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Thought Leadership Advertising Airline

How airlines can leverage in-flight audiences with big data and personalisation

By Ben Griffin, Inmarsat

May 21, 2018 | 6 min read

Until recently, 35,000 feet was a connectivity blackspot, unreliable at the best of times, and non-existent for the rest. But as full inflight connectivity (IFC) becomes ubiquitous, all this will change. Increasingly, airline passengers are opting to bring their own devices to watch and access the movies, Netflix series or e-books of their choice.


With reliable connectivity, audiences becomes a valuable, brand engagement opportunity for both airlines and marketers.

With reliable connectivity, this captive audience becomes a valuable, brand engagement opportunity for both airlines and marketers. Connectivity and data will enable greater personalisation of the passenger experience, increase passenger satisfaction and unlock an entirely new ancillary revenue stream. For marketers in Asia, it provides an untapped opportunity to engage a captive, mobile-first audience and deliver highly targeted, personalised campaigns.

Personalisation sells

A recent survey by Accenture found that 96% of leading airline executives are in favour of personalising the air travel experience using real-time data. According to Mark Brown, vice president for EMEA of UK-based Fusion, which aims to ‘optimise customer interactions’, the more personalised the offer, the higher the sales. His company typically drives 20-25% growth in traffic for its clients when it optimises the products they want to sell. We are already seeing examples of how this works on the ground, with some airlines and online travel agents using data and customer segmentation to deliver dynamic pricing.

Customer data is also beginning to change service in the air. Cathay Pacific, for example, leverages small data to predict the type of alcohol that first class passengers like to drink. Smartphones installed with airline branded apps become more valuable platforms for offers and tailored experiences, once inflight data is fed to them.

Flight time becomes prime time

Pervasive inflight connectivity will mean real-time data can open the controlled environment of the flight to the latest targeted digital messages that have become so familiar on the ground. Today’s passenger spends a significant portion of their time on their mobile devices, and this always-on connectivity on the ground is fast becoming an expectation in the air.

In our 2017 Global Passenger Survey, 91% of the passengers surveyed in Asia Pacific said they were willing to pay for Wi-Fi on long haul leisure flights and 79% on short haul leisure flights – some of the most willing globally to pay for inflight Wi-Fi. Each week, approximately 7,200 flights land or depart from Singapore’s Changi Airport – equating to more than 62.2mn passengers passing through the airport each year. With airlines like AirAsia and Singapore Airlines beginning to roll out in-flight connectivity options for passengers, the connected flight is set to become prime time for smart marketers.

With real-time data, offers could be made based on the passenger’s data throughout the whole journey experience. Passengers may get used to making onward travel plans in the air once robust Wi-Fi is business as usual. Would the passenger like to book a taxi to the airport now? The ad network could show real-time prices paid for by taxi brands at the destination. Would they prefer a train at their destination? The system could flash targeted offers on tickets. Messages can be tailored once the data indicates behaviours and preferences of passengers. If they chose a special meal, a destination restaurant’s campaign could be served in response to their selection. Last minute offers could fill open tables with passengers about to land in a new city.

Connectivity will bring the seat back screen, inflight digital display and airline portal messages up to speed with the world of online advertising and transform the value of the ad opportunities that airlines control. Adding detailed customer information to contextual real-time behaviour, even if anonymized, will make the airline’s connected ecosystem as valuable as a publisher.

Engaging a captive audience

With passengers increasingly being able to use their social media, messaging and shopping apps in the air, the opportunity for more targeted and relevant messaging is vast. Airlines host a captive audience over long journeys, effectively holding consumers on their platform for longer than many media outlets could manage. Because the airlines already have customer segmentation and data around the flight aggregated, they can offer the chance to optimise advertiser messaging. Automated combinations of destination, seat class, device usage, language and customer history information, could be combined with real-time data of passenger engagement to create precisely targeted sequences of messages. Connected airlines have the chance to become sophisticated media platforms and data sources.

The connected inflight ecosystem will also produce enticing affiliate deals as the data emerges to prove which passengers are most ready to buy. Entertainment brands may pay or provide content for free so that flyers can try their subscription services. Qantas, for example, offered a chance for Spotify and Netflix to trial subscription sampling with a free window. How the mix of advertising and sponsorship opportunities are displayed to the airline customer will depend hugely on the brand, but once passengers can be reached with this dynamic messaging, the more relevant and hyper-targeted it can become.

Taking flight

Data-driven air travel has enormous potential for digital marketers looking to create meaningful attribution. Sky High Economics, a comprehensive report developed by The London School of Economics (LSE) and Inmarsat, forecasted two key ancillary revenues areas for airlines: e-commerce and digital advertising, with broadband in the sky set to create a $52bn market in Asia Pacific by 2035. While there will always be passengers who prefer an unconnected experience in the air, consumers in this region are largely early adopters and purveyors of the BYOD phenomenon.

Providing the option for passengers to purchase reliable WiFi, should they choose, is fast becoming a growing necessity of today’s connected world. The question now is how marketers in Asia will leverage this new, golden era of travel to their advantage.

Ben Griffin is vice president of aviation for IMEA and Asia Pacific at Inmarsat.

Thought Leadership Advertising Airline

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