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Monday, October 25, 2021

‘AIRLINES SHOULD MOVE AWAY FROM COMMODITIZATION TO CURATING EXPERIENCES’

From the strategic perspective, I think one of the things that the airline industry needs to do whenever it comes to advertising spends is to move away from the commoditization that has happened over the cost of many where if you look at, for example, the price of coffee or how coffee has moved from being commodity to an experience with the likes of Starbucks… the reverse has happened with air travel where it is moved from being experience to almost becoming a commodity. Which is why it is so influenced by price and not by brand and I think now that individuals will not be choosing based on their perception not just safety but service experience, product experience, efficiency, and how we treat customers and take into consideration their needs and preferences,” says SIDDHARTHA BUTALIA, Chief marketing Officer, AirAsia India in an interview with K.G. SREENIVAS, Editor-in-Chief, Creative Brands.

Siddhartha Butalia, Chief Marketing Officer, AirAsia India

Welcome to The Future’s Here special series hosted by Creative Brands. The Future’s Here showcases leaders and thinkers from the creative industry, namely advertising, media, communication, and branding. My name is K.G. Sreenivas and I am Editor-in-Chief of Creative Brands, a portal that covers the global creative industry and economy. Today, we have with us Siddhartha Butalia, Chief Marketing Officer of AirAsia India, a joint venture between Tata Sons and AirAsia Investment.

Siddhartha began his career in advertising at Ogilvy and JWT, working on campaigns that won top honours at Cannes and the Asia Pacific AdFest. He also managed multinational accounts like Unilever and Nestlé. Later as a Tata Administrative Services Officer, Siddhartha worked on the Tata Nano project, built the Ginger Hotel business model for metros, worked on the integration of Tata Global Beverages with the acquisition of Tetley, Eight O’Clock Coffee, and Himalayan water and developed the internationalisation strategy for the ‘Tata’ brand in the US, UK, China and South Africa.

Siddhartha has over a decade of senior leadership experience in Europe and Asia-Pacific, launching and heading iconic brands, from being Brand Manager of Tetley Tea in the UK to overseeing strategy and business development for 15 Asia Pacific countries at Tata Global Beverages. As Marketing Director at the Taj Group of Hotels, Siddhartha launched the Vivanta brand — which is now a Harvard Business School case study — led Sales and Marketing teams across APAC, Europe, and Africa and contributed to the Tata group’s European Union agenda. He is a ‘futurist’ and seasoned speaker on travel and tourism, marketing strategy, and digital ecosystems at seminars across the world. Siddhartha, so welcome to The Future’s Here, where we look to the future to be present today — here and now.

THE FULL INTERVIEW IN TEXT

Siddhartha, let’s begin with AirAsia’s latest campaign: #Time_To_Travel. So you are signalling that, yes, it’s time to fly, yet again… How long did it take for you to prepare yourself to arrive here with the campaign?

It’s a pleasure to be here with you today discussing this campaign. It has taken us a while to come to fruition although the concept was always there. I think what we were struggling with was timing to position the campaign. We had caught the first signals of the pandemic early on even as we had early signals from other airlines in Southeast Asia. We moved quickly —before the pandemic hit in full force in India — and divided our organizational, marketing, and communication strategies into three phases. The first was what we anticipated and looked at in the phase of isolation, which was the initial period of the lockdown itself. The consumer sentiment at that point of time was understandably one of anxiety.

We, therefore, decided that the theme for communication at that point of time shouldn’t be one of sales or marketing but one of transparency, reassurance, and empathy. It was a time of confusion and anger among people, there were cancellations of plans that people had, there was complete uncertainty about travel, and people were forced indoors. So, from a media consumption perspective a lot of individuals, especially younger consumers, began to consume content in digital format. And so much of our communication moved to social media formats — we had essentially killed all our communication from a typical above the line, out of home, print, and TV, and began focussing on digital and social media from that phase.

