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I was recently reading an article by Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch, who discussed eight refreshing ways of marketing in a recession. Inspired by that article, I decided to take a shot at coming up with ways in which airlines can market themselves to achieve a superior brand authority in a recession. Here are three of those ideas.

1. Build trust through empathy

In recessionary times, people need the comfort of knowing that they’re not alone in their troubles. While the rest of the world changes, the brand which remains consistent to the promise as much as possible would win the hearts of many.

Airlines should take small steps to build trust. One suggestion by Patrick Hanlon is to empathize. People don’t want to be reminded of their problems even when they fly – it’s an oasis of privacy, where they are disconnected from the world. For starters, the in-flight crew can smile more and be more patient with passengers. It’s the small things that build trust. And trust built in tough times is bound to turn into true loyalty when good times return.

2. Offer better value – more discounts, less promotions

It’s a known fact that in a recession, almost 50% of consumers look to switch to a brand that provides them with more value, or at least more perceived value. Greater value can be demonstrated to the consumer if he pays the same or less price for a better quality product. Promotions like extended credit or mail-in rebates don’t tend to work as well, since the “barrier to purchase” is not lowered. Hence, instead of nickle-and-diming customer, airlines should look to improve the quality of service. For starters, now that oil prices have nosedived, some of the fuel-surcharges imposed on the customers should be lowered or removed. The increased price elasticity will likely result in greater overall demand for services.

3. Connect – go online to interact with flyers

In this recession, all companies have an inexpensive market research tool at their disposal – Web 2.0. Airlines should actively monitor feedback sites like suggestionbox.com, fluther.com and epinions.com to see what the buzz is about their airline (or even competition) and then adapt quickly to customer tastes. These are also good forums to showcase how seriously feedback is taken – another good way to build trust.

Moreover, airlines should think of innovative ways of becoming part of online communities that their flyers frequent – such as Second Life, Facebook and Twitter. JetBlue already does a great job with this.

A recession is a good time to build long-term loyalty, and innovative airlines can take advantage of these unique circumstances to gain significant market share from their competitors.

Do you know of examples of airlines that are marketing themselves well in this recession? Would Virgin Atlantic emerge stronger thanks to their “Airphoria” campaign? Would JetBlue create greater loyalty by following passengers on Twitter? What can airlines from other industries in this regard? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments…

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

CEO at SimpliFlying
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
Shashank Nigam

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