Airline brands are fighting a pitch battle on print and social media to lure more and more customers. And bearing the brunt is Indian Railways, which has to pull up its socks right away
Delhi | October 26, 2016
There is a very big battle that the e-com companies are waging. They are trying their best to make you and me open our wallets and spend more. There is an equally big battle that is on right now, the battle of airline seats. Unlike the e-com wars, the airline battle is fought just in press and also on social media.
Airlines are in customer acquisition mode
Airlines have been an elitist category for long in India, but this seems to be changing rapidly. Airlines have collectively worked hard at expanding the market and get more travellers to try out air travel. The expansion of air travel has had an impact on railways. The premium end of rail travel is now struggling with passengers preferring to fly rather than catch a train. The lesser time, plus the status of being in an aircraft, has changed attitudes in India. This change of travel preference is the reason behind the big marketing push of airlines as a category. Like the e-com category, sales, offers and freebies are a big part of marketing campaigns. Seats are perishable and they need to be filled. If ever there was glamour in flying, it has been slowly eroded and made functional.
The glamour of flying comes with freebies
SpiceJet and Air Asia are running large campaigns, luring the flyers with gifts and gold and discounts. Both brands have borrowed heavily from the durables category where gifts were the bigger reason to buy a durable. The airline brands are recognising that the experiences of flying or the values associated with flying are changing and the last-minute flyer needs to be persuaded to switch. The airline brands do find it difficult to build loyalty and maybe that is why there are offers that make the last-minute flyer switch. At some level, both Air Asia and SpiceJet are trying to carve a space for themselves away from the leading brands in the industry. This battle is fought with far greater intensity on social media. This is a clear indicator that social media now plays a vital role in last-minute choices.
The battle of on-time performance
Indigo built itself on the singular parameter of on-time performance. This is now being challenged by SpiceJet, quoting DGCA data for September 2016. Vistara made the clever repartee to this claim on their social feed. Now there are three brands that want to own the on-time performance. What should be the bare minimum offer from airlines has now become the reason to differentiate the brands. Consumers do tend to reward efficiency, but over a longer time period, mere efficiency will make the brands boring.
The Air India-Indigo fight is pointer to things to come
Air India has a newfound aggression in the market and they are aggressively wooing the flyers with the offer of better seat pitch, hot meals and extra baggage allowance to target those who prefer to fly low-cost airlines. They took the war to Indigo at Mumbai airport and Indigo reacted with posters claiming Air India has poor customer service and Indigo has better on-time performance. This battle of acquiring customers has just started for airline brands.
This war is currently being fought in print in social and not so much on TV, maybe therein lies some lessons for brands. They can build pressure of branding using print.
Railways is bearing the brunt of this war, maybe its time for them to do something more than Palace on Wheels and wedding packages on POW.
(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle. The views expressed are personal.)