We then moved into a phase of restricted travel which was the early days post-lockdown from the end of May towards the first few weeks of June-July, and this was the period where we thought the sentimental moved to being cautious but slightly optimistic. In this period, obviously travel norms were very stringent, we understood that corporates were cutting down costs and there was significant discretionary spending by travelers. So, to influence people to travel was not high on the agenda — at that point of time the idea was how do we service the individual so that they felt that they needed to travel and how do we service them in the best manner possible. For example, we made special provisions for migrant labour who were returning to their home towns.

Today, there is a yearning for travel
and exploration, there is a need for celebrating freedom that we all took for granted before it was taken away. This became the genesis of the campaign and the idea that we should beckon people with this call of saying that it was now the time to travel, and “the time to travel back”, in a sense travel back to all the moments that we had missed in 2020. The take was not to lose the moments that had gone by in the year but actually travel back in time and celebrate those moments. If you missed your anniversary, if you missed that trip where you were so looking forward to, if you have missed the family and so on… all of it really became the genesis of the campaign.

We had a number of initiatives during this period and we recognized the lack of travel intent through a survey we conducted among our consumers, especially of flyers from the pre-pandemic period, during the period, and people who were looking forward to flying after the pandemic. So we had to explore newer themes that seemed to be defining the new normal. Today, there is a yearning for travel and exploration, there is a need for celebrating freedom that we all took for granted before it was taken away. This became the genesis of the campaign and the idea that we should beckon people with this call of saying that it was now the time to travel, and “the time to travel back”, in a sense travel back to all the moments that we had missed in 2020. The take was not to lose the moments that had gone by in the year but actually travel back in time and celebrate those moments. If you missed your anniversary, if you missed that trip where you were so looking forward to, if you have missed the family and so on… all of it really became the genesis of the campaign.

So, have you had some feedback already or some bookings already in the wake of the campaigns in the recent weeks?

Yes! I think the timing of the campaign also coincided with Diwali festive season and there were numbers. I think it’s been a successful period. Travel in general is experiencing a pick-up and has shown an organic growth. I think from the time we saw the country opening up, month on month — even by the numbers reported by DGCA — starting from the month of August to September there has been a roughly a 30-35% of growth, month on month in numbers. Obviously, the passenger numbers — if you look at daily passengers after the opening-up it was only about 1,75,000 as opposed to about 4,25,000 pre-pandemic. So overall, pax numbers are down obviously compared to where it was earlier and there is a slow recovery that we see happening across the board. But it has picked up pace a lot and specially for us it has if we look at our market share and when we look at the amount of interest generated from a flight-search perspective because of the amount of visits that we got to our website immediately after the campaign. The campaign is very much live, so the first edition of the campaign with the anniversary creative was what we took out in print in the country with full page ads. The campaigns on the jacket page fetched us a lot of interest in terms of visits and flight surge. This has obviously translated into bookings both for the immediate term as well as interest in the long term. And I think that has been a trend that has helped not just us, but the industry as well.

From an academic perspective, how does it compare with other airlines, comparable airlines within the country recent spurt in numbers, the bookings, the travel plans?

So, the number that we get in the industry are typically the numbers reported by the DGCA which are monthly figures that appear towards the middle of the month, that is, for the previous period. So the October numbers are what have been published. So far, we haven’t seen the November numbers. We expect those to come in the next week or ten days or so. So we don’t have a realistic estimate of the post-pandemic numbers. Obviously, we do have our own assumptions on the basis of our market share. We have seen our market share from September to October rising from 6% to 7.1%, so from that perspective things are looking quite good and optimistic for us. I think what has happened in the period is because there is regulation of fares in the aviation industry, it continues to be a very price sensitive market although decisions today are not being influenced by price because all the airlines are effectively selling routes on the same price, owing, in part, to government legislation. And that has also played its part in the impetus for us to initiate the campaign with decision not being driven by price.

The other factors, such as product
features, the service experience, and the affinity and salience of the brand itself begin to influence the purchase decision a lot more and so we felt that was the prime moment for us to actually enter and influence the decision a lot more — of which brand to choose for those choosing to travel as well as influencing people to travel, because what we also recognized through the survey was that there was a great degree of not just optimism but also a recognition among individuals that the measures that were enforced by both airports and airlines had significantly reduced the risks of transmission compared to many other activities that individuals seemed
to have undertaken.

