David McMullen, vice president of airports at SimpliFlying talks to Gatwick Airport’s Jeremy Fletcher about the implications of Gatwick rebranding itself as ‘London’s airport of choice’, the process behind it and how integrated communication efforts are used in pursuit of these goals.
A reality check on branding
McMullen: We are witnessing many established airport brands repositioning to better meet customer needs. Why did Gatwick feel the need for change?
Fletcher: The sale of Gatwick meant we needed to distance ourselves from our BAA heritage. We wanted to set ourselves apart and make it clear we had become a competitor. Gatwick, through research, exemplified a personable, friendly and professional approach, and these were excellent core values to build upon.
McMullen:Indeed, it is important to find out what the current brand perception is before further action. Tell me, what is the new brand direction at Gatwick now?
Fletcher: Our new identity was crafted to emphasise ‘your London Airport’. Be it passengers, employees, airlines, retailers or partners, we all have a responsibility of ownership around the brand. Clearly the identity is a small part of our brand and how it is portrayed, we cover the key elements of physical, digital and emotional touch points.
The relationship between airport brands and their customers
McMullen: Speaking of touch points, new media channels and social networks have loosened control over brand messages. We always advise our clients to put in place measures to stay connected to the consumers and ensure the consumer can have an active role to play as well.
Fletcher: We see it as more of an open network of opportunity. We have embraced a large number of the social platforms because they allow us to have open dialogue. This has almost become expected these days and it is important to reach our diverse audience groups with diverse messages.
McMullen: Of course, the relationships between brands and their customers have now become more open-ended as online discussions extend the brand experience before and long after the ‘travel phase’ of the traveller’s lifecycle. Social media is especially valuable in capturing customer insights relating to brand position.
Fletcher: Time-sensitive information is critical in allowing passengers to feel informed and in control. We use Twitter and our website for key updates. Feedback from these channels is directed to our core operational teams through daily performance meetings. In addition, having established a passenger experience group made up of teams across the organisation, we can ensure that we are focusing on issues that matter to passengers.
McMullen: In the case of Gatwick, how do you see social media helping the airport to gain competitive advantage over neighbouring airports – or even competing European or global airports?
Fletcher: We strengthen our competitive position by sharing the good things that we are doing, and building a network of ambassadors who will share these positive stories for us. As our network of routes expand, we need to find new opportunities for communicating to a wider audience.
I have a question for you now. As the UK market has changed significantly in the last four years, do you think that UK airports have become more competitive with each other?
McMullen: Effective marketing is critical to creating a successful airport. Increasingly over the last 12 months, customer intimacy and loyalty are common topics when we speak with airport CEOs.
Airports need to establish a market position based on understanding the market and competition, whilst appreciating the dynamics of the airline industry. They can actively define this or passively permit the market to create the position.
Competing airports also define your position in the market – particularly with a strong network of brand ambassadors on social media. Airports like Gatwick have recognised that the perceptions of both can be shaped by your own marketing strategies.
If we look at the London region as an example, Gatwick has six rival airports and even competes with the Eurostar on European routes, not forgetting the fierce competition from other UK runways like BHX & MAN. Social positioning will become key to an airport’s success.
Through our ongoing research we’re already witnessing that 52% of global airports are focusing on air service development/passenger development in their social media campaigns.
Knowing what matters in airport marketing
McMullen: When creating or re-energising a brand, it is vital that airports understand where they are – relative to other airports and/or other industries – to measure the impact of their efforts. How successful has Gatwick’s social media strategy been in becoming ‘London’s airport of choice’?
Fletcher: We regularly review our success criteria. We want to be sure we’re getting it right. Our award cabinet for social media is expanding, such as the ‘airport of the year award received at the National Transport Awards, Transport Times. It is about telling people what we are doing and making sure that service is consistent and passenger-focused. We also use external sources like YouGov for brand research and passenger research and feedback.
McMullen: How does Gatwick measure the impact from their branding and customer service initiatives such as the live Twitter chats?
Fletcher: Seeing the involvement and responses to Twitter, alongside our ever-increasing social media followers, allows us to identify where we are making an impact. It is vital that we are constantly engaging and evolving to ensure we stay ahead of the game.
Success comes with dedication
McMullen: Training is often overlooked by many organisations, especially in social media. In our recent survey with 46 global airports, although the majority invest in at least one day of social media training, it is clearly not enough if they want to achieve business
Fletcher: At Gatwick, all teams involved in the use of social media are trained on various platforms to handle both daily conversations and in times of crisis. Images are increasingly important in telling and sharing stories. We recently worked with @Oggsie to train a team of staff Instagrammers on ‘social photography’, editing and hashtag usage.
McMullen: It is very encouraging to see how Gatwick uses ‘social photography’ to drive the footfall of travel retail and energise sales even further. We see revenues becoming an important business goal to be driven on social media for airports very soon.
Fletcher: How does SimpliFlying see its involvement in the industry in terms of influencing best practice and evolution?
McMullen: It begins with spearing the awareness about how consumers have evolved to become connected travellers today. At SimpliFlying, we developed a lifecycle that identifies key stages and objectives of the connected travellers. This helps airports and airlines understand where the windows of opportunities lie, be it for brand awareness or selling. Compared to airlines, airports are just starting to catch up to
Fortunately, there are a handful of airports such as Gatwick that have showcased innovative marketing. As we work alongside some of these leading airports to inject fresh perspectives, we seek to extend our knowledge and expertise to more in the aviation industry to help them think differently in this age of connected travellers.