These days, airlines are making headlines that are almost as frequent and emotionally charged as political news. With fierce competition for passengers, airlines are in a constant quest to identify their most valuable target consumers in order to more effectively leverage their marketing dollars. Attributes like customer satisfaction, loyalty, level of service and frequency are key to airlines (and in fact most companies), and when matched with household composition are a way of ascertaining campaign impact. But the secret sauce that can make or break a campaign is to target that consumer who is more likely to engage with the marketing message, activate based on that audience and validate the results.
The Importance of Emotional Attachment for Airlines
Airline marketers are discovering that one of the pivotal attributes to a brand's success is in its level of emotional attachment with the consumer. Gary Reisman, Founder and CEO of LEAP Media Investments and an expert in ascertaining the level of emotional attachment that consumers have with a brand, would remind airlines that “emotional attachment to a brand is actually at the top of the consideration pyramid and drives other favorable behaviors that marketers seek in their advertising’s performance and effectiveness. Emotionally attached consumers form the most highly profitable ‘advertising-rich’ sector of a customer base.”
Reisman, whose company has identified three core groups of consumers which marketers should be aware of, suggests airlines apply the following to those groups:
1. Enthusiasts, who have the greatest emotional attachment and are the ones who will choose that airline above all others for travel regardless of price, should be targeted to generate low hanging fruit sales and advocacy.
2. Conquests, who are the more moderately attached, should be used to increase share among competitors. These consumers can be attracted to a specific airline brand, showing a preference, but are also willing to fly on other operators.
3. Expansions, who are more engaged with competitive airlines but may be compelled to switch based on personal motivating factors. They should be used to expand the brand footprint against audiences that are less attached.
“What is so exciting today is that we are now able to build audiences that are specifically targeted to highly engage with particular airline brands, and we are able to build audiences that are considered ‘high-potential’ as well,” Reisman notes.
LEAP does this by using a patented process that builds scaled audiences that are targetable in advanced TV, digital, social and mobile platforms based on the level of emotional attachment they have to over 400 consumer brands across over 25 categories. “While capturing the data that builds LEAP’s scaled audiences for targeting, it made perfect sense for us to also develop a Brand Intelligence Database,” says Reisman. The LEAP Brand Intelligence Database provides marketers with profiles of their brand enthusiasts, conquests and expansion audiences and their competitive strength versus other brands in their category.
Which Airline Reigns Supreme?
Based on LEAP’s audience development, Southwest Airlines ranks No. 1 among adults 18-64 in the U.S. That means that consumers are highly attached and more likely to choose Southwest Airlines out of all seven possible airlines that LEAP measures. LEAP found that Southwest Airlines has the highest level of enthusiasts (about one third of the consumer market are highly attached to Southwest), far more than their nearest competitors Delta (No. 2) and American Airlines ( No. 3).
This bodes well for Southwest as a significant portion of the market (over 60%) has some level of positive brand attachment to the airline -- being either Southwest Enthusiasts or Southwest Conquest audiences. According to Reisman, these audiences are likely to be up to 50% more responsive to advertising for the brand.
Any brand can leverage consumers emotionally attached to their brand, or shore up consumers waning in their brand attachment, Reisman says. “We work with marketers to incorporate LEAP audience data directly into their DMPs to inform strategic planning and/or target these highly responsive audiences via our DSP relationships.”
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