The Need for Integrated Communications in Airline Marketing — a tale of hairstylists in a storm

This article is the story of a struggle. The struggle of an airline to fit in a world that it was not designed for. It is perhaps the story of most airlines. Because after seeing so many cases like this, we felt picking just one would not be fair. It is not, after all, an airline’s fault if things have changed so quickly — but its failure to notice the change is another story.

Our story begins in a simpler age, known as “the Good Old Days” — the G.O.D.s for friends. In that time, an airline’s job was simple. It had to move people from A to B by air. This implied having a marketing or advertising team devoted to promoting the routes, and an external communications team that looked after the company’s reputation.

In this scenario, the G.O.D.s allowed for the creation of a simple communication structure with one department in charge of pushing out sales messages, and another that looked after the company’s reputation. With time, things changed. The marketers in charge of pushing out sales messages kept a close eye on where their target audience was and started noticing how many of them started moving to new “social” platforms.

Chasing their audience, the marketing teams ended up down the rabbit hole and into social media — a place where messages were no longer unidirectional and people could, and did, reply. At first, nobody noticed, but as the conversation grew louder and marketers went deeper, things started to change.

Down the rabbit hole and into the storm

The G.O.D.s were going away, a storm was coming. While the marketing departments kept going, the first to notice problems were the external communications teams. Like hair stylists in a storm, they realised that their work was being undone by invisible forces. The company’s image could no longer be managed by reaching out to journalists or news outlets because those had also been blown out of the loop.

Social media and digital communication allowed people to connect directly with each other, achieving a scale that bypassed traditional channels. The two worlds that existed in the G.O.D.s were merged into one. Conversations about trips, sales and past experiences with an airline all merged into one new channel. An airline’s reputation was decided by the sum of individual experiences, not news stories.

Soon, things started to become confusing. On the one hand, marketing departments needed the new channels more than ever and had become familiar with their inner workings and demands. On the other, corporate communications teams realised they also needed to use them,  but often had no access and no experience in managing the new, hyper-connected community.

This is where our story goes two ways.

Different outcomes

In the dark corners of our industry, companies ignored what was happening outside, hoping it would pass. Unfortunately, it never did. To this day, many of them remain hidden in the closet, unable to communicate with their audiences.

In other, brighter, corners, departments started communicating with each other and cooperated. This was better than nothing, but corporate politics and separate departments often made the output sound like a conference call over a bad connection. Many voices were speaking, often at the same time, and only occasionally in a coordinated or coherent fashion.

Finally, some enlightened companies realised that to achieve the one voice demanded by customers, they needed to have just one brain. They faced the wind and created a single large communications department that spoke for the whole company, integrating the staff and skills of its predecessors. As the storm grew in strength they followed the wind and used it as an ally to outrun their competitors. Today, they are coming out on top.

At SimpliFlying we’d like to salute those who faced the wind and realised this is not a storm but a new, powerful jet stream that is here to stay. We sincerely hope that others will follow their example and we remain more than happy to help anyone who is brave enough to embrace change and its realities.

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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