Airline Innovation Talk with Alberto Terol Conthe, Head of Customer Experience Design and Development at Iberia

( This is a transcript of the podcast from Diggintravel, by Iztok Franko )

«What does windsurfing have to do with Marketing and Innovation?»

My friend Iztok Franko started his last podcast with quite an eclectic and inspiring question.

I had a great experience talking to him about my vision as a #Marketing#Strategy and #Innovation proffesional.

If you want to listen to it, here is the link:

Some frameworks that we were discussing were:

* Effectiveness / Efficiency
* Real / Win / Worth
* Design the right things / Design things right
* Value creation / Value delivery
* Experimentation / Exploitation

Thanks a lot, Iztok, for challenging me with such though provoking questions


“Iztok, I love your new podcast series. You had an airline digital talk. Then you did an airline data talk. What’s next?”

This is what somebody asked me recently on LinkedIn. For me, the next step was obvious: next in line was an airline innovation talk.

Why an airline innovation talk? Because recently when I was thinking about innovative solutions, I started to think, where does innovation really happen? Can you point a finger at one department, one area in a company? Are innovation departments the solution?

In my opinion, innovation happens when you combine insights from different areas and different people: data and analytics, digital experience, UX/UI, experimentation, customer research, customer service, product design, etc. To do innovative things, one needs to know all these areas and understand how they fit together. You need to know how to leverage insights from these areas to understand your customer’s pain points and build innovative solutions to address those needs. And this is what marketing should be all about: how to provide value for your customers.

As I was thinking about all these things, I remembered a great post about marketing and innovation I read a while ago. The article was titled “Marketing Hero“, and it was written by Alberto Terol Conthe. So, the guest for our airline innovation talk was a no-brainer.

Airline Innovation Talk with Alberto Terol Conthe, Head of Customer Experience Design and Development at Iberia

Marketing (Value) + Innovation (Creation)  = Value Creation

Alberto opened his article with one of my favorite quotes by Peter Drucker: “Business has only two basic functions, marketing and innovation.” So, my first question for him was, how do marketing and innovation fit together?

I always have thought that they are all together. I’m a marketeer. I started as a marketeer at 3M. Previously I was working in Accenture consultancy as well. But I would say my main business school was marketing, and then moving into innovation, I think they are very close fields. I tend to think marketing is about value, is about understanding customer needs. It is part of the discovery, the research, and understanding the pains and gains of the customer, and innovation is more about creation – bringing some new ways of doing things and new processes and new technologies.

If you put them all together – value creation, marketing, and innovation – they go so well together. It’s turning an idea based on some customer pain or gain into a solution and executing it and providing value from the customer perspective. So they go together. And I think the skills of good marketeers and good innovative people are quite similar. They are around curiosity, questioning everything, bringing the what and the how and the when and the why to every conversation.

Alberto mentioned that execution is an important element of marketing. Recognizing your customer pain points and figuring out innovative solutions is not enough.

I think a fundamental element, as well, of marketing and innovation is the execution. I have had a lot of discussions with certain designers and people from innovation like, “We created this beautiful PPT, and now it’s a matter of the execution team to execute.” My point is that unless a product or a service is crafted and then deployed into the market and it’s being consumed by a customer, there is no success at all. It’s just an idea.

In Successful Companies, Innovation Sits Very Close to the Business

The way Alberto talked about marketing and innovation made a lot of sense to me. But what I see in most companies, especially the big ones, is that marketing is still mostly about advertising – or, in the digital marketing case, it’s mostly about taking care of the website, ecommerce, and digital advertising. Why do we often see a separate innovation department?

I think marketing is very wide. My background is product marketing. You mentioned all the branding and channel management and stuff, and that’s part of marketing. But maybe what I would compare more between marketing and innovation is product management. There, I think it’s very close to each other.

