Cover Story: Direct, Data and Brand United
Just as the frenzied sameness of rat race craziness starts to make the daily grind an organized, cubicled, meeting room-filled nightmare, the worn-down commuter spots it.
A vast electric blue sky floats down to meet puffy, amethyst-tinted azure cumulus clouds peacefully resting just feet above lightly rippling slate blue water. Palm trees frame the picture's foreground, making cabanas atop the visible pier seem almost accessible—as if taking a right turn along what must be a white sand beach underfoot, just out of frame, can transport the commuter toward the cabanas to rest amid this tropical paradise.
It's a dream that United Airline's loyalty program can make real, says the message on the poster that's whiter than the clouds: "MileagePlus ranks No. 1 in award seat availability among U.S. global carriers." But what's unusual about this poster is there's no overt call to action, no trackable URL—nothing but the brand message. This is unusual because before summer 2010, when brand entered into the marketing mix, MileagePlus was purely direct marketed, says Mark Krolick, managing director of MileagePlus at Chicago-based United Airlines.
Now, MileagePlus uses brand marketing to support its direct marketing efforts. This switch has helped United work on signing up more than 1 million non-member passengers who MileagePlus and Acxiom identified as desirable prospects through an extensive data review. Krolick says merging brand and direct to gain new members fits MileagePlus perfectly, because adding layers to the program helps broaden its appeal.
In 2011 alone, MileagePlus "converted about 4 percent of [the 1 million] non-members to members, representing tens of millions in additional revenue annually," according to Acxiom's MileagePlus case study of the loyalty program—a program that also won a 2012 DMA Innovation Award and earned Krolick DMA's 2012 Marketer of the Year award.