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Global Brands Magazine Interview with Mr. Benedikt Sieweke – Chief Marketing Officer of SunExpress Airlines

Mr. Benedikt Sieweke

Global Brands Magazine was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Benedikt Sieweke – Chief Marketing Officer of SunExpress Airlines.

1. SunExpress has a unique origin story, aimed at making travel more accessible. Can you elaborate on the journey of SunExpress and the key milestones that have shaped the airline’s growth?

SunExpress Airlines was born from a heartfelt dream in 1989, a collaboration between Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines, aiming to offer affordable and convenient travel for Turkish people living in Germany. Prior to SunExpress, these individuals faced arduous car journeys or costly flights with full-service carriers to reach their hometowns in Türkiye. The airline’s introduction changed this situation, reuniting families & friends, as well as introducing Türkiye to many millions of holiday travelers to discover the beauty of Türkiye.

Originally founded with just two aircraft, SunExpress has grown sustainably and under its own steam to become an airline that is now one of the TOP 70 in the world in terms of size. While maintaining a low-cost structure, SunExpress has quickly become a favorite among travelers and has won numerous awards – most recently World’s Best Leisure Airline (Skytrax 2022), Europe’s Best Leisure Airline (Skytrax 2023), Excellent Brands in Tourism (German Brand Awards 2022 + 2023) and Product of the Year (German Brand Awards 2023).

Today, we carry more than 10 million passengers annually, operate direct flights to more than 70 cities and generate more than 1.5 billion € in annual revenue (2022 figures). On top: significant growth is on the horizon: As announced in November 2023, SunExpress is set to more than double its size within the next decade.

2. With SunExpress aiming for over 50% growth and the addition of 25+ new destinations, what is the strategic vision for the airline’s expansion, and how do you plan to navigate this competitive landscape?

Strategic evolution involves increased revenue diversification while preserving our low-cost appeal, driven by exceptional service, entrepreneurship, and disrupting norms.

More than 3.600 employees from more than 35 nations currently work in Antalya, Izmir, and Frankfurt am Main and more than 1500 additional employes are going to be employed over the next five years.

Our nowadays core markets encompass Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Türkiye, and the UK, alongside growth in France, Nordic nations, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. SunExpress excels in Türkiye’s domestic flights and thrives on selling holiday dreams to international customers in Türkiye and Egypt. The challenge lies in overcoming the Turkish Riviera’s high seasonality, with significant production differences between summer and winter.

With a robust presence as Germany’s premier German-Turkish holiday carrier, deep data insights, and an AI-driven environment, we are not only fully committed to growing as an airline but also as a trusted brand, with a keen focus on efficiency and performance. From a marketing perspective, this translates to integrated, persona-based media campaigns that are AI-optimized, making AI-driven ad compilation the new standard. This vision is already becoming a reality: this month, SunExpress is set to be the first airline to launch an online radio spot fully based on Gen-AI in Germany.

Through initiatives like these, our objective is to enhance brand awareness, stimulate demand, cultivate preference, drive consideration and conversions, and foster loyalty across our diverse audience spectrum.

3. SunExpress has a significant focus on data-driven marketing and a commitment to efficiency. How has this data-driven approach enhanced the airline’s marketing strategies and customer engagement?

To keep our low-cost promise towards our customers and to fulfill the obligation to our shareholders to grow sustainably, we need to respond more intelligently to customer needs, like competing love brands, and stay fast!

To achieve this, we place significant importance on using cutting-edge technology in all business areas constantly looking for improvements, while maintaining complete transparency in success tracking. With this in mind, our Marketing is setting new standards in the aviation industry.

Our integrated marketing campaigns are meticulously tailored to specific personas (where applicable). We plan the key messages for each market on an annual basis, considering the relevant performance, brand performance, or brand Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Quarterly review meetings play a crucial role in refining our media planning in advance, aligning with both short-term and long-term objectives.

As individual as our customers are, so are their reasons for traveling. Rather than categorizing our customers into traditional segments, we want to target them more effectively by using mindset clusters, or personas. Our rich internal and external data pools provide a solid foundation for our seamless, data-driven communication approach, applied across media and devices whenever possible and appropriate. Since moving our campaign management to the persona level last year, our efficiency has increased significantly compared to 2019 (pre-COVID), including

  • ROI increase of > 80%.
  • CTR increase > 15%.
  • Session duration increase > 30%.
  • Average basket value increase > 45%.

To sum it up, this change has played a substantial role in achieving remarkable success in 2022, making it our most successful year to date.

4. The “YourTicketToHappiness” campaign appears to have been a turning point for SunExpress. Can you share more about the strategy behind this campaign and how it transformed the brand’s perception?

