How big data and personalisation is revolutionising marketing in the airline industry

How big data and personalisation is revolutionising marketing in the airline industry
Ranji Safarian is a strategy consultant for SmartFocus. SmartFocus is an innovator in messaging and communications, enabling the world’s largest brands – including Nestlé, Mercedes-Benz and House of Fraser – to understand and connect more closely with today’s connected consumers; whether that be via web, mobile, email or social channels. Through The Message Cloud solution, SmartFocus genuinely listens to and learns from customers using patented algorithms and unique location-based marketing tools. Using The Message Cloud, SmartFocus customers have the rich data, intelligence and the tools for contextually unique engagements, through any digital channel.


Marketers often do not see the value of personalisation. This is probably because this (fairly new) concept has never really been defined. Personalisation is not easy to explain because it’s such a broad concept and cannot be confined into one single definition. So let’s try a different approach.

If you think of personalisation as a stand-alone recommendation, it’s not that powerful. If you think of personalisation as a website visit populated based on your customer’s behaviour, it gets a little bit better. If you think of personalisation as recommendations placed on every page of your website, in your emails, app push-messages and on your social media pages, suggesting products/services completely relevant to your customer’s context (location, preferences and behaviour), that’s when it gets more interesting.  

If you think of personalisation as a way to make each customer feel recognised, welcomed and treated as individuals by being presented the right content, at the right time, at each step of the customer journey and through every marketing channel, you get what could be the new best element of your marketing strategy this year.

Personalisation is the sweet spot between big data and creativity. How can we use big data in marketing in order to improve customer experience? That is today’s big question. Big data is used in every industry, but marketers get to have the most fun with it.

Let’s discuss the case of the airline industry and how personalisation and big data have the potential to change the way we travel. Early adoption of this can be seen in a report from The Economist on ‘The Future of Air Travel’, which shows the airline industry is shifting from the continuous process of cutting costs, to focusing on improving the customer experience and brand loyalty.

Why? Simply because they realised cost cutting was not a sustainable profit margin, but their customer loyalty was. No brainer. How are they going to achieve this? To use the words of The Economist; “By adapting customer information management strategies […], airlines can empower passengers by personalising air travel, making it pleasurable once again”. Rings a bell?

It seems airlines have understood the importance of personalisation at every step of the customer journey, and are planning to use customer data to personalise the experience from the very first interaction.  They want to be in control of the whole journey; from bookings, airport experience, flight experience and beyond, offering a consistent and relevant experience at every step.

By collecting, analysing and pulling data quickly into reports (enabled by powerful data insight technology), airlines and airports can first of all improve their operating efficiency but also personalise their services, which eventually leads to increased customer loyalty. The best part is that nowadays, all of this can be automated. True story.

Let’s look at a few ways they are planning to do this.

Don’t you just hate it when you get to the airport excited about your trip, but the feeling quickly turns into deep frustration from waiting in endless queues and eating disgusting food at exorbitant prices? You’re not alone. That’s where the power of marketing and data really comes into place. With data and new technologies, airports can investigate in-terminal traffic management and then develop strategies to help diminish queues and keep passenger satisfaction high. For some airports, like Gatwick, queues literally have been designed out. Take that Heathrow.

Helsinki airport introduced passenger flow management technology, which will allow them to push personalised, time-sensitive messages to passengers based on their location. Not just annoying promotional offers, but actual valuable information to make their experience enjoyable; such as transfer directions, gate information, changed departure time, and so on.  

Another way the airline industry can use big data to improve experience is through the booking system. Stop and think for a minute about all the data those companies possess about their customers; destination, activities, travel frequency, how much money they spent, who they travel with, which hotels they go to, what car they hire, etc. Yes, the list is long. Now, as a marketer, think of all the different segments of customers available: business travellers, luxury travellers, low cost travellers, backpackers, family ‘Volvo SUV drivers’, museum enthusiasts, vegetarians, etc. Again, the list is very long.

This gives the opportunity to personalise everything. Although at first glance, personalisation of this nature may be perceived as creepy because of the ‘big brother’ aspect behind it, studies show customers do value the results – a booking system and a travel experience that is contextualised and personalised. A customer is more likely to book with the same company if it takes into consideration their context and personal behaviour.

A backpacker won’t enjoy receiving an email about renting a Porsche Cayenne, for example. Or a business traveller won’t enjoy being offered recommendations for a hotel in the Maldives when he is about to book a flight for a business trip in Birmingham. With all the information airline companies possess, they have the opportunity to avoid these unfortunate events, and ultimately improve customer experience and revenue per passenger because it really does make a difference.

Yes, you should be very excited because the future of air travel is changing thanks to big data and personalisation. Currently, this technology is underestimated or misunderstood by most, so now is your chance to be way ahead of the game by embracing it.

Personalisation has the power to turn your customers from couldn’t care-less, to amazed. An amazed customer is a customer that will be back. And isn’t that just the whole point?

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