Today is my 50th post on this blog, so it was gratifying yesterday to see a few new things.

  1. Two linkbacks to my post on seat-back advertising (here and here)
  2. Record day for number of visitors to the site (growing almost every day for the past two weeks)
  3. New subscribers joining via RSS and email
  4. Being contacted by someone from  Zócalo Group.

Well the last point I’ll call more intriguing than gratifying, but it gave me first hand experience at cutting edge public relations. Just last week I sent an article on the future of PR titled “Matt Cutts Is Representative Of Next Generation PR” to the woman responsible for PR at Amadeus, as it really got me thinking about how technology companies get their message out in the most credible way. If you work for an IT company, especially in PR, and don’t know who Matt Cutts is, then you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years.

I’d never heard of Zócalo Group before yesterday, but then I received an email via the contact form on this blog. Here is an excerpt:

“Hi Martin,

I work on the Orbitz team–I know you focus on airline direct sales, but I still wanted to update you on some recent news, based on your previous posts regarding OTA’s. Orbitz has just eliminated booking fees in addition to their Price Assurance offerings.”

This is impressive for a number of reasons:

  1. Looks like they have actually been monitoring the blog content, and more to the point, they understood it
  2. An email address and name of the sender (I assume a real person) was supplied to me
  3. There is no attemp to hide it as a comment on the site pretending to be an ordinary consumer  

It looks like a labour intensive business, but it is an interesting way to try and generate some buzz, especially when most of the thunder on this topic had already been taken by Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline. What does this say for airlines trying to generate buzz for their own website to attract customers away from the OTA’s (I’ve bitten the bullet and fallen in with everyone else, as until recently I was using the term OLTA’s)? I see PhoCusWright are planning to do a study on passenger disloyalty and influencing the undecided, but apart from making the frequent flyer program more attractive, the two good ways I can think of to generate buzz for the airline website are cheap fare promotions, and good functionality. Cheap fare promotions cost a lot to run, especially if they become a regular event, but establishing some buzz around functionality with things like innovative features and ease of use should be a goal for every marketer of an airline website. I find it fascinating when I talk to be people outside of the industry and they tell me their views on different airline’s websites, and so much of what I am told is factually incorrect. But that is the problem with perception (especially of a complex or multi stage process), it is frequently based on one or more incorrect assumptions. Like the person who told me they didn’t like the website because it wasn’t available in English. Absolute garbage, but the person telling me didn’t think so. 

Many years ago (maybe 1998) I was sitting behind the one way glass watching a focus group give their opinions on the 10 cans of beer on the table in front of them. One of the brands I was engaged by was represented in the 10. One man said he didn’t like it because it is a low alcohol beer, and then everyone else around the table starts agreeing with him. I’m sitting behind the glass wanting to jump out of my seat, walk into the room and correct them all as it was a full strength beer, but that is a good example of how perceptions based upon an incorrect assumption are spread.

I’ve mentioned the Delta blog before and the way they have used this to get the message out about innovation on the website. Southwest have used their blog to get out news about the website, and I’ve previously discussed Iberia promoting their new booking flow. But I’ve got a feeling airlines have a lot to learn from the Orbitz’s of the world. Even if the labour intensive social media PR I saw yesterday is expensive to conduct, it is probably cheaper that having to run continually cheaper and cheaper airfare sales in order to generate buzz for the website. It won’t exist in isolation, but a social media marketing and PR strategy is at least something that an airline needs to have considered before just falling back on the old ways of getting the message out to the general public.   

Finally, in recognition of Orbitz being the first to expose me to some new PR (second cab off the rank is likely to be ignored), and as a contrast to Tim Hughes who was writing recently about Qantas’ investment of AUD$10 million in their customer service centre, take a look at what they call the “Orbitz Traveler Wellness Center.” It even deals with a topic I’ve posted on before which I titled “Pricedrop Protection and are any Airlines Planning this?”