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I wrote a piece for the latest Airport Magazine on how Harrisburg International and Dallas-Fort Worth International are using technology to connect  engage with passengers. Check it out, and tour the new online version of  the mag while you’re at it!

Airport Magazine article on Harrisburg International Airport eReader, DFW Airport Check-in mobile coupons

Two new reports–one from SITA and one from Pew Internet–really hammer home how important mobile is becoming in any marketing, communications, and even sales strategy.

Airports may have questions over how to proceed–Mobile sites? Apps? Lots of social interaction via smartphone apps? — but the question of whether to proceed seems to have been answered.

More on the reports at my blog post over at AAAE.

By the way, mobile strategies for airports is on the agenda for the 2012 Airport Social Media Summit. (I know, I know, there’s no agenda posted as I write this, but trust me, mobile will be on there. And the meeting is going to rock. Feel free to tweet that, using hashtag #DCSoMe.)

Think your marketing communications plan is all about what you have to say?

Think again.

Here’s a great example of how a partner can help boost your marketing efforts. In this case, ThermoEnergy Corp., a vendor that plays a role in removing spent deicing fluid from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, produced a video spotlighting its work, and putting CLE center stage. CLE pushed it through its Facebook feed and tweet tweet tweeted about it, too.

Easy content. Good content.

While you’re brushing up on your propylene glycol management knowledge, take a moment to think about the service providers you work with–could any of them tell a mutually beneficial story about your airport?

So, it’s be a while since I filled this space with airport marketing goodness. I’d love to say it’s because I didn’t have any awesome content to provide, but that’d be a stretch–since my airport marketing peeps provide a regular stream of pretty awesome stuff  on a pretty regular basis.

I’ll go with life happened. (Again, thanks, Scott.)

Let’s bookend my hiatus with some more coolness from my friends at Akron-Canton Airport (CAK). Quick back story: Team CAK has long given out luggage tags to folks that check in, social media-style, at the airport. Easy way to engage fans and give them a little something for next to nothing. Brilliant. That the little something also promotes the airport is even more brilliant.

So, when the time came to update the luggage tag design, it would have been easy to just throw the new ones in the bin at the welcome desk and perhaps post a quick smartphone shot on Facebook.

But that’s just not how CAK does things.

This is how CAK does things:

Campy? Yep.

Cheesy? Yep.

Engaging? Yep.

Successful? Methinks yep.

So, what simple events do you have coming up that you could leverage for a similar effect?

This week’s visit to the Akron area for the Airport Social Media Summit (#CAKSoMe) gave me an opportunity to connect with dozens of airport marketing and communications pros from across the country (and north of the border, as well). Since it was my first visit to Akron-Canton Airport (CAK), it also presented me with a chance to see how well CAK’s stellar branding compares with the actual travel experience.

Anyone in the airport world who pays any attention to social media knows all about CAK. From its engaging presence on Facebook and Twitter to marketing pieces wrapped inside mini movies, the airport’s digital footprint is in lockstep with its oft-articulated brand description: namely, CAK is a different experience than most airports, which (along with reasonable fares) makes putting the airport on your itinerary “a better way to go.”

So, is it as engaging in person as it is virtually? Indeed, says I.

There wasn’t any single factor that made the airport’s brand pop out at me during my time there. Rather, a handful of seemingly small things combined to present what I consider a positive representation of the CAK brand.

For instance, the airport has a dedicated play area for small children. Nothing spectacular, but enough room for a half-dozen or so toddlers to blow off a little steam in a closed-in area without troubling other passengers. If you’ve every traveled with wee ones (or been among them as they used a gate area as their own personal Romper Room set), no explanation of value is needed.

Another notable amenity: a dedicated breast-feeding area. Anybody who thinks this ins’t a huge plus from a reputation standpoint doesn’t understand how influential a network of moms can be. There’s a reason big brands target so-called “mommy bloggers” to help push product. Traveling is hassle enough–throw in the need to keep a breast-feeding baby on schedule and it’s easy to see why little gesture like this can yield big returns in the goodwill department. (Note to airports that have a multi-purpose area, like an office or a break room, set aside for breast-feeding moms who request some private space: that’s not exactly enchanting. It’s sort of like asking for a bathroom and being gleefully ushered into a space with a well-constructed, centrally located floor drain.)

