Shalini Rao, Chief Marketing Officer, Bengaluru International Airport Ltd, (BIAL), shares insights on the impact of Covid, marketing in times of crisis, targeted marketing, and more
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a very huge impact on the travel industry worldwide. Travel bans, lockdown, plummeting demand, and suspended airline operations for months had severely impacted the aviation sector in India in the last year. With people now adapting to the new normal, the aviation sector is steadily getting back on its feet. However, numerous challenges lie ahead for marketers in this sector. “As marketers, we have faced many challenges, but never have we witnessed an incident of such magnitude that led to the closure of civil aviation operations, globally”, says Shalini Rao, Chief Marketing Officer, Bengaluru International Airport Limited (BIAL), while talking about the challenges faced during the peak of the lockdown.
The key challenge that the team at Bengaluru Airport faced was to find effective ways to communicate with their consumers and employees, according to Rao. She says, “As an Airport, we were faced with the challenge to convey our messages to millions of passengers, who suddenly weren’t there on the ground. In addition, we also needed to communicate with thousands of employees working in our ecosystem. The biggest communication challenge was to ensure transparency in information and that all external and internal stakeholders consider BIAL as a trusted voice for the latest travel-related updates.”
Coping with the Covid impact
During the lockdown, updates about safety, hygiene and accurate information were the most important for consumers and BIAL strategized its content around these key pillars. Rao says,“ As a brand, BIAL wanted to be the single source of authentic information to all stakeholders. Passenger advisories and guidelines from Government Ministries were dynamic – changing every day. As a result, our strategy and implementation had to be dynamic, as well, based on GoI and GoK circulars. Videos on sanitisation, safety measures, and screening procedures were created and made available on our social media platforms and website to reassure passengers and inform them about various measures being taken to ensure their safety. A dedicated webpage – Voice of BLR – was created on the Airport website for easy access to all information related to COVID-19. An FAQ series was launched to address potential travel-related COVID-19 queries of passengers which was extended on social media platforms.”
The marketing route that BIAL was following at the time of the crisis was led by extensive consumer research. Rao explains, “BIAL conducted a series of Market Research to gain insights on what passengers sought when they travelled. The outcomes helped us develop suitable solutions, including the contactless process and a reassurance strategy at all passenger touchpoints from taxis, boarding, F&B to the overall airport, and flying experience. We launched the #WeAreHereForYou campaign, which was the overarching theme for communication – both external and internal. This campaign assured our passengers that BIAL was working towards their safety during these tough times; reflected in their responses during research conducted with them.”
New normal for marketing
Speaking about the key adaptations to changes in consumer behaviour, Rao states “We surveyed over three months to understand passenger perception and expectation towards air travel amid Covid-19 pandemic. Initially, people were not comfortable to fly and this reflected in the passenger numbers. We continued our communication in media, social media, videos, and on-ground collateral about the slew of hygiene measures that we adopted. ‘Contactless’ was the buzzword at BLR Airport when operations resumed in May as we offered contactless journey from Parking-to-Boarding. The film on the Contactless Airport experience at BLR Airport received over 6.5 million views on digital platforms. Slowly, we observed that the fear subsided, and passengers gained the confidence to travel.”
In the new normal, the customer engagement strategy at Bengaluru Airport has been spun around a digital-first approach. Shedding light on the overall customer engagement strategy adopted by the team at BIAL, Rao adds “The Engagement Centre team at BLR Airport was available 24X7 to help people with queries on phone, emails, social media, and WhatsApp. Real-time updated information was the need of the hour. We accelerated our move to digital-first. Even the Information Desk at the Terminal went virtual, thereby enabling travellers to have real-time conversations with Airport staff, over touch-free video. We placed QR codes inside Airport Taxis and at the Terminal which helped passengers scan and read about the departure and arrival guidelines. All F&B and retail at BLR Airport PoS are now contactless.”
Airports are usually seen as nothing more than a provider of timely and accurate travel-related information. However, airports are also a hub of shopping, entertainment, and F&B; but the challenge airports face is to market themselves as a brand. Rao says, “Brand plays the role of carefully orchestrating the delivery of multiple stakeholder experiences. The challenge, therefore, is to provide a consistent Brand experience across diverse touchpoints; both seen and unseen.”
To effectively craft personalised communication for their consumers, BIAL has recently adopted a targeted marketing strategy with personalised communication using data analytics and segmentation. Rao adds “Every passenger travelling through BLR Airport is our ambassador. The honest response that we get from the general public or an average consumer is more valuable, as such people relate their personal, unedited experience. We used all the positive feedback as a means of communicating to others that air travel is a safe mode of travel – this helped us gain trust and see an increase in passenger volume.”
For optimal messaging, BIAL has turned to the integration of traditional and digital mediums. “As an airport, we have always used digital and on-ground branding mediums of communication seamlessly. However, during this phase, we thought it necessary to follow an integrated and uniform approach across both traditional and digital medium. This provided a stronger and optimal messaging system. However, given the nature of our business, there will still be ground-level information and marketing that may not make its way to the digital domain,” added Rao.
Market evolution in 2021
Looking ahead, Rao stresses on the importance of agility, innovation, consumer insights, and strong content strategy. She explains “There will be the ability to stay agile and constantly evolve based on the situation at hand. This is something the crisis has taught us and we expect to see this trend continue. It is also important to think innovatively and to be willing to break set paradigms.” She adds “Developing a strong content strategy with multiple buckets of relevant content will help keep audiences engaged. This will help speak to a diverse set of audiences and also build strongly engaged segments. Investment in consumer insight is important to keep track of changing requirements during this phase, and accordingly adapting both digital and on-ground brand experience delivery.”
On the marketing trends in 2021, she says, “Collaboration among stakeholders to deliver trust and reassurance is something we saw a lot in 2020. This trend is likely to continue and evolve further going forward. Internal marketing will play a very key role far more than it ever did earlier. Our people will be the biggest evangelists and drivers of reassurance and care through on-ground interactions. Much like it is in the travel services and hospitality sector.”
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