[Presentation] Changing Times: The Latest Trends in Airline Marketing

I had the opportunity to present at the IATA Airs@t User Forum in Athens last week. [push h=”14″]

A polar bear, clinging desperately to the last melting bit of an iceberg, was the first image that came to my mind when asked to speak about the latest trends in Airline Marketing.

This famous image is often used in relation to climate change but is also a perfect representation of how airlines react to change. The bear could swim in a blue ocean, but instead chooses to cling to the last bit of a disappearing world until it is thrown in the water by the iceberg’s collapse.

many airlines right now look like this...

With this image in mind I opened my speech at the IATA AirS@t User Forum promising to show three key trends: one for airlines, one for airports and a third one on passenger behaviour.

1. Wearables

Wearable devices have been a hot topic in conferences and events since Google first launched its Google Glass. The trend has since consolidated and gained momentum following the release of countless new products ranging from fitness accessories to the announcement of Apple’s new watch.

In aviation, the focus has been mostly on Google Glass and on how it could help airline’s staff perform their duties. Trials ranged from Virgin Atlantic’s check-in process, to in-flight use by Spring Airlines’ flight attendants, and Iberia’s cabin crew’s viewing of the Spanish football team’s flight.

Unfortunately, despite living in a world where — without counting wearables — a single plane could contain up to 900 devices, few airlines seem to have considered how their passengers might be using their new devices. Notably United Airlines hit the headlines after asking one of Google’s explorers (Google Glass testers) to remove her device citing security concerns and causing a social media uproar.


2. Beacons  

At airports, a new technology is allowing a more precise type of geo-location, previously not possible with GPS triangulation. This technology, commonly known as Beacons, allows marketers to engage users based on almost their exact location, such as at an airport terminal.

Airlines have welcomed this new technology. Several, including American Airlines and British Airways, have already announced plans to implement it in key hubs. At the same time, SITA has started a project to create a common beacon registry to facilitate integration

Crucial to this quick adoption has been the low cost of beacons that ranges from USD 5 to 30, depending on the technical specifications. The simplicity of this system is also key to its success. In theory, 3 beacons are sufficient to provide a precise fix of the user’s position.

From a service perspective, the application could be used to guide passengers inside terminals, help provide information on flights, and even push notifications or offers when the user is in a designated area.


3. The one you can’t ignore

In September 2013, British Airways experienced something that no airline had seen before: complaintvertising. A passenger had spent USD 1000 to promote a tweet against the airline when it failed to respond to tweets regarding lost luggage. The message caused considerable brand damage reaching mainstream news bulletins and receiving over 76,000 direct impressions.

Although of relative little interest when taken in isolation, this incident is actually the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of a much larger trend. A trend where users are becoming less tolerant of unresponsive companies and increasingly likely to abandon them.

This trend was initially noted by ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto‘ in 1999. The site, preserved to this day as a read-only landmark predicted that internet users would become increasingly connected and less tolerant of organizations who were not willing to interact in a human way.

It’s famous opening “markets are conversations” reflects a return to a situation where both buyer and seller have an equal voice and interact with each other on a level playing field. This situation is remarkably different from the communication imbalance typical of mass media and advertising but very similar to today’s digital environment.

The return to this natural environment where markets are based on conversation places particular emphasis on the ability to listen. This is the reason why successful airlines like Southwest Airlines are investing in listening centres and not in the latest technological trends.

In the British Airways example, the airline failed to reply because at the time it did not offer 24/7 Twitter service. In today’s environment, this is no longer acceptable. Any airline that has round-the-clock operations is expected to also offer round-the-clock customer service on all the channels where it has a presence.

The melting iceberg does not represent technological changes, it represents customers’ eroding tolerance for unresponsiveness and lack of conversation. Our question is simple, can you swim?

If you can’t we can help you, but be quick because there is not much ice left.

You can get in touch with me at marco@simpliflying.com and download our speaking and masterclass prospectus here.


Marco Serusi

Marco Serusi

Former Director of Consulting at SimpliFlying
Marco Serusi was Consultant at SimpliFlying from November 2011 to January 2019 and has worked on major client projects with the likes of LATAM Airlines, London Heathrow and Airbus. He has also delivered training in digital aviation strategy for hundreds of executives globally and spoken at several aviation conferences worldwide. He is well known for his cutting-edge research into crisis communications and social media trends.
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