Connecting the Dots

It’s proven that creating brand value from a consumer perspective primarily involves the promise and delivery of a clearly defined, differentiated, and relevant customer experience. So why do most airlines struggle so much with what is proven to drive demand and sustain customer loyalty?

Granted, many airlines have to contend with a plethora of issues out of their control—issues such as huge capital requirements, high operating costs, a reliance on ground operating systems, strict aviation regulations, strong labor unions, and, of course, the weather! In addition, aviation, like most industries, is grappling with rapid technological advancements, huge demographic shifts, and ever-changing customer attitudes, expectations and preferences. Even in good times, the airline industry is a tough business in which to turn a profit. Current trends, however, point to several strategic tools airline brands can use to secure loyalty and, ultimately, boost their bottom lines.

Technology is changing the way we fly

An intense focus on technology and innovation to enhance customers’ flying experiences is the primary strategy most airlines are now using to differentiate and stay relevant. Today, there are many ways airlines are making flying more comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable, including: app-based streaming entertainment, universal WiFi, in-flight social networks, in-flight wearables, mood spaces, airport beacons, automated transport hubs, smart-luggage, virtual reality trials…the list goes on.

While impressive and proactive, many of these innovations, while interesting in themselves, appear unrelated to any central brand proposition and seem, for the most part, disconnected from one another.

A distinct brand proposition is still key

All airlines should possess a distinct brand proposition through which to filter such innovations. Brand propositions must be clearly differentiated within the category, but also relevant, compelling, and inspiring to specific target audiences. Most importantly, it is a brand’s proposition that provides focus and direction to all brand activities—from new product development to all touchpoints in the experience chain.

Even greater value will be derived by aligning brand activities and delivering customer experiences that are seamless and connected.

Toward a more seamless, connected experience

The unbundling of services to drive additional revenue has made it much more difficult to deliver a seamless experience for customers. However, the multiplication of channels across the entire customer journey (pre-flight, flight, and post-flight) is pushing airline brands to strive for greater levels of consistency across all touchpoints and to look for ways to integrate both physical and digital experiences.

British Airways recently tested the use of a fiber-optic-embedded “happiness blanket.” It glows blue when the passenger is calm, and red when the passenger is anxious. Volunteers wore electroencephalography (EEG) headbands that were connected to the blanket and picked up neural activity to measure mood. Although it was just a trial, the technology could provide invaluable data for cabin crew during flights. The data would enable the cabin crew to anticipate passengers’ needs, such as when to serve meals and when to dim cabin lights.

The power of social media is also having far greater influence on consumers who increasingly expect more customized options and higher levels of personalization. As in-flight WiFi becomes universal, airlines will need to use the data that comes from in-flight WiFi usage to intelligently uncover genuine insights, anticipate needs, and deliver against individual customer wants, demands and desires.

How are airlines already using this data? A recent example is Virgin America. By conducting its own poll, the airline brand found that its passengers actively hunted for new ways to network and make business contacts before they even arrived at their destination.

Taking the customer journey to the next level

Perhaps the biggest opportunity though will come from the evolving interconnectivity of devices, or what Interbrand has coined the Mecosystem. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to be a binding agent for the first time—genuinely connecting the pre-flight, flight, and post-flight journey through far more personal and curated experiences for travelers. Airlines will not be able to do this alone and close partnerships with brands from other sectors will be imperative if sustained preference and loyalty is to be achieved.

Indeed, London City Airport is currently trialing new technologies where the internet will be layered on top of the everyday travel experience—providing endless possibilities and benefits, notwithstanding the inevitable concerns surrounding privacy and security.

What is the way forward? Clear brand propositions coupled with the smart use of technology working—in tandem—to deliver experiences that are personal, customized, useful and seamless across the entire customer journey. Such a strategy will impact how consumers choose their preferred airline carrier and remain loyal to it over time.

If you would like to contact Stuart Green about any of the opinions or insights expressed in this article, please send an email to hello@interbrand.com.

Contributors

Chief Executive Officer, Asia-Pacific