I only heard about this conference as it was fininshing, but I imagine it would have been quite interesting to attend.

International airline Icelandair will share how targeted email marketing has helped the company boost customer satisfaction and increase online sales during a presentation at the European Email Marketing Conference in Barcelona Thursday.

The airline plans to continue to expand its use of ExactTarget in the coming months by integrating data from its Web analytics provider Google Analytics to build automated email campaigns to customers based on their browsing of Icelandair.com. The company also plans to integrate its existing social media strategy into its email efforts using ExactTarget’s Social Forward technology to enable customers to share email content with up to 50 social network sites including Twitter and Facebook.

The phrase “build automated email campaigns to customers based on their browsing of Icelandair.com” is by far the most interesting part; in the past I’ve talked about Expedia going down this path, but I personally don’t know of any airline websites doing it; not to say it isn’t happening, just that I don’t know about it. This type of activity that Icelandair are proposing is a step in the direction of the EveryYou concept that Tim Hughes has been talking about in recent months. On first thought, using email means it could only apply to frequent fliers or others with a registered profile that happen to be logged in when using the website, but if it is done properly, it could be a tie in to smarter use of passenger fare alerts, an area where there is a lot of room for greater personalisation along the lines of what Kayak do, and then taking it even further based on past flights flown or even past online searches. For most airlines I imagine this would be a cheaper way of dipping a toe in the water of customisation, rather than a full website redesign.

I remember reading an online comment somewhere a month or two ago from a person advising other airline website users to delete cookies after browsing, because airlines used this information to dynamically raise fares everytime you returned so that you would soon learn to purchase the first time instead of delaying your purchase. Somehow I think he was giving airlines and their technology vendors more credit than they deserve, and it is much more likely that he was really just experiencing decreased availability combined with across the board airline revenue management practices. Just doing a quick search on this topic, I think I now know where the story may have started, but I still don’t believe it.

With all this talk of increased personalisation…. and for the past 5 years I’ve heard many people talk about travel websites learning from Amazon in terms of making personalised recommendations… even the best today are probably still no better in this respect than where Amazon was five years ago – ie. how long have they had “other customers that bought that also purchased this.” So I need to add an anecdote of caution. I recall the story of one major airline that purchased Broadvision around the time of the dotcom boom. The strategy behind the purchase was totally correct – increased personalisation of the website experience through greater customer segmentation –  but the timing was wrong (too far ahead of its time), as all the other pieces of the puzzle, including the airline internally, just weren’t ready to take advantage of such a major change in their selling approach. So whilst it may be tempting to say Amazon or maybe Expedia have mastered selling based around smart use of customer segmentation, you also need to remember that they are companies that were born on the internet. For those companies born of an earlier time, seemingly small steps like what Icelandair are talking about really deserve a lot of credit if they can get it right. I’ve heard many airlines talk about it over recent years, but precious few have actually implemented, so I wish Icelandair best of luck and will be very keen to write about a success story post implementation if they or ExactTarget want me to.