The other factors, such as product features, the service experience, and the affinity and salience of the brand itself begin to influence the purchase decision a lot more and so we felt that was the prime moment for us to actually enter and influence the decision a lot more — of which brand to choose for those choosing to travel as well as influencing people to travel, because what we also recognized through the survey was that there was a great degree of not just optimism but also a recognition among individuals that the measures that were enforced by both airports and airlines had significantly reduced the risks of transmission compared to many other activities that individuals seemed to have undertaken.

So when we looked at the risks for example that individuals were associated with in different activities outside of visiting close friends or family or the local store, air travel actually scored a lot better than visiting a mall or eating out at a restaurant or any other form of mode of transport by far.

The other positive thing that we saw was that those individuals who had travelled post-pandemic, their scores on the safety and the perception of risk were a lot better than those who had not. So there was lingering apprehension among individuals who had not experienced air travel but for those who had, obviously their comfort levels were a lot higher and as those numbers increased through word of mouth as we had anticipated. With those numbers rising considering that it was in fact true that air travel was safer, we saw no reason why people would not want to do that considering that they also had a great yearning to travel beyond the confines of their local community.

To step back a little, in its latest report, WARC (World Advertising Research Centre) says how global advertising spend is expected to fall by 10.2% or $63.4 bn to $557.3 bn this year, led by sharp cuts in investment in the automotive, retail, and travel & tourism sectors as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. It further says it will take at least two years for the global ad market to fully recover, with a forecast 6.7% rise in 2021 only enough to recoup 59% of 2020’s losses. The advertising market would need to grow by 4.4% in 2022 to match 2019’s peak of $620.6 bn. Brands will be careful anyway. What has been your strategy during this period in question?

I think it’s a general trend that there is an obvious change in the macro-economic drivers across the world — there is no denying that the travel and tourism industry has been one of the most significantly hit. I think the general consensus in the industry is that pre-crisis travel spends, especially in business travel, is unlikely before 2023 or even 2024. But if you look at the Airports Council International report in 2019, for example, novel passenger traffic which is measured by number of passengers accommodated by airports grew from about 8.8 billion to 9+  to 9.1 billion for 2020. I think the latest estimates are as low as 5.6 billion, so there is a significant reduction. On the positive side of course disruption of a nature of this kind is defined by creation of new markets and value networks and that typically displace established market, leading firms, products, and alliances. But the good thing is that the transportation industry and aviation in particular is no stranger to disruption. It happens in every economic cycle that we have seen due to various different micro-economic factors and if there is anything that is the basis of how aviation has got to where we are today. If you look at specifics in the region that we are operating in, the top three domestic aviation markets in the world and its predominantly domestic aviation sector there is thriving business right now.

We have seen this shift happening even if rail networks’ hold in India is significant. It’s not just I think about trying to retain the flyers of yesterday but it is really about looking at how to expand the base and attract individuals who have been flying or who have not experienced flying. In fact, we saw a number of these individuals come in, in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

The IATA’s latest forecast suggests that the annualized long-term domestic growth, forecast say over the next 15 or 20 years is upwards of 7% in India and upwards of 5% for China compared to say 2% for US. Now as a comparison of the modes of transport, if you look at rail networks in the  US, they deliver about half a billion passenger trips a year versus china which does 3.5 billion with significantly high average stage length of about 500 plus km. India does 3.6 billion trips, so if you look at the market of rail travel, we can think of moving passengers from rail to air travel.

We have seen this shift happening even if rail networks’ hold in India is significant. It’s not just I think about trying to retain the flyers of yesterday but it is really about looking at how to expand the base and attract individuals who have been flying or who have not experienced flying. In fact, we saw a number of these individuals come in, in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

From the strategic perspective, I think one of the things that the airline industry needs to do whenever it comes to advertising spends is to move away from the commoditization that has happened over the cost of many where if you look at, for example, the price of coffee or how coffee has moved from being commodity to an experience with the likes of Starbucks… the reverse has happened with air travel where it is moved from being experience to almost becoming a commodity. Which is why it is so influenced by price and not by brand and I think now that individuals will not be choosing based on their perception not just safety but service experience, product experience, efficiency, and how we treat customers and take into consideration their needs and preferences. I think their need for communicating that to individuals whether through branding, marketing, PR and communication will only emerge versus the lack of the ability to influence people through communication because decisions were primary decided by price earlier. I don’t think that is the trend that is here to stay as a positive trend as far as the industry is concerned.

