Quick trivia question: what international airport has won the most prizes at ACI North America’s annual marketing awards for the last three years?
To give you some help, the same gateway also won the best marketing award for the Americas, North America, and Best in Show, at the Routes World Awards.
If you guessed the Edmonton International Airport, you’d be right. Out of nowhere, this 6mppa airport, now undergoing a C$1 billion expansion, has gone on to become the airport to win the most awards from two of the industry’s most prestigious awarding bodies.
All of this at the same time as they created unprecedented brand loyalty, reduced drive leakage to a competing airport, and grew airport improvement fee and non-aeronautical revenues.
You might be asking, “How did they do it?” Well, in 2006, the airport invested in the idea that a commitment to branding and marketing built around ‘the customer matters’.
It was a fundamental shift in thinking to look past the expedience of the next quick promotion and concentrate instead on how branding and marketing over the long-term could change the way we act, speak, and think about travel.
In an era of consolidation and increased competition, airports are looking for new and better ways to attract and keep customers, and often the expedient solution wins under pressure.
In the case of Edmonton International Airport (EIA), this is where collaboration with Canadian brand and advertising firm DONOVAN Creative came into play, resulting in a relationship that netted it a display case full of awards and juicy new revenues.
DONOVAN president and chief creative officer, Michael Donovan, believes that not all brands or marketing campaigns are created equal. He was there as an architect of the brand in 2006 through to their latest awareness, drive leakage, and loyalty programme called ‘Stop the Calgary Habit.’
He appreciates the amount of care and dedication that goes into a world-class rebranding or marketing campaign – and also the rewards that can come from work done well.
“EIA has set records with their branding and marketing work since we first launched the brand in 2007,” said Donovan. “This was something that, in their history, they had never been able to do. They weren’t able to break through the glass ceiling.
"We approached things differently from the start and asked ourselves some simple but important questions, like ‘if we are all passengers, what do we want to see from our airport?
“How do we want our airport to treat us and talk to us? What do we want to see our airport fight for? All of these questions were important ones since they helped our team find the right identity for EIA, and then later create the kind of marketing campaigns that engaged people. The results speak for themselves.”
In the latest advertising campaign meant to help reduce drive leakage, DONOVAN was tasked with reducing leakage to Calgary International Airport by 1%. Why? Every year 750,000 passengers choose to leave the Edmonton market for often cheaper or more convenient flights out of Calgary, even though it is a three-hour drive to the south.
Without a clear competitive advantage to base a marketing campaign on, its task was to find a reason for people to care about staying loyal to Edmonton. The big solution came out of focus testing.
“We discovered that many people travelled to Calgary simply out of habit,” says DONOVAN Creative director, Fiona Farrell. “It was unconscious for many, they weren’t even thinking about the advantages or disadvantages. They just did it because they had always done it.
“So we created a campaign that broke through this habitual sleepwalking and made people wake up and take notice. We wanted Edmontonians to pick a side and be loyal to their home airport. To do this we needed to create some controversy, some rivalry, some pride, since we didn’t really have any clear competitive advantages.
“We wanted to impress upon people that they could be part of the solution to attract new non-stop flights if they only flew from Edmonton on a regular basis.”
The ‘Stop the Calgary Habit’ campaign featured former Calgary addicts or habitual users either admitting their problem or being part of interventions meant to cure them.
People who had already managed to quit their Calgary addiction were there to help current addicts break the vicious cycle. Available online were virtual Quit Kits, full of habit-stopping cures and incentives to help users quit. Mock testimonials from former Calgary addicts where on the website as inspiration for others.
The story was told on television, radio, out of home advertising, and interactive that ‘When you go south [to Calgary], so does your air service. Fly from EIA every time. Get the tools to quit now.’
It was a loyalty programme like no other, one that engaged the imagination of an entire country and helped create historic loyalty for EIA.
The results of the campaign were astounding. The 1% leakage reduction goal was shattered in the first two months of the campaign. The programme doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled reduction goals.
Drive leakage was reduced by up to 4%. Newspapers across Canada ran the story, USA Today picked up one of the Quit Kit tools (an ‘Emergency Hypno Cure’ meant for use on your iPhone or laptop when your Calgary addiction was most acute), and blogs and forums raged with discussion for weeks and weeks.
In the end, an estimated 29,000 people stopped driving to Calgary to fly. And EIA had, in the words of vice president of marketing Peter McCart, their “most successful campaign to date”.
The campaign also helped EIA secure 21% more non-stop flights and added several hundreds of thousands of new dollars to their gross revenues from airport improvement fees alone.
The lesson? Create passenger-centric brands and marketing that engages and motivates your customers, and new awareness, awards, and revenues can be yours.