News breaks this week that Air New Zealand is withdrawing its safety video after thousands signed an online petition claiming it was “culturally insensitive”. What could possibly offend in a set of bikini clad Sports Illustrated models telling you to keep your safety belt fastened !? It’s still available at You Tube for you to check out whether it offends you or not.
The airline claims it is not withdrawing the video because travellers find it inappropriate but simply as part of a regular refresh. It seems likely that the airline may have misjudged its relationship with its customers – perhaps some relationship counselling is needed.
A study by Jill Avery, Susan Fournier, and John Wittenbraker in July’s HBR looks at customer relationship management through the twofold lenses of big data and emotional understanding.
They define customers into groups that range from the “One night stand”, through “Fling”, “Fleeting Acquaintances”, “Dealer/Addict”, “Buddies”, “Marriage on the rocks” to “Old Friends”. Each correlates with the potential price premium that can be justified and market share. They suggest that “For instance, customers looking for a one-night stand with the brand are generally willing to pay a higher premium than those who see themselves as colleagues of the brand.”
A “One night stand” is of course a customer that just buys the brand occasionally, but with passion, and as a betrayal of the normal brand they buy. Understood properly there’s great potential to drive frequency there. The authors characterise adults who eat cheesy snack Cheetos as in a “Secret Affair” with the brand commenting that :” they relished the snack’s bright orange color, funny shapes, cheesy messiness, and even the telltale residue on their hands (licking their fingers made them feel they were breaking the rules)”.
This understanding should inform every aspect of communication with the brand, and it’s possible that Air NZ simply thought, or wishes to think, of its customers as buddies when in fact they’re more like casual acquaintances. It’s important to get it right or the brand and customer relationship is going to be undermined.
This is a much richer way to define customers, and potential customers, than traditional segmentation, and it is informed by ethnographic research and social monitoring as well as data. Just as you treat your friends, colleagues and relations differently depending on the underlying nature of the relationship, so a brand should develop different rules of communication relating to emails, service requirements, call centre scripts, offers, pricing, comms strategies and of course advertising. In a “Fling” the brand needs to offer novelty and excitement. Seasonal product for a limited time frame is ideal. On the other hand a brand with plenty of loyal “team mates” would want to consult on new product development and offer previews of new advertising campaigns.
Service expectations from customers are higher than any time for several decades. They’re growing all the time. The brands that are able to use big data to form clear empathetic strategies for their customers are the ones that will have a competitive edge.