MAS on the skills needed to build a digital marketing team

When Peter Pohlschmidt, head of digital at Malaysia Airlines (MAS) joined the airline last year, there were only five people on board the digital unit. Fast forward to today, the team now has 30 people and MAS is building an in-house digital competence centre.

Pohlschmidt who took on the role in October, was previously with Qatar Airways, holding various roles across the organisation since 2015.

Today MAS has put in place specialists across various functions and relies much lesser on outsourcing work such as database marketing. According to Pohlschmidt, who spoke at the recent Adobe Experience Forum Singapore, this is because when it comes to outsourcing duties such as database marketing, a line has to be drawn. As database marketing is the core competence of an airline business, Pohlschmidt said that airlines should build the expertise in-house.

He said, "It’s your customer data; it’s whom you’re trying to sell to and the sort of loyalty programmes you have."

Moreover with specialists in place, the overall team dynamics has evolved. Staff members are now expected to be business-minded, as well as have a technical interest in technology. He said:

You don’t need the traditional marketer anymore who looks at nice pictures, beautiful photos and colours. It’s a big numbers driven game, so you need to be more scientific.

But ultimately, he added, the future for chief digital officers would be in the commercial field. He added that at the moment, it is an advantage to be in a "self-contained digital unit" as it has all the elements and chief digital officers have the authority to steer their teams in the right direction. However, Pohlschmidt admits it is tough finding individuals who are experienced in digital programmatic marketing or database marketing.

So where does he find them? Well, hiring foreign talent is one such way. But the airline also collaborates with universities for internship programs and bringing onboard fresh graduates. Pohlschmidt stressed the importance of finding individuals with the right attitude since that is once skill that is harder to teach.

Finding marketing opportunities

While it is easy to regard e-mails sent regarding flight reschedule, delays or change of aircraft as simply operational messages, Pohlschmidt said such messages present a marketing opportunity for MAS. As a result, MAS is now aligning its operational messages with marketing campaign messages.

MAS is also now investing heavily to provide a seamless, holistic customer experience based on the customer data gathered and centralised messaging.

For example, if platinum member of the MAS Enrich Frequent Flyer program walks into the lounge, the staff members should know if that specific individual prefers wine or beer. Part of the customer journey would also include having a personalised push notification sent on special occasions, and creating touch points for more face to face interaction. He added:

The holy grail for us is to sort of build that integrated online-offline customer journey.

Currently, the company is looking to relaunch its website in the next couple of weeks. He added that there is still "a lot of groundwork [MAS needs] to do" in order to improve and modernise its customer-facing front end.