Lessons on flying through turbulent weather

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 20, 2018

There’s dense competition in the aviation sector. But Lufthansa’s Vice-President - Marketing, Alexander Schlaubitz, says showing empathy can make a brand stand out

These are turbulent times for airline brands. One small incident and passengers think nothing of shooting off irate remarks over social media, competition in the air is really dense, and profit margins low. Lufthansa says it earns just €5 margin per passenger. So how does an airline brand stand out?

Alexander Schlaubitz, Lufthansa’s Vice-President - Marketing and Digital Innovation Lead (in picture), feels innovation through empathy is the answer. “There are three kinds of people at the airport – excited, nervous and sad. Empathy for all three is our goal,” he says.

It’s an irony that aviation is such a monopolistic and duopolistic market for airports and aircraft companies, but such a competitive field for airlines, he says. Quoting an old boss of his, he says, “The biggest challenge here is that there are so many challenges.”

For the German airline, which has faced repeated strikes by its employees over the last year-and-a-half, the challenges are certainly more than for other airlines. Its brand value has shrunk by over 15 per cent so regaining brand value is paramount.

The way things are, 90 per cent of passenger experience is becoming homogenised across carriers today – airports all look the same, aircraft cabins look alike. Marketing campaigns too look the same. The key lies in how to stand out.

Empathy can create customer value, believes Schlaubitz, who also emphasises that the Marketing department is the voice for the long term for any firm.

“The strategy we have adopted is to depict ourselves as a brand that better understands customer interests and to enable what our customers love to do,” says Schlaubitz.

He says the larger task before Lufthansa is to build a dual-speed organisation.

While it takes time to introduce physical changes to aircraft such as cabin changes and so on, a host of small initiatives can be taken to meet the disruptive competition. “What we are doing is bundling several good ideas together,” says Schlaubitz. Social media is a good example of building speed into the strategy. “It offers a quick way to respond to things,” says Schlaubitz

Taking the support of data, Lufthansa has plotted out a wheel depicting the state of mind of travellers during their journey. The mapping actually begins even before the traveller sets out on the journey, capturing the anxiety of catching the flight. “By continuing to develop and design the travel experience, we hope to add value to flyers,” says Schlaubitz. So the Lufthansa app may allow passengers to calculate what time you need to leave, the time to gate and so on.

“We are anticipating concrete travel needs of passengers,” he says. For instance, for most passengers, one of the topmost concerns is whether their baggage got loaded on to the same flight. The Lufthansa app will notify a passenger as soon as his or her luggage has been loaded, allaying anxiety.

Betting on technology

Keeping empathy at the core of designs, Lufthansa’s new innovation hub in Berlin is creating strong, new travel products. The German airline is also betting big on technology and also sewing up a joint venture with a Silicon Valley company as well as exploring a partnership with a Tel Aviv-based company for tech-based innovations. The airline is moving away from the fad of beacons and betting more on Waze navigation technology. “The trouble with beacons is that it opens up a dilemma of who owns the data – do airports own the data since these beacons are placed there, or do the carriers?” points out Schlaubitz. Waze can alert it on traffic patterns and so on.

The former Facebooker believes that creativity and flexibility and fostering ideas that are unexpected will help Lufthansa create journeys like never before. Let’s see if it’s on the right flight path.

Published on March 11, 2016

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