Another example I would bring to you is that I think innovation teams in large companies sometimes are located in the HR people area because of all the change management needed and all the transformation efforts and so on. I think sometimes, very frequently – and I think nowadays even more frequently – they belong to the IT and technical organization, because it’s very much leveraging technology.

Alberto has recognized a pattern when it comes to innovative companies:

The examples I have seen as more successful normally are those in which these companies put the innovation function – the initial innovation function, because I think it has to embrace the whole organization – but let’s say the team mobilizing innovation from the very beginning sits very close to the business. Therefore, again, I see the link between marketing – which for me is value creation and value delivery, which is basically business – very much related to innovation.

Doing The Right Things Vs. Doing Things Right

One other part of Alberto’s article that I really liked was the distinction between two key areas of marketing. One is execution; Alberto calls it “doing things right.” The other part is more about forward-thinking, strategic foresight, and business modeling, and that’s what he calls “doing the right things.”

That’s a sentence [distinction] that we use very much in our service design team. I think both steps are needed. It reminds me a little bit of the Double Diamond in service design, the divergence and then the convergence. I think these two elements – designing the right thing, for me it belongs more to marketing. It’s discovering the underlying customer need, the pain, the job to be done, and so on. It’s designing the right thing.

Airline innovation and marketing framework

Source: Alberto Terol Conthe (LinkedIn)

When it comes to figuring out what the right thing is, Alberto mentioned an interesting “Real, Win, Worth” framework.

In 3M we had a heuristic that we used very frequently in designing the right thing, which is Real, Win, Worth. Every time we wanted to address if an opportunity was worth it for 3M, we would first envision if it was real, if there was a market, if there was a customer pain or need to be addressed. Is this opportunity real? The second one was, can we win? Do we have the capabilities in our company to achieve a successful business out of this opportunity? And the third one would be worth. Is it worth it, or would it be so costly or I would have to hire talent that I don’t have? Okay, so there’s opportunity, we could potentially win it, but it’s not worth it. Or it would not support our strategy or whatever. So for me, that’s the designing the right thing – deciding what you’re going to design and what’s out of scope as well, which is also very important.

And then we moved into designing things right. There is more the world of service design, designing a product and service that matches those needs that you have discovered in the designing the right thing. It has much more to do with UX, UI, choosing the right platform for delivering that product or service, choosing the right partners. It’s more the delivery part of the value. You can be very strong in value creation, but you can be very poor in value delivery. Again, execution becomes fundamental in the second part. We always, as service designers, try to keep both areas balanced – designing the right things, choosing the right fights to fight, but then deciding something that was worth it for the customer and appealing.

Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

To me, this concept of doing the right things and doing things right was really interesting. My background, my experience, and also our Diggintravel Airline Digital Optimization research is more about doing things right – how to be agile, how to do growth marketing, how to do digital optimization and conversion optimization. But if you do systematic digital optimization right, with agile loops of analyzing customer needs, managing data, doing structured analytics, trying to find solutions and designing digital products to address those needs, you’re basically moving up to doing the right thing. So, I asked Alberto: how are these things connected?

It’s iterative. You could eventually start defining an arena that you want to fight for. That’s the design the right thing. Then you move into design things right, and then you discover that it’s impossible to deliver value in that field. Then you may decide to reassess if you are fighting for the right opportunity, or you could move into an adjacent opportunity or so on.

I think it’s an iterative process, and moreover, I think when you launch a product – and this is something we very often forget as service designers; we forget about the product when it’s being delivered. I think especially in those first weeks and months and even years after the launch, they should be in hyper-care, and we should be reconsidering every time, every week, following the KPIs, the metrics, and improving the product.

Alberto recognizes the value of applying the principles of experimentation and being agile to the overall business model and overall products, not just the digital side.

I had once a boss that always came with the question, “Are you 100% sure that this product will be successful?” I said, “Come on, I’m not, but this is the Pareto principle. I’m pretty sure that’s the case. I would say I’m 80% confident that it’s the right product for the right market segment. But let’s launch and let’s learn on the go and adjust and adapt.” So I’m very fond of experimentation and agile launching of new products. Otherwise, it’s paralysis by analysis.

