By Sander Volten, Global CEO, 180
The airline industry is coming out of turbulent times, having experienced a historic collapse in leisure and business travel that resulted in a 60% drop in air traffic. Since then, values have shifted and so have the expectations of passengers, creating the need for a fresh perspective from the airline industry.
Business travel expenses will be scrutinized like never before as companies weigh them against the cost of videoconferencing (which is virtually free). Mainstays like privacy and comfort will remain important, but new values like flexibility have emerged.
Among these new values, health and transparency are the top priority. Especially as passengers contend with new safety requirements such as vaccine passports, the airline industry may start to resemble the pharmaceutical industry, with airlines differentiating themselves by being the “cleanest” or “safest.”
In the midst of this shift, CMOs have a unique opportunity to steer their brands according to these new priorities to provide something even more valuable to customers. There’s also the risk that those airlines that fail to imagine the world as it could be will wind up behaving like big pharma — overemphasizing safety credentials, underemphasizing customer experience, and engulfed in a maze of health data, privacy issues and discordant standards.
Here are five ways airline CMOs can help their brand stand out in a competitive landscape:
- Break out of the mold and focus your messaging on accessibility and amenities.
Low-cost and premium airlines are more polarized than ever. The low-cost world delivers spontaneity and quick delight, while the premium world delivers comfort and luxury — there’s a wide chasm between the two. CMOs can help their brand break away from the pack by emphasizing enhanced accessibility through apps, including contactless passport or boarding pass systems. New challengers, like Breeze Air and PRAGUS.ONE, can capture the coming surge in leisure travel by targeting their messaging and amenities around vacation travelers.
- Strengthen your customer relationship with confidence and flexibility.
The airline industry as a whole needs to strengthen its relationship with customers as they slowly resume air travel. Providing passengers with confidence and flexibility will be key. Four out of 10 people are concerned about contracting COVID-19 while traveling on a plane. To ease these concerns, CMOs should make sure the messaging, advertising and overall customer experience is clear and transparent about what the airline is doing to keep passengers safe. Airlines that want to stand out will also need to be more flexible with bookings, allowing passengers to adjust travel based on current health conditions. The rise in travel insurance purchases, which have increased by 277% since February 2020, points to an unmet need and an untapped opportunity.
- Lean into wellness and relaxation.
An unexpected way that airline CMOs can differentiate their brand is through health and wellness. This is a natural evolution of where airline travel has landed over the past 12 months, with passengers and airlines now keenly aware of health considerations raised by airline travel. Wellness giants like Aveda or Aesop could enter this space, through partnerships or entirely new market offerings, to reimagine the in-flight experience and make the journey the destination, with features and products designed to promote passenger relaxation.
- Consider a zero-star rating to show customers you understand their expectations.
A coalition of airlines could partner to sponsor and adopt a new zero-star rating system that reflects the values of air travel in the new world: zero-emission; zero noise; zero accidents; zero waste; and zero stress. In addition to the existing International Air Transport Association’s five-star rating, this demonstrates to customers that the airline understands that their expectations have shifted, and, more importantly, that the airline has shifted its own offering to meet those expectations. This would also help CMOs capture and message the benefits of their brand’s investments in safety, service, sustainability and supportive features.
- Differentiate your brand with an environmental conscience.
Perhaps one of the most obvious places that airline CMOs can help distinguish their brand is through voluntary adherence and transparency around climate and emission goals. The airlines that consider themselves at the forefront of this movement are renewing their fleet and competing for the title of “greenest airline.” With 87% of people worldwide saying they want to travel sustainably, now is the perfect time for CMOs to broadcast innovation and share their environmental values with customers.
Embrace healthy disruption or become big pharma
Leisure, business, budget-conscious and luxury-driven travelers alike see airline travel through a new lens and it’s up to airline CMOs to reframe themselves to fit into the new picture of passenger priorities. If CMOs fail to embrace healthy disruption and the evolution of what airlines have traditionally offered, the industry risks going the way of big pharma, with brands fighting for salience over the cleanliness of their screens rather than the quality of what is on it. Smart CMOs will act fast to capitalize on this opportunity and make clear what their brand is doing to meet the needs of the post-pandemic passenger. The effort is likely to pay off with a large and engaged customer base.