England Swings Like a Pendulum Do
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 :::
The Leahys are in the midst of planning a trip to London in late spring, the first overseas trip for young Jack. Sifting through various websites looking at flights and hotels has been an eye-opener...and not just because of the prices.
The most striking revelation is how poorly most airlines market themselves online. No. Poorly isn't the right word.
Abominably. That's better.
Take the example of United Airlines.
The United site, not unlike those of other domestic carriers, is focused almost entirely on offers...discounts on this, cut rate deals on that. It's a proven school of marketing thinking (an oxymoron? Yup). But looking around the site, there's something missing. What?
Oh, and something just as important...
This is a stale site -- it mimics the traveling experience of being herding through security, herded through check-in and then crammed like cattle onto a plane. We are prodded along with promises of cheap fares and great deals. But assuming all prices are equal across carriers, what does United, in this example, have that no other airline can possibly offer?
Finding the United experience as soul-crushing as it was tedious, I went looking for something better. Anything.
That's when I discover Virgin Atlantic.
What a difference...and it begins right at the top of the page. Can you imagine United, Continental or Delta putting a headline like "Hello gorgeous!" at the top of their sites?
Not in this lifetime.
There are similarities, to be sure. Offers, "special deals" and price above all lead the page. But there is a personality here, an attitude. And there are also...what's this?...benefits! You mean I can get a goodie bag full of trinkets? You won't charge me for a pillow? My son can play video games the entire time?
Where's my credit card?
Offering benefits -- even those that obviously cost the airline next to nothing -- is a time-honored method for getting people to buy just about anything. It's made even better when potential customers have a sense of what the experience might be like before buying. Yes, there will be the same herding through security and boarding and yes, the economy seats are probably packed closer than American asses will allow. But Virgin packages all this nuisance in a manner that makes it seem like it's not important -- you're going to have fun, the flight crew is going treat you like a friend instead of baggage and your kids. Well, we'll offer them so many distractions, they won't want the trip to end. I tried this out on my son to see what the result might be...
"Jack, on the plane, you'll be able to play video games for almost eight hours. How about that?" He's already packed.
Of course the prospect of seeing a castle and a zoo helped matters, too. But the big concern -- that a transatlantic flight would send him into boredom overload and repeat the horrid experience my wife and I had when we visited Dublin (with children that howled from gate to gate, without seeming to take a breath in between) -- doesn't seem to be so big.
Now where is my credit card?
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 3/21/2006