Do you see that changing globally — this commoditization versus service quality and the experiential aspect. Do you think that there would be any change globally because low-cost was something that people have looked to?

Yes, I think those lines have blurred in India — especially the lines between what are low-cost carriers and full-service carriers. It’s happened not necessarily by design but on account of various factors which have influenced things. I think with the collapse of Jet Airways, a number of aircraft then were required by the other airlines which were low-cost carriers and so you had airlines that acquired aircraft which had a business class and economy class. These were then being operated as low-cost carriers or you had others, including ourselves, who had a variety of meal options which are significantly greater than the meal options that are typically offered on full-service carriers. In fact, if you look at the national carrier it had actually reduced the number of meal options on their domestic network.

The low-cost carrier is today
actually defined not by the services that they are offering but the mode in which they operate which allows you to drive efficiencies. For example, we have only one aircraft type and that drives efficiencies in being able to operate better, being able to plan the network better, and being able to service the aircraft itself better. This allows you to drive prices down but also allows you to give more of an experience for the same price and that
I think is what will continue to stay.

If you look at the kind of services that airlines are offering they have expanded beyond just the airlines itself to a network of industry partners. We ourselves have partnered with Avis in this period, we have partnered with another very innovative organisation called Carporter for a service called ‘fly porter’ which allows you to deliver, to get your bags picked up from your home and delivered to the airport etc. We have introduced a lot of technological interventions such as biometric identification in partnership with Bangalore airport. I think to a large extent there is a significant blurring of the lines between what is typically seen as the full-service or the low-cost carrier. The low-cost carrier is today actually defined not by the services that they are offering but the mode in which they operate which allows you to drive efficiencies. For example, we have only one aircraft type and that drives efficiencies in being able to operate better, being able to plan the network better, and being able to service the aircraft itself better. This allows you to drive prices down but also allows you to give more of an experience for the same price and that I think is what will continue to stay.

From the perspective of whether these trends are going to be global or not I do think that it is almost a necessity for brands. In the 1998 issue of the Harvard Business Review B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore came up with the term of “experience economy” as the next economic value and that has really come to stay. Each one of us is defined by our experiences. I mean our experiences reshape our identities and travelling is perhaps one of the most inspiring experiences. I mean for some people it’s about creating memories, developing a sense of community for others, it’s about getting a deeper understanding of the world around them but that accumulation of experiences or accumulation of memories is one of the most powerful forms of culture.

I think conspicuous consumption today is not accumulation of goods. In fact, we see this transition in all developed economies, including China, which are moving from away from consumption of goods to consumption of memories because that is what would ultimately define us. So if you are able to create experiences that are memorable for individuals that’s what I think will create economic value in the long term and the world needs to be move in that direction.

Let us step a little inward and look at how you manage the AirAsia story both internally and externally through this period. For example, you launched several initiatives such as ‘Humans of AirAsia’ while on the business side you have had customer engagement programmes. Tell us how you manage both internal as well as external requirements?

So I think it goes back to the phases I had originally spoken about and in each phase looking at what the consumers were going through and going back to our own values and being guest obsessed is one of the key Air Asia values. Being people-first is the other pillar that makes our brand. We obviously recognized that it is the employees, especially in a service Industry, who are able to deliver those experiences we so prize. So, when we started off with the communication theme of saying if people were fearful and anxious then we needed to be transparently reassuring and empathetic. That translated into concepts like ‘Humans of Air Asia’ which was based on the same premises of ‘Human of New York’ and ‘Humans of Bombay’, where you celebrate our own stars, our own employees who had during the pandemic gone out of their way to do something for the communities where they operate and that is one of the founding tenets of the TATA Group itself.