Finding new solutions versus optimizing existing ones

A systematic loop of digital optimization is great for incremental improvement, but you have to know whether you’re optimizing the right things.

I think the other element – because you start with A/B testing and improving and these incremental improvements – the reason I was mentioning that designing the right thing is so important is because very often, especially these days, there’s obsession with efficiency. “We have to deliver efficiency gains.” My point is that there’s nothing so useless as doing something very efficiently which is not usable at all, or that we shouldn’t have done at all. We can be executing something beautifully, it’s very efficient, but there is no customer need or there is no market to be addressed. I think therefore we need to keep balance on both aspects.

But experimentation, rapid prototyping and so on – in fact, we had a discussion earlier this week about prototyping. We were discussing research and we want customer research in which we would envision what customers want for a specific product segment. My point was that customers would never come with a solution. That’s the job of the product owner, of the marketeer. Eventually, by prototyping and showing them some mockups, we can show them, “This is the size and the color and the shape that this would have. Are we working in the right direction, or is this something that doesn’t resonate with you at all?” I think all this rapid experimentation makes perfect sense with any product launch.

Connection between design thinking and experimentation

Source: Visual Summary of “Testing Business Ideas” by David J Bland and Alex Osterwalder

Innovation Is More About Attitude and Culture Than It Is About Skills

One of the key insights Alberto shared in our airline innovation talk was in regard to his key learnings. The first thing he mentioned was attitude:

I thought that innovation was more about skills. I think over the years, I’m discovering that it’s far more about attitude. That’s the approach when I’ve been hiring marketeers in 3M, or now service designers at Iberia: bringing people with curiosity, with this sense of observation, with customer obsession – and when I say customer obsession, it’s spending a lot of hours with customers, interacting with them. Not focus groups, which is a controlled environment, but observing customers dealing with our products and services.

Then Alberto mentioned another interesting aspect of innovation and culture.

I would say another totally different topic which is relevant for progressing with innovation in companies is how managers get measured. Maybe in the vision statement in a company, it says that “we would like to be the most innovative.” Okay, let’s go into the KPIs that managers are using. Are they being measured by the business as usual or by exploring the next big thing? Very often, that tells you the culture of innovation which is happening in the company.

I mentioned culture. For example, something I loved about the American approach to innovation – and I experienced that in 3M, but I’ve been talking with friends from HP, Salesforce – I think in American corporations, there’s emotional safety within the teams for putting some time for exploring and trying to discover things out of business as usual. The famous rule of the 15%. There are many different mechanisms for making the teams work on something which is enriching the total knowledge within the company, and they can openly share their findings, and mistakes are allowed and so on. That cultural aspect is fundamental as well.

Chatbots, algo ya no tanto de ciencia-ficción

¿Quien no ha visto Matrix? Aquella película de ciencia ficción que  todos vimos asombrados cerca del año 2003, donde el mundo virtual supera al real. Pero no es la única película donde se hablaba de la poderosa vida que podrían cobrar los ordenadores en el mundo real. Ese mundo no ha llegado (y esperemos que los humanos sigamos controlado los ordenadores por mucho tiempo), pero si hemos conseguido que se integren nuestra vida.

La inteligencia artificial ha contribuido mucho a estos retos. Esta rama de la ingeniería informática, cuyo termino se acuño en 1956, ha evolucionado mucho estos años. Los sistemas de representación del conocimiento y los técnicas teóricas se han probado en casos reales, teniendo éxitos realmente sorprendentes.

