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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on October 1, 2013

AIRPORT MARKETING EXCHANGE - THINKING DIFFERENTLY

David McMullen and Shubhodeep Pal discuss marketing innovation in the ageof the connected traveller.

Airport marketing is waking up to the immense opportunities in today’s age of ‘connected travellers’. These travellers, ever more hungry for new experiences, like to carry their living room with them as they travel – a smartphone, an iPad, a laptop.

According to TripAdvisor, 91% of travellers post pictures of vacations, 57% post status updates and 34% check-in while travelling. Additionally, 75% of business travellers and frequent fliers carry smartphones today. Just as many of them log-on to airport Wi-Fi when it is free.

Airports are not just engaging these travellers and providing customer service online. They are also gaining real-time, location-specific customer intelligence, driving revenues and building their brands simultaneously. Traditional airport marketing campaigns are becoming ever more creative too.

A new regular column by SimpliFlying, the Airport Marketing Exchange, will elucidate key issues and address how airports can plan their marketing and communications strategy to affect and measure results.

Drawing from consulting experience of having worked with over 30 airports and airlines, and internal research studies conducted with hundreds of airports, this column will identify and confront the key challenges faced in airport marketing, sharing SimpliFlying’s expert opinion on how issues should be steered and factored into future strategy.

In alternate issues, a special report will feature a Q&A exchange with a senior executive working in the pursuit of marketing excellence. The exchange between leading figures in airport marketing will shed light on the latest trends and innovations,by hearing about the success of airport marketing, directly from the airport – combined with SimpliFlying’s own leading opinions, that continue to question, inspire and reinvent global airport brands.

In this inaugural issue, we dissect the current state ofairport marketing and explore the gap between airlinesand airports.

The state of airport marketing in 2013 – seven key trends

In The State of Airport Marketing 2013 report recently published by SimpliFlying, seven key trends have been identified as definitive of how airport marketing is evolving today.

1. Advocacy

Advocacy, by those who have experienced a product or service, has always been the biggest driving force behind gaining new customers. Today’s connected age provides even more potenttools for travellers who are eager to share their experiences with their social networks.

For instance, Eindhoven Airport’s Facebook VIP initiative offers free perks, like valet parking and free meals, to randomly chosen fans on Facebook in the hope of turning them into brand advocates.

2. Social care

Despite being willing brand advocates, today’s connected travellers are keen to get information on the go and are not shy to vent their frustration in an instant. Airports such as London Heathrow and Singapore Changi recognise this and provide excellent customer service over Twitter. Gatwick Airport has even installed an FIDS screen that displays its live Twitter feed.

3. Story telling

At every airport, there are thousands of stories waiting to be told. Socially caring airports not only create a memorable travel story but pay attention their passengers’ stories too, building memorable, long-lasting bonds with the community. Dublin Airport created a TV show based on real stories of travellers passing through the airport. Vancouver Airport even had a guest staying eighty days at the airport and sharing a video blog each day.

4. Crowdsourcing

Crowdsouring takes bond-building with the community a step further. Online platforms offer unprecedented opportunities for inviting customer participation and tapping into great ideas for product innovation. Helsinki Airport installed a book swap that turned out to be hugely popular – an idea that came about fromits Quality Hunters initiative that has been tremendously effectivein tapping into what customers want.

5. Red carpet

The rise of a middle-class that is keen to travel, especially from developing countries, means a rapidly expanding travel market. Airports are keen to build bonds with international communities too and make them feel at home. Auckland Airport has become the first airport to tie up with Chinese social network Weibo in order to reach out to Chinese travellers and showcase its services.

6. Virtual shopping

An average traveller spends at least an hour waiting to board his/her flight. How can airports and retailers penetrate into gate seating areas and sell their products?A number of airports such as Frankfurt, Gatwick and New Delhi have installed virtual, QR-code screens that allow passengers to shop groceries and duty-free goods while they are waiting to board.

7. Innovative air service development

In order to trump competition, airports must develop a sophisticated air service development strategy. This involves segmenting potential passenger markets and, ultimately, filling up planes for its airline partners. Manchester Airport, via its ‘Fly Manchester’ campaign, seeks to win back the four million passengers from its catchment area who currently travel by road/rail to London airports even though routes operate from the local airport.

The seven trends and case studies above are just selections of the great work that is defining airport marketing today. Rather than casting a wide net, airports should focus their resources on one or two trendsthat have particular significance to their currentmarketing objectives.

Losing the gap with airline marketing

Airport marketing is beginning to shed its traditional conservativeness and is catching up with its more evolved counterpart: airline marketing. That said, our internal research studies, Social Media Outlook 2013 for airlines and for airports, still show that a significant gap remains.

The most glaring discrepancy is in the ‘effort’ being put into social media management and campaigns. Whereas over 55% of airports invest fewer than 100 man-hours per month on social media, over 75% of airlines invest more than 90 man-hours per month on social media. While about 40% of airports plan to increase their social media budgets, over 70% of airlines plan to increase their social media budget in 2013.

However, the commonalities are the most instructive: first, both airlines and airports, have found that cross-functional teams across departments work best for social media. Second, the biggest challenge social media teams are facing across both airlines and airports is the insufficient allocation of resources.

If airport marketing is to take-off, the latter must change. Rather than sidelining social media, airports should be looking at how social media can be integrated into their entire communications and marketing plans in order to shore them up.

How can airports create a futuristictravel experience?

Ultimately, airports need to ask: can they inspiretravellers to travel through their airport? Can theybecome traveller-friendly spaces by creating memorable travel experiences? From the evidence, a number ofairports already are. But a true evolution will beginwhen most airports buy into this vision of the futureof travel.

The learning curve to successful airport marketing does not end here.

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