Successful Airline Marketing

Airlines · 6 min read · Jan 24, 2022
airline marketing

We live in a very competitive world now, and when it comes to the aviation industry, the level of competitiveness is amazing. Moreover, with new challenges that airlines are facing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the world striving for net-zero emissions, getting new travelers and retaining them has become more challenging than ever.

This brings up questions on how airline marketing can achieve those objectives and what are the marketing strategies that the airline industry can use to overcome the challenges they face when trying to create more business opportunities.

This guide will provide the answers to those questions, so we invite you to keep reading as we disclose all the details.

Travelers with luggage walking down a windowed airport terminal with a view of airplanes in the evening.

The airline industry

The airline industry is a very particular one in the way of doing business and what the airlines sell. While we could talk about airlines as product sellers because travelers buy flight tickets, what they actually sell is an experience and the services that make the experience pleasant.

Let us illustrate this a little more. The experience the airlines sell is the entire process travelers go through, from the moment they start searching for a ticket to the moment they leave the destination airport with their luggage, and sometimes even beyond. And why do we say this? Because the services that are involved in the process include but are not limited to:

  • Websites of airlines and user-friendly search engines for flight booking;
  • Booking alternative offers depending on luggage, special seating, and others;
  • Easy check-in alternatives;
  • VIP lounges and special waiting areas at the airport;
  • In-flight services such as food, entertainment, and others;
  • Luggage handling;
  • Post-flight customer service.

This is just a shortlist, as these services will vary from one airline to the other, depending on the airline marketing strategies they set.

Another important aspect of the airline industry is the fact that airlines are not the only players. There are distributors such as wholesalers and online travel agencies (OTAs), and the customers themselves, who are usually divided into two segments: leisure travelers and business travelers.

To succeed in their marketing efforts, airlines need to include all the players within their marketing tactics and to take a step further when it comes to segmentation, creating other segments such as:

  • Retired travelers. Customers who often travel for leisure.
  • Budget travelers. Customers who focus more on the lower price of the ticket.
  • Loyal travelers. Customers who always travel with the same airline, and who get benefits from it. Here, loyalty programs are a great strategy. More on this is down below.
  • Emergency travelers. Customers who travel due to an emergency. They usually do not travel frequently.

Now, let’s take a look at some features of airline marketing.

What are the features of airline marketing?

A series of features make marketing challenging yet interesting for airlines. Here are the most relevant ones.

Perishable product

The actual product is the flight ticket, and the tickets sold by an airline company represent the seating inside the airplane. All the seating space that is not sold is considered a waste of that particular flight.

High level of segmentation

As we described before, some airlines have decided to segment their market deeply to be more successful. This way, it is easier for them to provide tailor-made offers to specific travelers.

Highly dynamic business

Tickets are sold on a per-demand basis, so airlines need to deal with dynamic ticket pricing in order to maximize their profits. Moreover, they have to constantly adapt their service offer to the current needs to guarantee a satisfactory experience to the traveler, as it has happened during pandemic times.

Dependable business

Many external factors affect the business of an airline. An airline company will usually tailor its marketing and decisions depending on political, economic, social, technological, and any other factors that may have an effect on its business.

Why is marketing important for airlines?

Marketing is very important for airlines because it is the only way they can connect with potential customers and transform their current customers into loyal travelers.

Also, marketing teams can leverage the factors described above to find opportunities to help the airline company to differentiate from the competition through innovative marketing techniques and impactful campaigns to bring in more customers.

What do airline sales and marketing do?

The duties of an airline’s sales and marketing team may vary from one organization to the other. However, the final goal is usually the same, this being using all the data they can collect to better understand the market trends and their customers to create successful marketing strategies and increase sales.

Knowing this now, let us share some of the most successful and innovative marketing strategies found across the air travel industry.

Sales and marketing data collection tool displayed on a screen of a laptop placed on a desk.

The most successful and innovative marketing strategies

There are plenty of options when it comes to describing successful and innovative strategies in airline marketing, so we have done our best to select what we consider to be the most relevant ones.

Loyalty programs

Loyalty programs are probably the most well-known strategies in airline marketing. They consist of providing different types of rewards to leverage customer loyalty to encourage current customers to always travel with the same airline and to build trust through word of mouth. New customers will likely come because of a recommendation made by a person they trust than by watching a TV ad.

Smooth booking experience via metasearch engines partnership

Here, the distributors we mentioned above get in the picture. Partnering with OTAs and wholesalers is a very important aspect for airlines to provide the smoothest booking experience to their customers. These partners usually have a metasearch engine in place to allow travelers to search flights among thousands of airlines and compare prices, so if the airline wants to be competitive, it needs to appear in those searches.

What’s more, thanks to the development of new APIs, metasearch engines not only allow you to find the best flight for you and redirect you to the airline’s website, but you can now book directly through them.

However, airlines need to work hard to negotiate a partnership that allows them to still be profitable since their partners will be getting commissions for each flight that is booked in their metasearch engine.

Yet, this is a great way to increase the visibility of the airline’s offers without an actual marketing campaign that may require more time, resources, and effort.

Impactful campaigns

For a marketing campaign to be impactful, it also needs to be innovative to find a way to leave a mark on the target audience.

To better understand this, let’s take one of American Airlines’ campaigns where they send free food samples to people living near New York. By doing so, American Airlines builds respect and trust as they are committed to an important cause that helps a significant part of society.

As a result, more people will be willing to buy their air tickets as they feel they are collaborating with a noble cause.

Another strong example with the USA Veterans day:

Social media presence

There is a lot that airlines can do to leverage the power of social media nowadays. Since most of their customers will at least have one social network account, presence there plays a huge role in airline marketing strategies. And there is a lot of room to innovate.

For example, Singapore Airlines took advantage of user-generated content by partnering with Australian media agency MEC in a campaign they called “The Storytellers”. This strategy helped them to increase interaction with their brand and they were able to promote specific air travel destinations alongside their tickets.

Another good example is how American Airlines used real-time tracking of social mentions to keep interaction with loyal customers.

A perhaps bolder strategy was the one used by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, an airline that allowed connecting its passengers via Facebook or LinkedIn in a project called Meet & Seat. It was intended to let business travelers meet potential seating neighbors before getting on board so they could establish a previous rapport.

Of course, we could not leave low-cost airlines out of this guide, as they have mastered marketing techniques for the current market. A good example is Ryanair, an airline that provides useful content in its blog and social networks to help budget travelers find the best destinations among the routes they offer, sometimes even claiming that you can travel even if you are broke. How bold is that?

A view of a smartphone screen displaying various social media apps: Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp, TikTok and Twitter.

Final words about airline marketing

Of course, there are many other examples of great marketing tactics out there. Take British Airways powerful video commercials with top-rated British actors that put them as a true British symbol in the eyes of the world. Or the many airlines that have partnered with American Express to leverage its loyalty program, including top names like Qatar Airways, Alitalia, Delta Airlines, and Iberia.

In general, there are many other airlines doing innovative things to get more sales. Air France gamifying passenger experience, or Icelandair the airline promoting tourism to their country during a stopover in their routes between Europe and North America.

If you are creating a marketing strategy, you definitely should take a look at all the ideas provided by airline marketing.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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