So it resonates well with the values that the employees espoused in general and it’s something that we typically don’t celebrate in the same manner because it’s part of the ethos of who we are but we took it upon ourselves to say let’s take these stories out because they can be inspiring and let’s take these stories out on to social media and let’s take these stories out and encourage our guests and our followers to be inspired to lend a helping hand to other individuals. We did it ourselves by reaching to other airlines typically considered competition because we realised that they were all going through the same thing and we had a campaign which was called ‘In this Together’ — where we were actually encouraging people to stay at home rather than go out which was contrary to what airlines typically do. We then moved to a concept of what we called ‘Flights of Imagination’ which was crowd-sourcing stories of individuals who were feeling trapped inside their homes and asking them to metaphorically imagine what flying feels like to them. We rewarded those who had compelling stories or the most compelling forms and people came in with forms of dance, with forms of various different expressions, fireworks, and things like that with a holiday which we awarded them in partnership with the Taj Group.

We then moved into the phase of ‘restricted travel’ when we started a campaign on how everyone can fly again and about building that sense of community and trustworthiness engagement even though we were not travelling full capacity. We supported the cause of migrant labour where we tied up with individuals, associations, non-government associations, communities like the National Law School alumini, who sponsored flights for migrant labour moving out from metro cities like Bombay and Kolkata to other locations like Bhubaneswar, Ranchi,and so on. These migrant labourers were not able to get back because trains were cancelled, they did not have money, they did not have any form of income or employment and certainly could never have thought of air travel! But making it priced reasonably we were able to do things at that point of time given that we had extra capacity and the support of those individuals.

This sort of thing, I think, really inspired the employees themselves to be able to serve individuals who were in need and galvanize them and enthuse them about what they were doing which was very different from the standard service that they were used to doing. I think air travel also brought the brand closer to many people who had not considered or experienced that before. So it was quite inspiring for us I think at that point of time to be able to use a network to do that. We did two other activities of a similar nature wherein we launched a Redpass — which was essentially free flights for doctors and the medical community to say that when you were at the frontlines fighting the pandemic and that you need a break as all individuals do. So we announced 50,000 free seats in our flight for doctors. We did the same thing on 15th of August for members of the armed forces, their dependents, and retired personnel. We invited them to fly AirAsia as a gesture of appreciation to all those heroes who were doing so much for communities across the country.

At the same time how did you keep employees engaged within and how did you manage to keep their morale high under the circumstances and their commitment to the airline?

I think we are fortunate that we have an employee base that is very enthusiastic and passionate about the brand and our culture. We were able to initiate — thanks to the fact that we had had inklings of the enormity of the pandemic and how long it would take for it to subside — very quickly business continuity plans much before many other organizations did. Being a younger organization both with respect to the way in which we think as well as the average age of the employees as well as the organization itself and being very technologically driven, we were able to quickly move into a tech-driven network. I mean while we moved onto Zoom calls and so on, what we also recognized was that people who were used to being in an operational environment — on the shop floors at the airports, at ground operations, and cabin crew — needed to feel engaged and we recognized that there will be a change in the way which travel will move into in the long term.

So we quickly moved into re-skilling many of our employees. What we also realized was that there was an influx of calls/enquiries for instance on social media handles from individuals who did not have flights anymore for flights were cancelled for two months across the country. We managed to re-skill our staff quickly using very simple resources like laptops and mobile phones. Actually I got many of the phone calls coming into our customer support channel who began engaging with customers and responding to their queries directly. And that meant those staff members bonding with the customers which I think is paramount to the service industry rather than losing touch with them. It also kept them abreast with the challenges that customers were facing and the expectations customers had. It meant equipping our staff to deal with our customers more closely but we did a significant amount of training, re-skilling, and up-skilling across the board and opened up many opportunities for internal jobs, postings for individuals to move from one part of the organization to another and get cross exposure in this period. So a lot of educational interventions from the learning and development perspective and lot of engagement, which we were able to deploy with daily calls happening across the board with these individuals really helped to keep their spirits up I think.

At no point you really experienced employee redundancy as a lot of organizations experienced… You never really felt that employees or at least some of them were redundant?

