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United Airlines Talks Marketing: Martech Decisions, ROI, and More

  • - Ryan Cahill
  • 5 min read

At RampUp on the Road Chicago, Ryan Cahill, digital marketing manager at United Airlines, spoke to attendees about how United uses LiveRamp to manage its data infrastructure rather than a data management platform (DMP). We caught up with him after his session to discuss how he got into marketing, how his team is organized, and what he looks for when evaluating martech.

Listen to the podcast here or read an excerpt of our interview below:


LiveRamp: Ryan Cahill from United Airlines, thank you so much for joining us.

Ryan: You’re welcome.


LiveRamp: Let’s call this the first episode of the LiveRamp podcast, name TBD.

Ryan: Okay, great. I’ve always wanted to be on a podcast.


LiveRamp: We’re happy to make your dreams come true. So Ryan, I know you’ve been with United Airlines for a number of years. Can you tell everyone what you do there and how your role has changed over the years?

Ryan: Yes, definitely. I’ve been with United for four years now. Originally, my role was in IT. All of our digital marketing sat within marketing and e-commerce, and I was on the outside looking in, helping them understand how they can use first-party data to enrich a lot of their campaigns, even for branded campaigns.

When we were rolling out things like Polaris or Economy Plus, we wanted to talk to the right customers and put that message in front of them, even if the segmentation was as simple as selecting Premier members versus non-status members and targeting from there. We went through a big reorg a couple of years ago, and now I’m on the acquisition team. I manage programs like international marketing in Asia and Europe, some ancillary stuff, and a lot of retargeting.


LiveRamp: How did you make that transition from IT to marketing?

Ryan: I was officially working in IT, but most of my day-to-day involved working with data infrastructure to help marketing, so it kind of gave me a leg up, honestly. I was already better-versed in martech like LiveRamp. I was more familiar with our own data infrastructure, where we kept certain things, and how we could make them liquid and move them around. That really gave me a leg up when I did move over into marketing.


LiveRamp: What advice do you have for people who don’t have that background and are faced with making decisions about buying martech?

Ryan: Executing different marketing campaigns with one arm tied behind your back and not utilizing your own first-party data is a waste. You’re never going to find second- and third-party data as strong as your own first-party data. Trying to buy for it to supplant it is generally not a good idea.


LiveRamp: You started on the IT side and you’re now on the marketing side, making decisions on which technologies to bring onboard. There’s a lot of people now that may or may not have a DMP or are inheriting a martech platform that they’re not familiar with. What’s your advice for cleaning house and getting things in order for whatever your business needs are today and in the future?

Ryan: I would say, look for the inefficiencies, look for the overlap between what one product can do for you and what another product is already doing for you. If you have a DMP and you also have LiveRamp, think through these cases that you’re using with LiveRamp and ask, ‘can we reuse these same things for what we’re paying more money for?’

Honestly, a lot of the payments and the stress that comes from a DMP is the actual implementation, so if you already have one set up, maybe it’s not looking for reasons to get rid of it, maybe it’s looking for reasons to consolidate and get rid of some of the ancillary stuff.


LiveRamp: When you’re talking about inefficiencies, you’re talking about platforms that have similar functionality, but are you also talking about comparing ROI of different technologies you may have in your stack?

Ryan: Yes, definitely. I talked a little bit about trying to quantify not only topline performance of various partners that we have in ad servers, but also the kind of traffic and conversions that we’re getting from it. Both are equally important, and sometimes you have to dig to get at the true performance of a partner.


LiveRamp: How do you get a true apples-to-apples comparison, because everyone’s going to give you a different report?

Ryan: It’s difficult. I think sometimes you can’t have a true apples-to-apples comparison, and that’s okay. Sometimes, it’s comparing apples to oranges to pears. We have a prospecting tactic that is a little bit of a funnel. We have topline prospecting where we’re trying to sell any ticket, regardless of where the customer is going, in an efficient way. On another level, we’re trying to find ticket buyers who are going to specific destinations that we know are generally in need, and another layer down from that, we’re saying, ‘hey, we need these destinations and we want them on these specific days of the week or weekends, etc.’ All of those have their own set of challenges and not all partners are equipped to get that specific.


LiveRamp: Ok, now a hard question. Whose responsibility is it to corral all your data providers and platforms and say, ‘this is what I need’ or, ‘do we really need this?’

Ryan: Yes. I think it’s about driving business goals at the end of the day. Showing topline performance like ROAS and ROI are great, but it takes a good marketer who understands the industry to know whether or not we need this or that. For instance, United’s always interested in migrating people who buy online to buy direct for a number of reasons.

Some might say, why do you care where they buy if it might end up being the same result? Truly understanding those business needs on top of the digital marketing performance is really the sweet spot.


LiveRamp: Can you tell us about the people on your team in terms of their responsibilities and how they fit into how United Airlines uses LiveRamp?

Ryan: Yes, definitely. We have one manager who oversees the entire team; myself and two others, who each have different campaigns—loyalty, prospecting, retargeting, and different regions of international; and we have one person who is responsible for creative—making sure it’s consistent and that it adheres to brand guidelines, making sure that we’re always running A/B tests, and delivering those learnings to the people who need them.

That’s the way we’re set up right now. As the team grows, we’ll hopefully allocate more spend into each of those programs and we’ll need other people to kind of take them over, or maybe we’ll just get more programs in general.


LiveRamp: Cool stuff. Thanks so much, Ryan. I appreciate your time.

Ryan: You’re welcome!


Want to hear more from Ryan? Watch his customer story here.