Divide and conquer: how Julius Caesar inspired my RAA Travel strategy

In October 2016, I began my collaboration with RAA (Royal Automobile Club) as their Senior Manager for the Travel Product and Pricing department, managing through my team a portfolio worth several millions of dollars across 3 main categories: travel product (holidays, flights, hotels, cruises etc); travel shop product (luggage, pillows and 4000 other SKU) and travel insurance (with 250+ product & pricing combinations)

RAA Travel is one of four core business units at the RAA Group and the third largest in revenues. With no professional travel industry experience, I was offered a very exciting challenge:

  • to grow the current travel business, built over 55 years;
  • to review the travel market and diagnose if RAA had a chance at becoming a key player in SA in the next 5 years and scale its business;
  • to design and implement the strategy and the foundational capabilities required to sustain growth over the 5 years period, by selling the right product to the right people through the right channels (online and offline).

With over 730,000+ members in SA, the RAA brand is deeply ingrained in the collective minds of South Australians, thanks to their 120 years of history as an automobile club. In SA, everyone knows RAA for their highly efficient road assistance service. Many also know RAA for their well priced insurance products. But not many know that RAA have been selling all things travel for over 55 years, serviced through a team of about 30 travel agents across 10 shops and a dedicated call centre.

Lack of previous experience in the industry was not an issue for me, my skills are transferable across any industry and I progressively integrated the additional required capabilities into the existing team.

Yet the challenge was big, coming at what became the verge of a historical decision for the RAA Board: to invest or not to invest in the future of this business?

There were many key transformations I have brought about that have led to some remarkable results but for confidentiality reasons I will not be discussing them here. What I wish to do here is to give some key tips on what you must do before you even start thinking about your strategy. And as the title suggests, reading about Julius Caesar’s strategic approach on how to win against all odds inspired me to go very granular on my own challenge so as we could deliver a whole, integrated overall strategy in the end.

Data, data, data. Always.

What is the data telling us? I always start from some good old business intelligence. It sounds logical, but it is surprising how many businesses don’t actually have a true data-driven approach.

Look at internal data to get insights into your current business and make decisions. This data is available from your current systems (CRM, data warehouse, marketing automation platforms etc). You must reconcile a very clear picture of who is buying, how often, what, lead times, median spend, which product delivers the highest margin, etc. There are infinite ways you can look at a business and you should really try to get a detailed picture of your current one. You must be able to generate, break down, segment data in as many ways as you see fit through your organization’s systems and if you can’t then you need to get them in place. At RAA, I worked very closely with their brilliant Data & Analytics team to develop a dashboard that could deliver a variety of detailed business information at a click of a button. The insights I started to gather about the business were phenomenal and allowed me and the rest of the team to confidently make multimillion dollars decisions!

External data will give you insights into the environment outside your company, such as upcoming trends that impact behavior, industry projections, challenges that the industry is facing from various perspectives such as technology, buying power and other socio-political trends that will have indirect impact on your business. An external environment scan is essential to understand the opportunities and risks your business and industry is facing. At RAA, I used several resources and got my findings validated by an independent third party (Deloitte and H-One Consulting) to minimize bias.

What is the Value Proposition?

What is that unique, unbreakable, believable promise that delivers value to your customers when they choose you instead of your competitors? Why should your customers switch their habits, change their mind, give you a chance, break existing loyalties and choose you and your product/service over what/who they have been buying so far?

A VP is not a tagline that you craft, although you can wrap it around a tagline if you want. A true VP is built over time by delivering to your customers on the promise that you make to them and sets you apart from the mass of competitors. It is intrinsic in the customer’s mind, it is true and consistent and it is embodied in your company culture.

Who is your audience?

Do you know your customers, existing and potential? What drives their behavior and decisions? What needs must be met from their perspective and therefore what are their expectations? How do you go beyond just meeting their needs, but actually “surprise them and delight them”?

Understanding the psychographics of your audience and how that intersect with the data you have collected allows you to make confident choices about who you should go after and how you can add value for them.

Then, create a “customer journey map” for every segment you want to pursue that clearly identifies the pains and gains that your customers face during their whole purchasing experience (from dreaming phase to post-purchase and post-consumption). Turn that information into an opportunity to create ‘relief’ and an exceptional experience at any customer touchpoint through your services and products.

A well developed customer journey map informs subsequent strategies across the whole board, such as product and pricing positioning, choice of business partners, communications messaging and channels, promotional tactic and so on.

There is a lot of groundwork that goes into building a solid strategy and it can take months. Eventually, you must be able to “connect the dots”, and there are many dots! But if you have made data-driven decisions in relation to a true, deliverable and distinguished value proposition, connecting those dots adds to the fun and the confidence.