Air Transport World

Imaging's new demands: just getting out the message is good enough in the world of airline image marketing.(includes related article on first-class service at British Airways and Air France)

Just getting out the message no longer is good enough in the world of airline image marketing

There was a time when the concept behind creating an image primarily was to get the airline's mesage across to the traveling public. And normally, after all the complexities of presenting the airline as a major global carrier or the home-town carrier, or the right carrier for the right price were worked out, that message was fairly simple: "Fly us. We're really good.

The logo on the aircraft, the colors inside and out, the flight attendants' uniforms were designed to make the passenger feel good about flying that airline.

Now, it's getting more involved. Passengers are more sophisticated in their expectations, whether for good service, low fares or a combination thereof. They expect more than just a good, warm and fuzzy feeling--whether it's from champagne and caviar, or dirt-cheap fares.

The success of an airline's image marketing campaign can be summarized in a single, fairly simple sentence: What the airline tells the passenger to expect vs. what the passenger actually gets.

Southwest Airlines' image is of a nonservice, 1-class operation but with a good attitude, low fares and on-time performance -- exactly what it provides. It is highly successful. British Airways has the image of an ultrahigh service carrier with a higher, albeit competitive, fare structure--exactly what it provides. British Airways also is highly successful.....

"The trap [in creating an image] is not changing the substance," said Claude Salzberger, executive VP for Diefenbach Elkins, a brand-identity-design firm.

"Continental's Business First is a good example of a successfully changed image and changed service. [It] boils down to focusing on the good attributes. In many cases, an airline would like to be what it just can't be. It needs to look at what is reasonable. It must know how to measure its attributes and they must be distinctive, sustainable and credible."

A change in image is more than just a new logo. It consists of branding the entire experience, from the moment the passenger buys the ticket until he or she leaves the destination terminal. In classic marketing communication, the key words are "sender, receiver, media and message. …

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