Air Canada is focusing on both the aspirational aspect as well as high-frequency shopping categories/ activities to sustain continuous engagement with loyalty program members, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
24th June, 2021
The definition of a meaningful engagement especially during a phase when one couldn’t travel proved to be a formidable challenge for travel marketers. How to ensure a loyalty program retains its charm was a big conundrum.
In this context, the way Air Canada capitalized on the research findings to redesign Aeroplan and offer what the members expected from them has stood out.
Speaking to Marcus Puffer during Ai’s #MegaEvent21, Derek Whitworth, Managing Director, Marketing and Loyalty Optimization at Air Canada mentioned that it is “almost like the Aeroplan program was (re)designed to climb out of the pandemic in some ways”.
One of the key messages that emanated from the research was – members wanted more opportunities to earn and redeem points in their everyday lives, especially featuring their favourite brands. Referring to the initiatives taken, Whitworth cited the example of Starbucks, and how the airline intended to keep Aeroplan “top of the mind” and more of the same is expected in the next couple of months considering that more partnerships are on the anvil.
Plus, “during this period a lot of people wanted to dream as well”, and the partnership with Rocky Mountaineer is a way to engage such travellers, he said. “(It’s about) enabling members to dream about when they can do with their points when they are ready to redeem,” said Whitworth.
So if on one hand the program thrives by enabling members to dream and plan for aspirational destinations/ dream holidays, on the other, the plan is to create everyday engagement and let them make the most of their loyalty currency or the earn and burn cycle by indulging in shopping or other activities associated with daily lives.
There are tangible benefits that have emerged post Aeroplan’s decision to sign a partnership with a brand of Starbucks’ stature. Be it for members acknowledging such association initiated by Aeroplan to let them link their Aeroplan account to a Starbucks Rewards account to gauging what can be done with the points gained and so on, all of it does show signs of “continuous engagement with members”, shared Whitworth.
Puffer also referred to the power of partnerships in order to keep customers engaged. For many airlines, creating and bringing these partnerships to life hasn’t been a straightforward task. Agility is of paramount importance. In order to address the long tail with new partners, an entity has to act fast to offer a luring proposition to their customers. Also, the value of the currency, especially in terms of it can be used for means other than flights, should be understood by the customer.
Any travel company grappling with the impact of Covid19 would say that agility was key to their success.
Even as brands tend to focus on relevancy and value as far as their loyalty program is concerned, what the onset of the pandemic did was airlines had to convey and assure their customers that they care for them as well. And for this they had to pivot or bring certain changes to their programs, and that’s where agility mattered a lot.
For Aeroplan, the idea was to keep things not only simple but fair as well. “Focus was on taking care of members,” said Whitworth. This reflected in the manner in which the airline focused on aspects such as flexibility and certainty, for example, automatically extending Aeroplan Elite Status for an additional year—through to the end of 2022. A major challenge was to manage things while re-launching the program and also being as agile as possible in order to take care of members.
Role of technology
Air Canada has gone through major technological transformations not in the loyalty space but also in other disciplines as well.
Whitworth acknowledged that the turnaround time featuring tech, digital etc. was cut short for the benefit of the organization as well as consumers. The way related issues have been handled were termed as an asset. For instance, ensuring policies were implemented in a swift manner when customers were uncertain or nervous.
Airlines have the option to manage their respective loyalty programs from a single modern platform. