’We’re a collaborative brand, an ingredient brand. You get to us
via other people,’ Amanda MacKenzie, Air Miles’ marketing director of
the past 18 months, says.
She made quite an odd career move by joining what is, arguably, the
best-known loyalty scheme in the UK - and one of the oldest at just over
a decade. Having spent 12 years in the ad agency world - two at WCRS,
followed by ten at DMB&B - working for big above-the-line clients such
as Mars, Procter & Gamble and St Ivel, Mackenzie now finds herself in a
very different environment: on the client side, in the travel industry
and up to her elbows in databases and direct marketing.
Still only 35, MacKenzie says that she decided, before joining Air
Miles, to cross the great divide from agency to client. ’I wanted a
broader perspective on how everything fits into a business and to
understand marketing in its widest sense,’ she explains.
Air Miles, now fully owned by BA, seems to fit the bill just fine,
although the learning curve was pretty steep. Well-versed in
above-the-line issues, MacKenzie soon discovered how little she knew
about the world of direct marketing. ’Being in meetings with these
people was like talking Russian,’ she recalls. ’Before I got to Air
Miles, I’d never said the word ’de-dupe’!
But I was upfront with them when they approached me. I said, ’if you
want a direct marketing specialist, don’t hire me’.’
The Air Miles bosses weren’t dissuaded. The company was entering a new
phase after years of rapid, but unfocused, growth. Having increased the
customer base from about one million to five million, Air Miles wanted
to reinvent itself and place more emphasis on segmenting its audience.
It may well be an ’ingredient’ brand, but this doesn’t mean it has to
remain in the shadows. MacKenzie proudly boasts that Air Miles has 97
per cent prompted awareness, with spontaneous awareness not far behind.
’Our logo has incredible strength. It’s enough to make people open an
envelope,’ she says.
These days, MacKenzie is pretty fluent in direct marketing speak and she
clearly has no plans to meddle with the backbone of Air Miles’ marketing
- its quarterly mailed statements and newsletters. She hasn’t been
dazzled by databases either. Instead, she finds the appeal of direct
marketing in its humanising intimacy and immediacy.
By way of illustration, MacKenzie fishes out a recent mailshot which she
wrote, apologising to 150,000 Air Miles customers for a mailing
This letter, signed by her, generated a flood of thank you letters
praising her for being so considerate and direct, rather than hiding
behind technology or bureaucracy.
’The past 18 months have taught me the power of direct marketing when
used for specific things,’ she says. ’But while we will continue to use
direct marketing where appropriate, I don’t think Air Miles will be
quite so much a below-the-line brand going forward.’ She thinks the
internet is blurring above- and below-the-line together and, therefore,
will play a big part in Air Miles’ future. E-mail communication is
perfect for a more segmented strategy.
’You can engage customers much more vividly and quickly over the
internet,’ MacKenzie says.
The new marketing culture has recently been on display with what
MacKenzie describes as Air Miles’ biggest recruitment campaign. With a
pounds 1.5 million spend ploughed into radio and press, but magnified by
the independent marketing efforts of Air Miles’ biggest clients, the
’Who Joins Wins’ campaign was one of its highest profile campaigns in
years. It used a wide range of prizes to showcase the growing Air Miles
portfolio - now offering everything from cinema tickets to luxury
So Air Miles’ marketing under MacKenzie’s guidance will, by the looks of
it, be just that little bit more sexy. A warm and animated person whose
extra-curricular passions include playing the piano and singing,
MacKenzie is aiming to bring out the adventurous spirit in Air
She wants the brand to act as a bridge between the everyday (shopping
for groceries or filling up at the petrol station) and the exotic which,
essentially, means travel. ’Travel is one of the most appealing things
in the history of the world,’ she exclaims.
This exoticism rubbing shoulders with the mundane consumer world is what
makes Air Miles special, she argues. The encroachments of so many other
customer loyalty schemes by the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Boots do
not worry her. ’They can never match the sheer breadth of Air Miles, the
fact that we offer the most interesting and adventurous rewards, and
that the consumer has so many different ways of accumulating miles.’
This is particularly true if you also happen to use Air Miles for
business-to-business purchases, which is becoming increasingly
There are now about 250 Air Miles clients, about half of which are in
the business-to-business sector. Of course, the most important clients,
the inner circle, is what Air Miles spends much of its time on. It calls
these partners the Magnificent Seven, although since BT dropped out
they’ve become the Magnificent Six: Sainsbury’s, NatWest, Vodafone,
Amerada Gas, Shell and Scottish Hydro Electric.
There have been rumours of Sainsbury’s also heading for the exit but
MacKenzie says she has no idea where these came from, nor can she see
any logic behind them since the supermarket giant has ’had enormous
success with our scheme’.
With turnover and profits at record highs, Air Miles looks well-placed
to capitalise on its market-leading position. MacKenzie’s take on direct
marketing may well prevail: Summing up her philosophy, she says: ’I want
customers to feel we have tailor-made the scheme just for them.’
THE MACKENZIE FILE
1983: London University, psychology graduate
1986: WCRS, graduate trainee
1988: DMB&B, account manager
1993: DMB&B, board account director
1996: DMB&B, group account director
1998: Air Miles, marketing director.