Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Airline Marketing as true Service?

There have been written enough pieces about the dismal state of the North American Airline industry, from unacceptable service to never ending delays or just pure chaos at check in, boarding, or luggage claim. I don’t want to tell my own personal story of distress or disappointment but rather raise the question, how should anyone market an US airline in today’s world (let’s exclude Southwest and JetBlue who are the outliers in this industry). An industry with extremely low expectations by its consumers and an ever increasing and ongoing passenger frustration?

There seem to be three conceptual options that airlines could follow in their communication approach:
  • Ignore the reality of today’s travelers and just continue to communicate the traditional messages of travel excitement, supposedly great service, and some either non-existing or irrelevant service upgrades
  • Get straight to the point, be honest about all current shortcomings (the average age of a US airline plane is more than 17 years old and will have more technical problems than a new airplane), admit mistakes and be totally transparent and clear about what the airline is planning to do to address at least some of the problems
  • Don’t market anymore at all in any mass media and reinvest all marketing communication dollars into service improvements either pre-flight or during the flight.

Interestingly enough all airlines are following option 1, no one has the courage to either pursue the full honest approach of option 2 or the marketing budget reallocation strategy of option 3. I think it’s very worthwhile to consider a combination of option 2 and 3. Then an airline would be brutally honest about the current state and the planned improvements and use cost efficient online communication (emails and corporate blogs) to spread the word to its core audience. I think airline marketers forget too often that the most valuable and profitable travelers are reading the business sections of newspapers and portals and are well aware of the real problems. They don’t want to be communicated to but they want to be informed. With this strategy marketing would become a much more efficient and honest information application without spin and would be transformed into a true service function for travelers. What a change.

It always amazes me how little courage we witness in our marketing industry, even in categories that are under tremendous pressure and fight for survival.


Anonymous Jim Novo said...

If the "customer experience" and "social" movements continue to gain traction, it makes all the Strategic sense in the world to divert marketing budget from media to optimizing service.

The thorny question is how?

Who would be in charge of this budget and execution - Marketing? Chief Customer Officer?

How would agencies fit into this model? Can I hire an agency to re-optimize my marketing budget away from media and into customer-facing operations, where the ROI might even be clearer than it is for much of my media spend?

Marketing managed to do a lot of this kind of work at Home Shopping Network, but it was a young company then and built entirely on a computerized platform.

Plus, there was an "optimization culture" there and people just understood why diverting Marketing budget to fix customer service and operational issues made so much sense. Happens a lot in catalog companies too.

I think it is the focus on net customer value that drives this kind of "optimization culture" thinking; a measurable, universal company goalpost that you can tie almost any activity in the company to.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Michael Fassnacht said...


Great comment. The issue of moving marketing dollars into service investments involve very difficult organizational challenges for most marketers. That's one of the reason that a CMO should not just own the communication to consumers but a significant piece of brand experience, too.

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