Y aunque parezca que esto son cosas solo de programadores y del mundo I+D,  tiene un impacto claro y alto en el mundo del marketing. No es la primera vez, ni la última, que comento la clara tendencia de optar por un marketing cada vez más tecnológico, cuyos beneficios se han citado en otros muchos post. En este caso, la inteligencia artificial no es un más que  otro caso significativo. Veamos algunos de ellos:

Un clásico ejemplo es el famoso Big Data. Esta tendencia de almacenar y analizar cantidades ingentes de información no estructurada requiere de un paradigma nuevo no existente hasta entonces. Las técnicas que se aplican , para realizar búsquedas más precisas, y sobre todo poder sacar conclusiones y patrones de comportamiento (ya sea sobre hábitos de consumo, inteligencia competitiva) se basan en búsquedas heurísticas y redes neuronales entre otras. Los resultados, claros: obtener información procesable por cualquier equipo de marketing para poder ser mas precisos en nuestras acciones y tener un entendimiento mucho mayor sobre nuestros clientes.


Pero donde se está poniendo mucho interés (desde hace tiempo) es en la interacción directa de las máquinas con los clientes. Las aplicaciones no sólo se limitan a los servicios clásicos de atención al cliente, sino en servicios preventa también. Pero además de ampliar la cartera de servicios, los principales cambios son en el enfoque. Se tiene a realizar una interpretación del lenguaje de forma mucho menos sintética (sin comentarios sobre los call centers). Es decir intepretar el lenguaje no desde un punto de vista sintáctico sino semántico y contexual. Entender lo que dice el cliente, que es lo que necesita y dar una respuesta válida. No consiste por lo tanto en entender palabra por palabra la pregunta, sino en entender que se pregunta y poder accionar una respuesta clara y directa

Otro de los usos actuales está en los sistemas de aprendizaje automático (quien en cliente de Amazon lo sabrá). Cuanto más utilicemos su sistema de búsqueda, y otros servicios, el sistema nos conocerá más y realizará recomendaciones muchísimo más ajustadas (a veces da miedo lo que puede llegar a conocernos, ¿no?)

Y juntando todo esto, tenemos los famosos Chatbots (último grito en este mundo). Se está viendo una tendencia muy clara y definida de la migración y uso de sistemas de mensajería instantánea en detrimento de algunas redes sociales, blogs, etc. Los robots que contestan en estas plataformas de mensajería instántanea (chatbots) han sido descubiertos como una gran iniciativa para la retención de usuarios. Pero la tendencia va mucho más alla de estas plataformas. Por ejemplo a la creación de robots que puedas constar cualquier tipo de dudas, teniendo un comportamiento más real. Todos hemos hecho varias pruebas con Siri, Cortana y ayudantes virtuales de este estilo. Algunos expertos de la industria auguran un crecimiento exponencial de estas iniciativas, que podrían remplazar a muchos otros canales (web,apps…) Desde el punto de vista del marketing estos soluciones pueden ser ideales para solucionar problemas operaciones del cliente , y centrar los recursos humanos en soluciones de mayor valor añadido. Recomiendo probar el robot de KLM, el cual responde adecuadamente a cualquier tipo de dudas sobre equipaje, horarios y otras dudas de esta índole. Pero que es capaz de poner en contacto al cliente con el equipo responsable si no conoce la respuesta o no tiene la certeza necesaria. Estas interacciones, al igual que con las Apps u otros canales digitales, pueden ser recogidas por nuestros sistemas (CRM, DMP,..)para conocer las motivaciones del cliente y poderle ofrecer un servicio mucho mas personalizado. Al fin y al cabo consiste en que el cliente se encuentra cómodo y sienta que sus necesidades son resueltas de formas única por nuestra empresa, personalizando al máximo las interacciones y si es posible el producto.

Ciencia ficción o no, esta es la tendencia. Los chatbot son en presente y futuro de la IA en el mundo del marketing. Como siempre, tenemos dos opciones: obviarlo y dejar pasar la oportunidad. O empezar a probar las opciones, ventajas y enfrentar problemas para estar preparados cuando sea necesario. Recordamos la importancia de la omni-canalidad, es decir, poder atender al cliente por cualquier canal (físico o virtual) para ofrecer la mejor experiencia de usuario posible.

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