Let’s steal from Icelandair
Welcome to the latest instalment of Velocity’s most popular blog series (bar none, because there are none), Let’s Steal From…. We pick a piece of marketing that blew us away and distil it to its essential elements in a bid to understand how any of us mere mortals can ever come close to recreating something equally brilliant.
This one’s about way more than a piece of content. This is about a total, content-rich experience that blew me away.
Back in 2016, I flew to the US via Reykjavík on an Icelandair flight. As a traveller, it was great. As a marketer, the experience was nothing short of gleeful. More than two years later, I’m still obsessed with it and convinced there is a lot we can all learn from these guys.
Iceland is pretty convenient if you’re flying to North America – Reykjavík is further on the way than any other European city and Icelandair is making a fine trade ferrying people across the Atlantic. It’s also encouraging travellers to stop over in Iceland on the way, for up to 7 days at no extra charge.
I picked the flight because it was the cheapest option available, and it had all the hallmarks of low-cost flying: a couple of hours’ wait in Keflavík airport, no food, no headphones. It’s the smallest plane I’ve ever been on for a seven-hour trip.
It was also one of the smartest, most charming 360-degree marketing experiences I’ve ever come across.
Everything about the trip – and I mean absolutely everything – sang the same song: that Iceland was a uniquely special place and you’d be crazy not to visit. And none of it felt like you were being clobbered over the head.
There were things you might expect, like having Icelandic Skyr and various mystery Icelandic drinks on the menu, and Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós on the sound system.
There was the in-flight magazine, which was obviously full of stunning scenery and tourist highlights, and the entertainment system pre-roll, for once not hugely irritating but a David Attenborough-style affair featuring whales and geysers and glaciers.
The flight safety video managed to take place almost entirely outside, in a cool almost-AR-style which superimposed the usual spiel about emergency landings on water with footage of actual rafting, and oxygen masks with, oh yes, breath-taking mountain views.
It didn’t stop there. It was delightfully relentless.
The plane was named after a famous Icelandic volcano.
There were interesting facts and quotations from saga literature embroidered on the headrests, and possibly also the pillows and blankets. (I’m not sure, I may have imagined those. Isn’t that incredible? The campaign was so good that I’m now remembering marketing that maybe wasn’t even there.)
(NB – didn’t imagine it. It’s a thing. Though the pillows are disappointingly printed, and it’s not quite saga literature.)
The best bit?
There was aurora mood-lighting on the plane. I could have swooned.
The attention to detail was insane. And the cumulative impact, well. I’ve never been so excited to spend two hours in an airport anywhere.
I was totally, utterly, completely sold. I forgot about the fact my flight was delayed. Iceland instantly shot up my list of places to visit. And while we’re on the subject of stealing, I was sorely tempted to make away with the saga-embroidered blanket I may or may not have made up in my enthusiasm. (I didn’t. Steal it, that is.)
You could argue that it’s easy to market something when you have a literally captive audience in a tin can for seven hours, but it’s just as easy to overwhelm and put people off.
With so many channels and touchpoints and bits and pieces of content – as marketers, how many times do we actually get to experience the whole and make sure that it actually fits and works together seamlessly?
It’s a hard balance to get right, and whether B2C or B2B, it’s something we could all benefit from thinking about more.
So what can we learn and/or steal from Icelandair?
1) Identify and own the hell out of your strategic advantages.
Icelandair had several, and they made the most of the resources at their disposal.
First, their geographic location. No other European country is so ideally placed half-way between Europe and the US – if you’re coming from Europe, a stop-over in Iceland makes sense.
Second, a captive audience. You’ve chosen to fly with Icelandair, you’ve already converted. But that’s not quite the same as choosing to fly with them to Iceland, and staying there though, so the flight becomes a 7-hour nurture process.
Third, the country’s natural landscape. There’s a lot of beauty in the world, but nowhere looks quite like Iceland. It’s remote and filled with the sort of exciting natural features – volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, and so on – that are inevitably described as majestic or dramatic. Not difficult to make it look attractive in all sorts of formats and situations, without it ever getting boring or even repetitive.
Last but not least, enthusiastic and expert staff. Not only did they deliver great service in-flight, but they were also offering their now-famous Stopover Buddy scheme, pairing you up with an Icelandair employee to show you around the country for a day. The airline drew on their workforce’s local expertise to casually deliver the holy grail of tourism: genuine insider knowledge.
They could just have had a nice flight with good service and a pretty in-flight brochure, but they leveraged those advantages to go above and beyond what people would normally expect. They knew exactly what their strengths were, and they found new and interesting ways to play on them.
2) Get the right balance of consistency and innovation.
(By which I mean, don’t be scared to innovate.)