No, I think it was the conscious call we took — not only by us but also the larger Tata Group. Throughout the history of the Tata group in times of trouble the recognition is that this is not the time to part ways with what are essentially your most valued resources. That is the time if anything to live up to the spirit of what we called ‘In this Together’. So we took a conscious call — yes that meant in the short term a certain financial implication — that there would be no redundancies at our end and that there would be no delays in salaries or payments. And I think that also helped to a large extent with the morale because they were able to see their friends, families, and colleagues who were working at other places, how things were impacted there and recognized that the organization was standing by them because in essence the organization is them. So we recognized that the organization was not distinct from the employees — it was the employees themselves.

Throughout the history of the Tata group
in times of trouble the recognition is that this is not the time to part ways with what are essentially your most valued resources. That is the time if anything to live up to the spirit of what we called ‘In this Together’. And I think that also helped to a large extent with the morale… (they) recognized that the organization was standing by them because in essence the organization is them. So we recognized that the organization was not distinct from the employees — it was the employees themselves.

It was indeed a difficult time and the crisis had many dimensions, one of them being psychological. As a communicator what was at the heart of your strategy both internally and externally as well as in conveying a sense of resilience — not only conveying it but also believing it that yes ‘we are here for the long run, the long haul’?

I think there were various different aspects to this. We recognized that this was going to be a time of change, that this was a time of disruption and that those who start planning for the long term are the ones who would essentially emerge from the crisis. So, we really looked at the crisis as an opportunity. I think what also happened in this period was that just towards the beginning of the pandemic Brand Finance came out airlines rankings and clearly AirAsia came on top of Asian rankings.

So, in 2020 we were listed as the most valuable airline brand in the Asian region, strongest among the low-cost carriers. We had the highest brand value growth in Asia and the second highest in terms of absolute value and in fact among the top 10 with the sixth-highest growth value in the world and only among four Asian brands to have brand value growth across the board in the world. This was derived from the consistency of brand experience and the brand building efforts that we had carried out, the communication that we had maintained with customers, partners, stakeholders in the travel agent community, with the airports that we engage with, with our suppliers, and with our agencies. It was heartwarming to see the response we got from them because we recognized that it was something that while we took for granted was not happening across the board.

I think many organizations were not engaging in the same way with their partner ecosystem. What we did for example on the 29th of July — which was fairly early days into the pandemic — J.R.D Tata’s birthday is that we sent out a letter, called up top customers and travel partners, enquired about them, their health and families, who they were living with at home and took their meal preferences we could send on J.R.D’s birthday. It was essentially what we called bringing in the taste of travel to their homes because we were not operating in the air. While airline food is generally seen as something that is not very appetizing, we are quite proud of our own menu — what we call the ‘Pioneer’s Picks’ which is based on J.R.D Tata’s favourite dishes of Basa with mashed potatoes, there is cheddar cheese omelet with beetroot cutlet. We also had a young master chef Kirti Bhoutika from Kolkata, who cooked up a very innovative vegan Moilee curry. So, in partnership with Swiggy, we sent food home to people’s homes — as a means of saying that come let’s experience the taste of travel at home. The response we got kept us going to a large extent and the support of these travel partners in this period — our bookings come through travel partners and they are the primary point of contact that customers have with us during the journey itself. But with each one of them, the individual relationship stood at the heart of this and the confidence that we give to our travel partners I think translated into the confidence that they give to their customers about booking with us and travelling with us. I think this was a positive impact of our approach.

In view of the current campaign that you are running that you say is more of a category building campaign rather than a brand building campaign, what is your projection about the time that the industry will take to bound back. What is your forecast? What do you see through your crystal ball, say in the coming two years or three years or say five years, the future of the aviation industry?

So I have a particular premise that I fall back upon to look to the future and I think it was coined by science fiction author William Gibson which was this epitaph that said, “Future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”. This comes from the genre of advanced technologies, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and so on and can be seen in juxtaposition with breakdown or radical change of the social order, as typically happens when there is macro-economic disruption. The idea has also been furthered by the Chief Economist of Google — and I study micro-economics myself — and he says that the simple way of forecasting the future is to look at what people have today. Middle income people will have something that they couldn’t in ten years and poor people will have in an additional decade and I think the main thing is the essential needs are not necessarily fulfilled by product or service with the same specifications. Take for example the rich — they wouldn’t traditionally wait in line for a product or service, they have personal assistance, who ensure their car is waiting at the curb or is met by an escort who takes them to the table or the door. The digitally rich have Google assistant.