CAK also executes a seemingly obvious task–making sure its brand position is visible where its customers can see it. Adding a tagline to simple things like information and wayfinding signs is a simple yet effective way to do this.

I bagged a fairly cheap fare on a nonstop flight between CAK and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. I was truly impressed with the experience inside CAK. Most of all, though, it was cool to experience the CAK brand firsthand and confirm that all of the brand noise CAK makes doesn’t contain the first bit of hype.

The social media world (and, lo, the aviation social media space specifically) has more than a few pretenders–people and brands with big follower counts but precious little to offer when it comes to actually delivering anything valuable. CAK delivers quite a bit. If anything, CAK’s “A better way to go” branding may sell the airport a little short.

Looking for an intriguing social media experiment to watch in the coming months? Keep an eye on this effort being launched by Estonian Air.

In a nutshell, the tiny carrier (its site lists a six-aircraft fleet and less than two dozen schedule service destinations) is launching a “social loyalty” program that rewards its Facebook friends and Twitter followers for doing lots of things besides actually buying tickets and using the airline.

Airline reward programs that go beyond an airline’s services are hardly new–how many of us have airline-branded credit cards that reward miles? What’s different about Estonian Air is that it promises to reward advocacy.

As anyone who has studied social media marketing even a bit can tell you, its real power over traditional and other digital strategies is the organic sharing that goes on within communities. Put simply, nothing sells you like the recommendation of someone you trust. Some even consider the phenomenon, dubbed engagement, as one of the four pillars of the new-generation marketing mix.

Here’s the rub, though: engagement works in part because it is organic. Quoting Ogilvy:

The key ingredients are emotion and passion. As a marketing leader of the future, you must know how to find the energy and passion in what you are selling.

Typically, that means getting your customers so stoked that they rave about their dealings with you and your product–to their friends, on their walls, on your wall, anywhere they feel like. And if your friends with someone like that, you may feel inclined to check out what all the fuss is about.

Now, suppose for a second that your friend was being rewarded for his evangelism. Would that change the way you viewed his views? More importantly, if the evangelism is based on the evangelist’s potential gain, rather than an actual positive experience, does it really qualify as evangelism at all? Or is it just a new twist on old-fashioned outbound, push advertising?

There’s lots to like about Estonian’s effort. For one, just the fact that the carrier is doing it will generate some positive attention in places that have otherwise ignored the carrier. (Like on this here blog, for instance.) There’s also more to the program than pushing the carrier’s latest deals.

But the program’s core seems to depend on evangelists connecting with their spheres of influence in very calculated, premeditated ways.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the factors that make up a stellar, evangelism-driven social media marketing program, “calculated” and “premeditated” aren’t high on the list.

@CVGAirport Gets It

One of the coolest things about marketing–in the airport world and beyond–is that there’s always something new to check out and take in. This week, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (CVG) International Airport took center stage with a new branding campaign built around the tag line, “Get here. Get there. Get home. Business Flies Through CVG.” (And what a collaboration it was: CVG credited “Airport Board Members and Staff; Peter Carter, Harley Procter Marketing Director on loan to CVG from The Procter & Gamble Co.; and Strata-G, a Cincinnati-based advertising agency” for coming together and developing the pitch.)

The airport then used the new branding campaign to ramp up its engagement with the public. It held a trivia contest on Twitter, dangling free parking as the prize.

It’s no secret that CVG has been hit hard by shifting industry (and, indeed, global economic) dynamics. One thing these changes have helped underscore for airports: relying solely on your airlines to tout your benefits isn’t a sound marketing strategy. Forward-thinking airports reach beyond the carriers that serve them and engage the customers they serve.

CVG will have a big presence at the Airport Social Media Summit (that’s #CAKSoMe on the Twitter), which starts tomorrow. (I probably should be packing, not blogging….) I look forward to touching base with the CVG team members coming to Akron and finding out more about the campaign and how the locals are receiving it.

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