We’ve got a rather more extensive (and excellent) blog post on this – the paradox at the heart of every B2B brand. But the crux of it is that brands are constantly struggling to be fresh and interesting, while also maintaining a consistent identity.
Most brands err on the side of consistency, but Icelandair is a perfect example of how you can take something well-established and give it a new spin, year after year.
The stopover isn’t new. It’s been going for nearly 60 years. Every year, Icelandair and their agency, The Brooklyn Brothers, have a slightly different take on it, breathing new life into the concept and sprucing it up. In 2016, it was the Stopover Buddy. In 2018, they focused on the World Cup.
In-flight, brand and service stayed central, but every detail appealed to travellers’ curiosity and their own personal interests. Take the saga literature – I happened to have studied it at university, so my attention snagged on it. Someone else who had less niche interests might have been more impressed by the showcase of Iceland’s hiking opportunities instead.
The variety meant they could target individuals while maintaining a consistent overall brand.
3) Elevate a mundane experience by making it beautiful.
For most people, flights are at best smooth, and at worst a terrifying experience – but that same attention to detail turned an unremarkable experience into something special. (And why shouldn’t it be remarkable? You’re flying, after all.)
This is true of B2B content too. So many companies are doing interesting things, yet B2B content is often mind-numbingly boring. It’s always the same story – data is taking over the world, AI is big. So how do you make it exciting?
There’s an art to finding a new angle, or even simply delivering content that manages to stand out on a topic that’s been done to death. Whether it’s beautiful design, convincing opinions, a slightly different take – look for the ways you can elevate what you’re doing, even if it’s a simple email or blog post.
4) Think about the end-to-end experience.
Nothing exists in isolation. It’s not just about the content but about the overall experience of that content – everything around it, essentially. How often do we actually get to experience a whole strategy end-to-end before launch and ensure that it all works together as well as the Icelandair marketing did?
A multi-sensory experience might be harder to achieve in B2B but we should be paying attention to every single element that surrounds our marketing, because it all adds up. Somebody should own and curate the entire customer experience from discovery to sale. If not the marketing team, who?
5) Play the long game.
Like most content marketing, Icelandair’s is a long-term strategy. It’s about raising awareness and a desire to travel to Iceland in general – not about immediate conversion.
It’s about delivering an experience that’s so good people will come back.
Create marketing you’re proud of, then let exposure and inspiration do their thing. (Case in point, I am still obsessed with this two years later – and telling you about it).
6) Above all, tap into your real enthusiasm.
For me, the relentlessness of Icelandair’s enthusiasm was part of its charm. They were so excited about Iceland that they really wanted to share it in everything. You might think bombarding people with advertising for seven hours would be cheesy at best and oppressive at worst. Instead, they made it infectious.
As a marketer, you can be forgiven for not always drinking the Kool-Aid. A healthy scepticism about the product you’re selling can come in handy when it comes to identifying potential pitfalls – and let’s face it, not every product is that exciting.
But there’s always something you can riff off. Find that thing. Authentic enthusiasm is infectious, even if you’re selling something at the end of it.
(I haven’t worked out the trick to making your enthusiasm feel authentic, so I personally prefer to just be authentically enthusiastic.)
Go forth and filch
So there we go. We may not all have the advantage of seven hours with our captive audience – but there’s plenty of ideas we can shamelessly pilfer from Icelandair.
So whether it’s knowing what you’re good at and finding interesting ways and formats to showcase it; or never underestimating the cumulative power of an end-to-end experience – attention to detail and a streak of enthusiasm could be taking you very far indeed.
PS. I wish I could sign off this post with a photo of myself under the northern lights. But the truth is that I actually haven’t made it back to Iceland yet.
Why? Because their marketing was so effective that I can’t decide whether I’d rather go in winter or in summer – and have been paralysed by indecision since. But as you can tell, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
My conversion is assured, merely delayed. Watch this space.
Other posts in the ‘Let’s Steal From…’ Series:
Real robber barons diversify their loot. Why not swipe from:
The New York Times – You could do worse than stealing from the very best.
The MarTech Supergraphic – You too can build your own content powerhouse. Maybe.
The Democratic Mid-Term campaigns – Whatever you think about her politics, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez sure is doing marketing right.
Follow The Frog – Making people feel bad is not the only way to raise money for charity.
Paths of Flight – Soothing plane videos from GE Aviation.
The Greatest Infographic Ever – From 1869. See it and weep.
Epic Split – Jean-Claude van Damme teams up with Volvo Trucks and they both come out of it very well.
Great First Lines of Novels – Incisive content from the likes of Orwell, Salinger and Garcia Marquez.
Rand Fishkin and Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays – Only one of the most successful and longest-running B2B content franchises ever made.
Airbnb City Guides – Crowdsourcing your way to content greatness.