports between five and 20 postal campaigns each month targeted at different groups: from launching the annual flagship brochure to multiple targeted sales mailings and postcards in January, a key selling period. Volumes vary hugely: from a letter to 1,100 people who booked a particular touring activity to brochure mailings to 80,000 recipients. SAS provides the flexibility and accuracy the business needs, whatever the campaign requirements or target group. HF Holidays is also working with SAS Alliance partner Amadeus to further refine and develop its SAS platform. This has recently involved adding new data feeds to support management information requirements beyond customer insight alone.

Beyond customers: driving performance

"We've really started to build trust in our data, to use it more effectively, and also realise time savings," Sims says. "And we can track responses more fully. We did that before but it was quite a long-winded process. As the department head, this is key for me: understanding what's giving us the best return so we can do more of it. We can see which campaigns are reaping the most success and repeat those approaches. And a fair amount can also be automated and scheduled." Recent developments include bringing in additional booking data and delivering headline key performance indicators (KPIs): management information to enable HF Holidays to better track business performance in general, to see what's working well and to provide visibility of underperforming areas. "We're building standard reports to provide a dashboard for management," Sims says. "That will give us even more insight into customer trends at a macro level. Managers will be able to see on a daily trend basis, for example, how many bookings have come from agents in the UK and non-UK compared to direct bookings, how many customers are new or not new, and so on."

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HF Holidays

Business Issue:
Deal with growing data volumes, bring together multiple data sources to create a single customer view, gain new insights to optimise marketing, integrate offline and online communications, and drive business performance.
Solution:
SAS® Marketing Automation and SAS® Digital Marketing
Benefits:
An integrated up-to-date view of customers and their behaviour to drive booking and increase membership; faster and more effective campaign selections, improved marketing efficiency, better targeted campaigns meaning improved response rates and conversion.

We can track responses more fully. As the department head that's key for me: what is giving us the best return so we can do more of it? We can see which campaigns are reaping the most success and repeat those approaches.

Laura Sims

Head of Marketing and Development, HF Holidays

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