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SimpliFlying Featured: The New Wave

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Low Cost & Regional Airline Business, April 2013 - Billboards are no longer enough to attract well-connected travellers. Social media and the internet have moved the goalposts – and airlines need to be far more savvy, writes Shubhodeep Pal, head of operations and innovation at consulting firm SimpliFlying.

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SimpliFlying Featured: The New Wave

  1. 1. If at first it is not apparent, look again: there’s a tectonic shift under way.Airline marketing is undergoing a phase that’s exciting, unpredictable andcreative. Debatably, this new and constantly evolving state of airlinemarketing is unprecedented – in terms of its ingenuity, its previously unseenempathy for the customer and its exceptional brand-building capabilities.A number of factors have contributed to this renaissance. So, before movingon to what airline marketing really looks like today, it would be useful toconsider what exactly is different about it now.Firstly, the age of advertising is dead. Quite simply, it is no longer reasonableto expect travellers inundated with one-way marketing messages to respondto “because people need to fly”. Such tactics no longer sit well; we’ll see whyin a while.Secondly, effective airline marketing today employs a hybrid model. Thepervasiveness of the internet and social media almost necessitates theadoption of marketing tactics that involve both online and offline space.Notably, even Ryanair – the fine fellows who are not known for their customercare – ran an online initiative to offer ticket refunds to their customers througha game called ‘Play and Win’.
  2. 2. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, airline marketers now have access topowerful tools to run efficient campaigns that could not have been dreamt ofeven five years ago: think crowd-sourcing, location-based campaigns and thelike. This is the time to be creative and to dream big.RIP, traditional travellersEasily available access to the internet, coupled with the mind-bogglingpopularity of social networks and smartphones, has led to the rise of a newsocially savvy traveller who is ever-connected on a mobile device. Thistraveller – both characteristics and behaviour – has important implications forairline marketing strategy.The travel cycle itself has changed. A three-stage lifecycle – namely planning,booking and travelling – has arguably been replaced by an evolved five-partcycle. In the Connected Traveller Lifecycle model developed by SimpliFlying,based on empirical observation and analysis, it seems that airlines need tolook beyond booking. While booking is indeed the driver on which the airlineultimately depends, now it must be reached through the path today’s travelleradopts.Sharing the secretNowadays, travellers conduct extensive research on search engines, travelwebsites and online travel agencies (OTAs) before they actually make abooking. Now here’s the point: why should airlines let the fate of apassenger’s ticket depend on an external party? What can airlines do to pullpotential customers to a decision to buy? Two things: make sure customersdream of flying to an airlines’ destinations before they have even made aconscious decision to travel (the dream stage). Vueling, for instance, askedusers to create an Instagram image of a Vueling destination and share itusing the hashtag #vuelingairgallery in order to win free flights and have theirimage featured on the exterior of a special Vueling plane.In the next plan phase, airlines can make it easy for travellers to finalise theirdecision and move to the booking phase. Cebu Pacific promised a free flightto their fans on Facebook to the first group of 150 people ready to travel tothe same destination.While booking is still largely handled by traditional means (online bookingsystems), some airlines have chosen to use social media to spice up thebooking process. JetBlue, for example, clears inventory through a dedicatedTwitter account @JetBlueCheeps that sells cut-price tickets.
  3. 3. While the pre-booking phase of the new travel cycle differs from traditionalmodels when it comes to achieving the booking, there is a radical differencein how the connected travellers and the traditional travellers behave oncethey start the journey – because the former, through their smartphones andsocial networks, automatically become a conduit for messages, photographs,thoughts and emotions that go out to a potentially large social network, wherethe impact of the content can be multiplied manifold. Hence, it becomesincredibly important for airlines to consider the travel and share phases of theconnected traveller lifecycle and provide not just effective ‘social care’, butencourage sharing in a way that enhances the online brand. Witness howeasyJet encouraged its fans to create a full-blown ‘Memory Maker’ holidayvideo about its destinations and share it on Facebook. Each week, the mostvoted video won prizes.Today’s travellers are no longer content with just accepting whatever good orbad the airline dishes out to them. They are extremely tuned in to the powerof social media, as citizens of a virtually connected world. An airline brandcan no longer be ‘controlled’ by the management and corporate speak.Today’s airline brands are moulded as much by management direction as bythe goodwill of social advocates.The bottom-line: if airlines are not where their customers are, if they are notconnected to them and tuned in to their behaviour, they stand to lose a lot ofbusiness. The bad news is the flow of online opinion cannot be controlled.The good news is that customers are happy (and, in fact, want) to engagewith brands and spread a good word. Being transparent, responsive andhelpful online will go a long way.Making it flyOver the last six months, SimpliFlying has published its Airline MarketingBenchmark Report, in partnership with airlinestrends.com. Across the near100 innovative marketing initiatives that were featured to date, SimpliFlyinghas identified eight trends through which Airline Marketing 2.0 can be defined.Arguably, the biggest traditional function disrupted by social media has beencustomer service. The speed, transparency and interactive nature of socialplatforms make them a boon for customers, as well as an effective channel todisseminate information far and wide for airlines. Given that good customerservice is an excellent marketing and branding exercise, the importance ofsocial care cannot be overstated. Many airlines have accepted this newreality. Consider how AirAsia has done away with its phone-based contactcentre and now performs customer service wholly on social media.
  4. 4. The second biggest achievement of new media campaigns has been theirability to leverage positive emotions and spread good cheer amongcustomers and audiences, thereby engendering a happy association with thebrand. Examples range from kulula’s wacky “most South African flight ever”,to JetBlue’s humourous take on the Mars rover landing by offering “flightsfrom 2052 or later”, to Southwest Airlines giving away free $1000 gift cardsduring their holiday season contest, ‘12 Days of LUV’. Such feel-goodinitiatives do not just pique interest in the brand but also help drive loyalty. (Itis worth noting that even when the real initiative happens offline, airlines,more often than not, depend on their online audience to spread the buzz.)Last but not least, an increasingly connected world has made the flow ofideas freer than ever before. And airlines have been quick to leverage this inorder to improve their own products and services. Many airlines have usedcrowdsourcing as a great way to achieve several business objectives at once:to engage customers and build the brand; seek new, innovative ideas forproducts and services; drive revenue or bring down costs; drive brand loyaltyby involving customers in the brand; increase brand reach; get more peopleinterested in the brand; and gain new customers. Consider how WestJetclaimed to have saved over $10 million by crowdsourcing ideas fromemployees on how to reduce costs. Ryanair, on the other hand, ran amemorable crowdsourcing campaign to find new ideas for ancillary revenues.The fun, of course, has only just begun. While airlines spent the last couple ofyears getting their foothold on social media, we are finally at a mature stagewhere they can come into their own and leverage the true power of socialmedia (beyond just fans, followers and likes), while combining them with thepower of traditional and experiential campaigns.Airline Marketing Benchmark Report is a monthly report that assesses theeffectiveness of a selection of 15 of the most innovative airline marketingcampaigns from around the world. For more information, contactshubhodeep@simpliflying.com.