So in the same way we are partnering with the likes of an Avis which is a chauffer-driven vehicle essentially but its available on demand with the gig economy. Instead of chauffeurs, individuals now have Uber or self-driving cars or omniscient apps that monitor and inform us in real time, so I think the ability to use digital platform or digitization will serve people’s aspirations once seen traditionally as being available only to those who could consume luxury.

I think we need to look back
and understand how aviation enabled experiences and memories and the spirit of exploration and a spirit of pioneering. For example, it was JRD Tata who pioneered Indian civil aviation with his maiden flight. I think if we look back to those days and see ourselves as pioneers, see ourselves as enablers of new experiences of connecting people, of connecting communities, then I think that is where really the future will lie, where brands should be able to differentiate themselves and actually build a connect with the consumers which I think has been missing to some degree with the commoditization that has transpired.

I think that is very much the future because that continues to be aspirational for individuals — for yesterday’s luxury is tomorrow’s normality. It is also in some sense that yesterday’s normality is today’s luxury, it’s a harkening to the past in this whole world of digitization, which is very binary by nature. It kind of takes away the human element and so the brands will be able to bring back that human touch, the service experience that will survive the longest. It’s a surprise that individuals wear watches that no longer tell the time, because the watch is about really the memory of when they got that watch and who gave it to them. It’s like something that you passed on to generations. We have seen the resurgence of industries such as that of LP records — again a sort of harkening back. I think we need to look back and understand how aviation enabled experiences and memories and the spirit of exploration and a spirit of pioneering. For example, it was JRD Tata who pioneered Indian civil aviation with his maiden flight. I think if we look back to those days and see ourselves as pioneers, see ourselves as enablers of new experiences of connecting people, of connecting communities, then I think that is where really the future will lie, where brands should be able to differentiate themselves and actually build a connect with the consumers which I think has been missing to some degree with the commoditization that has transpired.

Just one final thought: Do you see a civilizational schism, a schism in terms of how people and brands interact, how people view brands and how brands view people?

I hope not, I hope that we are able to bridge that gap. I think that there are inherent issues with digitization, I think there are inherent issues with the way in which digitization tends to lend into something that  I say which is binary, which is really about looking at individuals as data points. And we have all become very good at that specially as marketeers of understanding of what might drive individuals to purchase, but that does not really impact your affinity for the brand and I think if you begin to focus on the process efficiency rather than being people centric then you tend to widen that schism. And I think it is obviously happening with commoditization tending to widen many of those gaps and I think it is incumbent upon the human spirit to be able to perceive and bridge those gaps. As communicators it’s important that we are able to use the modes that we have including the advertising, messaging, communication messaging to bring back to people’s mind what is important, to not be scared of communicating and celebrating that the different things that we should celebrating, for instance, the diversity of experiences.

If you can think of yourself as an i
ndividual rather than part of the community and it is only travel and experiences that I think will help build that sense of community back again, so I think it’s up to us as individuals and
communicators to bridge that gap.

As we have all moved on to zoom calls and we have all moved on including many of the aviation seminars that I have been participating in are not happening in real time, it’s travel and tourism individuals who are now interacting with technology, so technology will replace a large part of that. I think organizations will cut down travel and cut costs. But there is still a need for individuals to connect with other people to have experiences and that I think will be able to bridge that gap. I think we are able to inspire people to connect with each other, to connect across communities, to connect across spaces to experience, a shared experience. I think we have all essentially been living in a very solo kind of experience with a small group of family within ourselves and that tends to increase the psychological gap with individuals, it tends to alienate individuals and that also is binary in itself. If you can think of yourself as an individual rather than part of the community and it is only travel and experiences that I think will help build that sense of community back again, so I think it’s up to us as individuals and communicators to bridge that gap.

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