Late last year, a group of executives gathered for a social media presentation at a conference held in the Netherlands. Among the attendees was Martijn van der Zee, senior vice president of e-commerce at Air France KLM, who had with him a slide from a new initiative they were experimenting with. Little did he know how popular it would be at the conference – and on the Internet. Shortly after his presentation, the slide found its way online and became a viral hit, attracting millions of viewers worldwide.
The name of the initiative? Meet and Seat, a service that lets you use either Facebook or LinkedIn to view the profiles of other passengers on the same flight and choose your seat partner. The service is currently available on flights from Amsterdam to New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo.
To safeguard passengers’ privacy, only those who have a confirmed flight reservation are allowed to take part in this programme (you can also choose not to do so) and they can view only the profiles of those who have chosen to participate in it. In addition, passengers also have the choice of deciding how much information they want to share. Finally, just in case you were wondering, the airline does not share your profile information with other companies. “The offer we want to make to our customers is that [this service is something] they can use only to their advantage,” assures van der Zee.
Feedback so far has been “very comforting” for the airline, with users split evenly between the business and economy classes, men and women, and Facebook and LinkedIn users. While he declines to reveal any further details, he says that passengers can expect their flights to get a lot more interesting in the future as KLM introduces more integrated social services.
“No fancy stuff. Just make it work.”
No stranger to social media, KLM has been distinguishing itself from the competition with its innovative campaigns such as KLM Surprise. What will probably come as a surprise to most is that they are all conceived in-house by the airline’s social media team, which comprises 35 to 40 people across different departments.
The Meet and Seat programme is the result of what van der Zee calls “co-creation” – a collaboration between KLM and its customers. The airline had been toying around with ideas to integrate the medium into more of its services and had decided to include its customers in the process because what better way to find out what they want than by asking them directly? “What they shared with us was very clear,” recalls van der Zee. “No fancy stuff. Just make it work.”
For the airline, taking on this initiative themselves means also that they have complete control over its development and the ability to “to keep it close to the KLM brand”. “Given the attention and acceptance it’s received, it might grow into a very important tool for us so that’s why we want to do it ourselves and have the option of adapting it to customers’ needs.”
The New Face of Marketing
For van der Zee, the response that the Meet and Seat programme has attracted is indicative of the radical change that the landscape of marketing is undergoing. Engaging customers “in a modern way” doesn’t have to involve a lot of money. In fact, having too polished and showy a campaign more often than not turns customers off. “People don’t like that,” he says. “We see that increasingly the effectiveness of push marketing channels is being reduced and the importance of viral or pull marketing channels is increasing. What we’re seeing is that people want real experiences, genuine messages and real actions from companies, which by definition do not cost a lot of money but require more effort.”
Dare to Fail
While this might sound like music to the ears of finance directors in most organizations, executing a social media campaign that works is a process that requires not only time but a healthy attitude to failure. Embrace it, says van der Zee, and treat it as part of the learning process: “We’re open to failures and mistakes for the simple reason that if you don’t dare, you will never be able to create things that customers want.”
For this airline veteran, the key to carving out a “more than proportionate market share” lies in understanding how people behave online. And if the jump in online sales outside the Netherlands is any indication, it looks like the airline is doing something right in the social media realm. For the first time in five years, KLM has been posting double-digit growth figures in terms of online bookings,. If there’s one thing this proves, it’s that price is not always the determining factor when it comes to making a decision to fly with an airline. “We have many people who literally say to us, ‘We buy tickets with you because of your actions in the social space,’” says van der Zee.
Clearly, the way people are interacting with companies has changed though the same cannot be said of the latter themselves. “One clear trend is that people themselves are determining which companies they want to do business with,” he observes, adding that there are plenty of opportunities for companies to learn about customer behavior by observing the way they use social media. “[But] many companies are still underestimating this effect.”
For those companies that are able to understand and adapt to this new behavior, the benefits of doing so far outweigh what they can achieve through conventional means of marketing alone. “If you are able to do this the right way, you can reach millions of people and they’ll promote the airline for you,” says van der Zee.
“It’s the strongest marketing message you can have.”
Latest posts by Shubhodeep Pal (see all)
- The May 2013 Edition of the Airline Marketing Benchmark Report has 15 fresh case-studies from Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Finnair and more! - May 7, 2013
- [Free Report] The State of Airline Marketing 2013: 8 Key Trends and Case Studies - April 30, 2013
- The April 2013 Edition of the Airline Marketing Benchmark Report has 15 fresh case-studies from American Airlines, AirAsia, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and more! - April 5, 2013