With all the noise out there, it’s not unreasonable to expect an airline to flounder in its attempts to differentiate itself from its competitors. Perhaps it might resort to retreating into the industry, establishing itself as a mode of transportation – no more, no less.
Speaking to a packed room, Devin Liddell, the principal brand strategist at Teague, pointed out some irrefutable truths, like the fact that, when stacked against each other in terms of size, the top airlines have almost twice as many brand partnerships as the bottom ones. That’s twice as many opportunities to remind passengers of their desirability and twice as many opportunities to establish themselves as a lifestyle brand.
Automobile brands have caught on to this cycle already, with makes like Ferrari and Fiat teaming up with fashion houses like Puma and Gucci respectively. It’s an obvious win-win for everyone. In the case of Ferrari and Puma, Puma gets to adopt some of Ferrari’s exclusive glow and Ferrari gets to reach out to a consumer base that perhaps can not afford one of the 7000 or so Ferraris produced each year. Similarly, SBB trains have installed Starbucks cafés on board, incorporating not just the coffee but also the café experience.
The importance, according to Liddell, lies in co-branding that is “co-making”, not just co-marketing. This can pave a way into bringing the airline into everyday aspects of its passengers’ lives, essentially elevating itself to a lifestyle brand. And why shouldn’t it? A plane landing on a runway is just as impressive as an haute couture collection parading down one, and could reasonably be as big a part of a passenger’s lifestyle identity as the shoes he or she wears.
Airlines like Emirates have started moving in this direction with sports sponsorships such as with FC Arsenal, but there is room for expansion. Liddell even proposed the possibility of co-branding to create new classes outside of seat pitch and legroom, like seating arranged to pair experts in a field who might want to talk as connected by LinkedIn, redefining the reputation of the chatty seatmate.
The goal is to create a unique product or experience that a passenger might elect over another, and ultimately adopt as part of a lifestyle, evolving from just a traveler to a devotee.