Over the past few years, there has been substantial growth, particularly following the pandemic. This was not least due to the continuous success of SunExpress marketing efforts. The award-winning campaign “Your Ticket To Happiness” marked a milestone in our success story, elevating the target audience to the next level through personalized and data-driven marketing.  Our mission was intricate: to amplify the profile of SunExpress, a brand that, within the German, Turkish and international market – our principal audience – registered a modest 33% recognition. How then, do we transform SunExpress into an authentic love brand in the eyes of our audience while concurrently heightening awareness?

Through the use of tested advertising materials (via advanced tools like eye-tracking or VISATT), target audiences were reached with tailored messages, effectively engaging and activating them across media & devices. This resulted in a unique campaign that stood out from the competition with its distinctive look and feel, as well as its data-driven focus.

As SunExpress isn’t one of the major giants in the sky, the steep growth and brand perception had to be hard – earned. With the aid of cutting-edge technologies, the target audience was examined, their needs highlighted, and specific messages developed through the use of the latest data sets. The messages were broadcast across different devices, and various triggers were sent to the target audience at different touchpoints to draw complete attention to SunExpress.

With this innovative approach, we successfully reached a milestone in marketing, achieving our objective of elevating the brand’s popularity and enhancing its recognition. The results speak for themselves: In Germany, one of our core strategic markets, our brand awareness increased by an impressive 48% YoY, including all other key brand health KPIs. This success is further substantiated by the attained KPIs across our campaigns as a whole:

  • The efficiency of the campaign has increased by > 76 %
  • The CTR has increased by over > 16 %
  • Conversion rates increase by more than > 32 %

Through our campaign and the data-driven approach, we have consistently learned more about our target audience, enabling us to send even more targeted and personalized messages in the past year. Further eye-catching illustrations were developed and employed based on new audience insights. Thanks to the modular system created back then, we can swiftly adjust the illustration and messages cost-effectively, delivering tailored messages that precisely motivate the audience to complete purchases.

5. SunExpress places emphasis on delivering personalized messages to target audiences. How do you plan to continue understanding your target audience better and sending more precisely tailored messages in the future?

With Smart Data & Gen-AI: Our agile team approach and streamlined structure enabled near-real-time asset adjustments, preventing audience losses. Effective asset deployment across various media and devices seamlessly ensured our 360°-campaign reached the audience repetitively. This focused strategy not only boosts effectiveness but also drives significant growth in KPIs and audience engagement. As a result, we are not just keeping up with major players, but also gaining recognition on an international level through esteemed awards. By consistently daring to try new innovative formats, embracing innovative technologies, and being willing to give more, we are fully committed to growth in every way.

Our brand awareness and consideration should continue to grow steadily, and we want to better understand our target audience through AI-driven technologies and send even more personalized messages.

6. Could you provide insight into the role of AI technology in SunExpress’s approach to marketing and strategy, and how it has optimized customer engagement?

Through various AI solutions, we can work faster and more efficiently in our agile marketing team. We are getting faster, more efficient while producing better results already now leveraging the existing tech potentials. Currently, we are working on solutions to support our internal & external stakeholders more efficiently and to collect insightful data.

Aligned with contemporary trends, Gen-AI is increasingly harnessed to streamline creative production, ensuring quicker delivery with enhanced flexibility. As previously highlighted, SunExpress proudly holds the distinction of being the first airline in Germany to launch an online radio spot entirely crafted through Gen-AI. This ground breaking initiative generated traction, insights, and facilitated access to valuable data. The AI-generated voice was meticulously tailored to align with our brand’s needs and tonality, achieving a level of authenticity indistinguishable from a human voice. Upholding transparency and trust with our customers, we disclose at the spot’s conclusion that it was created using AI. This experience reinforces the importance of maintaining curiosity and courage, allowing us to remain an innovative and forward-thinking airline.

7. With the focus on becoming the number one airline of choice, particularly in new markets like the UK and Ireland, what strategies are in place to understand and engage with these diverse target audiences?

Leveraging our robust data foundation, we have gained valuable insights into our target audience in new markets through extensive test phases and A/B testing. It is crucial to recognize that these target groups differ from those in Germany or Türkiye. The effectiveness of a creative approach is not one-size-fits-all; what resonates in Germany may not necessarily have the same impact in the UK. This compels us to promptly translate insights into action, adapting our strategies to individual customer preferences and ensuring a tailored, personalized engagement with our customers.

8. Could you share the internal impact of SunExpress’s brand-building efforts, including how employees have become brand ambassadors? How does this internal growth align with the overall corporate strategy?

From the outset, it was imperative for us to align our employees with the vision of SunExpress, actively involving them in the decision-making process and fostering a collaborative environment. This approach has instilled a sense of transparency and connection with the company, organically turning our employees into enthusiastic brand ambassadors. With some team members having been part of the SunExpress family for over 30 years, we’ve nurtured a familial spirit that is ingrained and celebrated daily. Our employees are not merely staff; they embody our brand, proudly sharing our values and stories on platforms like LinkedIn. By providing guidance and a clear framework, we enable this authentic advocacy to thrive, serving as a foundation for our company’s ongoing growth.

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