Understanding Perception of Airline Brands Keeps All Brands Flying High
If "perception is reality," brands must understand consumer perception to make sure their reality falls in line — or suffer the consequences. The "Social Media Industry Report 2017: Airlines" looks specifically at how airline brands are perceived — but all brands can benefit from understanding the results.
To gather relevant industry insights, NetBase examined 60 top global airlines in 2016, analyzing in all languages of communication. The report measures volume of conversation (as a measure of earned impressions), reach (as a measure of owned impressions), Net Sentiment (whether consumer emotions are positive or negative), and Brand Passion (a weighted average that combines Net Sentiment with Passion Intensity, i.e., the degree of emotion expressed).
These metrics were then averaged to define Social Rank, with the largest, most positive, or most passionate brands ranking first. Because not all airlines originate in the U.S., the report explores each brand based on the categories below. Here are the insights gleaned by looking at the top ten airlines with regard to share of voice in each category:
Though some — not all — airlines offer first class travel options, the analytics indicate first class is sometimes a state of mind. Even with airlines that don't offer first class seating, consumers took to social to call them out for offering a first class experience regardless.
This is validation that providing a top-notch customer experience should be the goal for all brands now, as it's one of the biggest ways to compete.
But that's not to say people don't also like sitting in first class. For brands with a bigger focus on international travel, sentiment for first class was higher, but for domestic-focused brands business class was the clear favorite. This is good information to have whether your brand is in the top 10, or one of your competitors is.
Beyond seating, consumers had feelings about airport lounges, Wi-Fi, and airline food — three crucial experience touch points. Many brands are getting their snack offerings right, as well as offering a satisfactory lounge experience overall. Wi-Fi is also a source of major love when it's done right — and a source of major negative sentiment for airlines lacking it. Can the overall experience for these airlines keep travelers content even without Wi-Fi? That's something those brands will have to keep an eye on.
Leg room, seats, and in-flight comfort were also areas of passionate discussion. Several airlines in the top 10 got high sentiment scores for leg room, but seats and overall in-flight comfort still represent areas of opportunity for most.
Speaking of opportunities, the biggest exist in the service realm, particularly with regard to gate agents, customer service, and flight attendants. Only two airlines in the top 10 received positive sentiment for all three, and the scores weren't so high they can rest easy. Many brands dropped the ball with respect to one of the three areas of concern, while two airlines in the top 10 had negative sentiment in all three areas.
But here's something important to remember: Not all negative sentiment is a direct result of airline personnel. What airline brands should strive to do is help travelers shake off the stress and worry of all that comes with preparing to travel — from packing, to getting to the airport, to getting through security and to their designated gate. If that approach is part of their focus, they can wow passengers with the little things — and sometimes that's all it takes.
Cancellations and (Emotional) Baggage
This focus on the passenger mindset can make or break an airline when things go wrong. Consider the hot water a certain airline brand recently found itself in for putting their own needs before that of their passengers and you can see how important it is to handle tricky situations gracefully.
Looking at cancellations/delays, baggage, and booking/ticketing tells a pretty clear story for airline brands to follow. Though consumers weren't giving booking/ticketing rave reviews for the top 10 brands, sentiment was still positive across the board.
Baggage revealed an even split between positive and negative sentiment — indicating some airlines are doing well enough (though again, nobody's raving), while others need to make some changes. Lost baggage dominates the conversation about baggage overall — by a factor of 10 or more in some cases.
Cancellations/delays were another area that had consumers grumbling, and that's not surprising. After all that goes into the air travel experience on the consumer side — including cost — people just want to get where they need to go. All airline brands can benefit from finding a better way to soothe consumers when flights are cancelled or delayed.
Travel Search Engines
Airlines can't control what happens to travelers before they arrive at their gates, except during the booking process — unless that process happens through a third-party travel search engine like Expedia, Priceline, etc.
Kayak had the highest Net Sentiment score across airlines, with results mixed depending on carrier for Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, Travelocity, and Priceline. Airlines should be aware of how their brand fares with these search engines, and be ready to handle any fallout that comes their way — as it's ultimately their reputation on the line.
And that's something to remember at all stages of the customer experience — your reputation is at stake as soon as the "send" button is pressed on Twitter, Facebook, etc. The only way brands can control the message is by listening, making adjustments to their offerings as needed, and solving problems before they escalate to crisis proportions.
Our next post will address some best practices for doing each of these things — so be sure to check back later this month to learn how to put these insights to work for your brand, whether you're an airline or not.