Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Warning Airline CMOs: A little blue bird is about to clip your wings!

Airline CMOs and their marketing teams are using different types of social media to engage their customers, but new technology and mobile gadgets are about to revolutionize social marketing in the airline industry yet again. As a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC marketing program, I have been researching how to best leverage social media for marketing an airline.  I have identified a few articles that best explain the power of the “connected traveler,” i.e. the 65% who travel with a gadget, according to Gogo. I believe these articles highlight key points that airline marketers need to know in order to better engage with their consumers.

Shashank Nigam, CEO of the global aviation consulting firm SimpliFlying and one of the top thought leaders of social media in the airline industry provides five reasons why airlines need to move beyond normal marketing tactics to engage with the Connected Traveler. He argues that with 200 airlines now on twitter and more and more airlines increasing their social media budgets, the space is too cluttered. If you want to get ahead of the competition, you have to tap into the power of the “connected traveler”and be innovative in the ways you leverage social.  

 In a whitepaper published by Amadeus IT Group a few years ago, Norm Rose of Travel Tech highlights how mobile will transform the future of air travel. He does predict however that by the end of 2016, advanced mobile functionalities will no longer be a differentiator but simply a price to pay to be in the game.  In other words a mobile strategy on its own is not sufficient. At the core of true airline mobile differentiation is service delivery and customer support. 

Infographic from Eezer Data Lab

Based on my analysis of these two articles and other travel-related research that I have completed, here are the three steps that you need to consider in order to take your airline's social strategy to the next level.

Act upon virtual complaints and suggestions in real-world and real-time- Having a mobile device translates into your market's expectation of reaching things instantaneously.  Your airline now needs to be responsive in real-time and real-world.  So when your high value customer tweets from the first class lounge “missing  [her] usual favourite breakfast,” then surprise her with it in real-time, in the lounge.  

Create a hybrid of your loyalty program- Programs such as passengers' earning miles for liking, tweeting, sharing and checking in is an easy way to tap into the power of your passengers’ mobile devices.  Simpliflying helped Estonian Air and BalticMiles pioneer a similar program recently.  

Cover the complete travel cycle- When it comes to travel and destinations, consumers are always looking for inspiration and answers. Nowadays, from the moment they dream about travel to when they complain about it and later when they reminisce about it,  they can be reached. This means that there is a unique opportunity to work with passengers at every step of their journey. You are the expert, so be there to empower them throughout their dreams, concerns and memories.

And here is one last point, just in case... 

Mobile Marketing is a must for an airline - According to Christina CK Kerley, speaker, trainer and strategist in mobile marketing, as of 2012 only 16% of all brands had a formal mobile strategy. If you are an airline, you cannot afford to be among those 16%. That is because travelers are much more likely than the average person to be active participants on social media- based on Forrester's Technographic Profile of Airline Passengers. So roll out a mobile strategy today or else you will find your wings clipped. 

Bahareh Evans is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Integrated Marketing at Medill, Northwestern University.  She is a culturally dexterous marketer who is interested in Consumer Insights and Social Media Marketing. Her experiences have granted her insights and work experience in several industries but her deep global understanding leads to a passion for working with travel and airline markets.
Follow her on twitter @baharehevans

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