The Battles for the Skies: How to build your Airline’s Brand


The Airline Challenge

The airline industry is facing unenviable and continued rapid change and acute financial pressures. The global recession makes this the most difficult of downturns for the airline industry. Many airlines have and are going to  fail in the current economic crisis, some through no fault of their own. Those that will survive will  include ones that will pursue innovative strategies , some will  survived despite odds, and a few will surprise by turning an extremely challenging economic situation to their competitive advantage.

Unpredictable challenges and change are the norm in a business that is so sensitive to economic, regulatory, safety, environmental and other external influences beyond management’s absolute control. The successful airlines will focus on controllable elements when refining their marketing plans for 2013.

Instead of cutting the market research budget, Airlines  need to know more than ever what their  consumers are thinking and how they are defining value.

Airlines must maintain marketing spending. In these economic times, that also means using the most cost-effective marketing there is. Online and internet marketing!  It is well documented that brands that increase marketing spend during a recession as competitors are cutting back –can improve market share and return on investment at a lower cost than during good economic times. Uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known airline brands. Airlines are in a battle for market share, and in many cases, survival. The airlines that survive and flourish will be the ones that build a strong brand, improve value, and build influence by engaging on-line communities around their brand.

The importance of influence

Digital is driving growth in almost every single market, transforming the marketing landscape in the process. Investment in digital media has now definitively moved from “experimental” to “essential.”

With any product, branding and building influence is a key component for the development of airlines – especially in today’s competitive world with new low-cost carriers taking to the skies. When combined with the pressures of the rising costs of operating an airline and increasingly lower consumer price expectations, the market is ultra competitive. Airlines are awakening to the need to build their brands to maintain and shape their market position, which can create loyalty beyond price.

We create influence by turning people into the media and getting them to spread the word about our brands.

Behavioural economists identified the phenomenon of the “information cascade” some time ago. It occurs when groups of people follow the decisions of people before them, rather than making their own decisions in isolation. These “influence cascades” when harnessed on behalf of brands, products and services, can be enormously powerful. Creating a flow of influence is critical in a world where peer-to-peer credibility is increasing.

The key to building influence in the airline industry

Building brand value and influence in the airline industry means constructing communities around the product, the service and the experiences that lead to a strong, trusted relationship. Airlines must focus on the brand experience, because in today’s environment customers will choose the carrier that provides the best overall value. By focusing on the brand experience, not only will airlines retain existing customers, but they will also attract others disgruntled with the competition. And overall, this hedges against the potential of a consumer making a purchase decision on price only.

Four Principles of Building Influence

Stand for something

Brands are like people. The most influential people always stand for something. Furthermore, great brands resolve cultural tensions. They speak to an issue that people are passionate about. Strong, simple brands that stand for something are a shortcut through the complexity and confusion of the marketplace. When a company owns one precise thought in the consumer’s mind, it sets the tone for everything; there should be no distinction between brand, product, service, and experience.

Do remarkable things

Strong airline brand should  translate their beliefs into action. But if they are going to be truly influential, they need to do remarkable things, not just ordinary ones. Airline brands need to always be on the lookout for innovative ways to do things. With airline consolidation and the proliferation of low-cost carriers continuing, airline brands must try to gain market share by capturing the people’s imagination. This is only possible if it is clear what they stand for.

An airline brand is essentially the sum of the experiences that passengers have when they fly with that carrier.

Cultivate Advocates

Brands need to reach out to their passionate advocates, not just their consumers. Airlines must successfully identify their most important customers and establish deep relationships with them. Airlines are doing this through great customer experiences on the ground and on their flights, loyalty clubs with real value, innovative technologies , upgraded aircraft environments that make passengers feel honoured to fly with them, sports and other sponsorships, community involvement, and creating online communities that say great things about them.

Open Up

In today’s world, brands must be transparent. People are far more likely to become loyal consumers and advocates of your brand if they get a chance to participate in its progress and have a sense of shared ownership. Influential brands can now use the collective wisdom of their advocates and communities far more easily to help them develop products and services. Create opportunities for customers to engage with your brand through online forums and social networks. Listen and act on complaints promptly  and let your customers have the opportunity to tell you what products and services they want. If staff have forgotten how to handle customers well and with a genuine enthusiasm for feedback, take then back to the training room.

Emirates2The rewards of getting it right: Emirates Airlines

Emirates is an example of a major airline brand that has successfully followed all four principles of building influence – and differentiated itself from the competition. The Emirates experience is beautiful and in touch and empathetic – perfect for uncertain economic times. Emirates’ end line “Keep discovering” sums up its philosophy on travel: Successful brands connect to the emotions of our time. We are in a new age of discovery.

Business people are the new explorers and unleashing our inner explorer is a fundamental human drive. Emirates is tapping into this universal emotional bond. Emirates has effectively used to drive the brand experience. Its business model, its leadership and its marketing  and customer engagement strategy merge successfully  to create a brand with distinctive competitive advantage.

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About chipomaps

A brand reputation, marketing and new media trainer and consultant. Constantly curious, constantly learning.
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