Airlines: Smile more so flyers “pick” you. In conversation with Patrick Hanlon of Thinktopia


“Airlines need to have more of their staff smiling in their interactions with passengers, to make them feel comfortable. All we need is a little empathy.” That’s one of the tips Patrick Hanlon shared in my chat with him yesterday, on how airlines can build stronger brands to weather this crisis better.

Patrick, the Founder and CEO of Thinktopia, has been a marketing practitioner for over 20 years. His book Primal Branding: Create Zealots For Your Brand, Your Company And Your Future was named “Best Read 2006” and recently chosen as one of the “Top 10 marketing reads” by Britain’s Drum magazine.

Brands as belief systems

In his book, Primal Branding, Patrick emphasizes the importance of brands as belief systems. In his interview, he gives the example of Apple, Nike and Harley Davidson as brands that have built a level of fervor around them that’s difficult to emulate. But it can be done.

Patrick shares ways in which airlines can get employees and customers to rally around the brand in difficult times, and practical ways in which to build a belief system. The key, he believes, is the “pick” concept.

Flyers need to “pick” the airline

Recently, Patrick had written an article in Advertising Age magazine, on how traditional “push” and “pull” strategies have lost their edge with consumers and marketers need to focus on the “pick” factor. The concept essentially revolves around creating such a compelling product and service experience that the consumer is forced to “pick” your business over the competition.

Patrick feels that airlines should embrace the concept of “pick” surprise. For example, if there is no food being offered on the flight, offer an apple. May be offer McDonalds vouchers for later use. But basically create an element of pleasant surprise to enhance the experience.

Listen to the interview, to hear Patrick’s thoughts on everything from why smiling flight attendants can mean cash for the airlines, and how airlines should take care of their brands post-merger. Feel free to share your thoughts too. Patrick feels that the brand is more important than the product, regardless of the economic environment. Is he right?

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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