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Q&A with Amanda Lakin, Head of Brand Marketing at TUI

The travel group's senior marketer talks about how she keeps her team pushing the digital marketing boundaries

For consumer-facing companies, digitization has been an important goal for some years now, and especially when it comes to marketing. But that doesn’t mean that the world’s marketing teams have their digital marketing all worked out.

Many still struggle with four things in particular: keeping their marketers focused on the end goals of engaging more customers and selling more products (instead of getting carried away with a new technology or marketing “tool”); developing a culture of innovation and risk-taking within teams; identifying new sources of innovation ideas; or partnering with disruptive startups.

Amanda Lakin head of brand marketing at TUI, and her team have found various ways to overcome some of these challenges. She joined the travel firm in 2009 and has led TUI’s Thomson and First Choice brands since 2014.

Notable campaigns under her leadership include “Life’s Too Short to Say No” and “Miles the Bear,” and she is currently working on Thomson’s rebrand to TUI.


Q: What’s the ideal experience you want to create?

A: Our marketing aims to be clear, relevant, and inspiring. Is the message right for me based on where I am in the booking cycle? Customers can’t experience the holiday until they get there, but inspirational content, like VR [virtual reality], can help.


Q: What’s driving your approach to digital innovation?

A: It’s about maintaining leadership status in our category. As the largest tour operator, we need to innovate and be brave.


Q: How do you stay up to date?

A: We stay up to date on what on brands in all industries are doing. I also have young graduates on the team who I invite to speak with senior marketers about new channels and opportunities. The other piece is managing relationships with your tech vendors and media partners to hear about new offerings.


Q: How do you manage innovation?

A: We have an innovation department within our Business Change Team, which is a new function. It has a new director and is represented at the board level. The team’s been relieved of the shackles of business as usual. They just focus on innovation projects across the business and consumer journey.

It’s great, but there’s the challenge of siloing innovation: how do you bring the new ideas back into the business and scale them?


Q: How do you make sure ideas get implemented?

A: Our innovation team gets 20 or 30 people from around the business in a room to help generate ideas. Our hack day focuses on a specific challenge. The mix of stakeholders reduces the risk of coming up with something unachievable. The innovation team also works with the teams who would actually implement ideas to get their buy-in.


Q: How do you avoid shiny object syndrome?

A: We have monthly communication strategy forums for the leadership team and middle management, which ensure that innovation ideas stay on strategy. We have a five-year vision that’s up on the wall in each of those meetings. We make sure every idea fits that vision and is driven by insight.


Q: Any advice on KPIs?

A: Our biggest lesson has been to forget the channel and go back to what we’re trying to achieve. Invest more time up front debating the brief and making it as single-minded as possible. It also helps to work with the media owner to set up tests and interpret the results.

And the other big thing to change here is cultural — don’t fear failing. We don’t want teams to desperately try to prove that everything we do works — the “maybe if we wait a bit or cut the data like this, it’ll look positive” approach. If we want to lead the way, we need to keep learning.


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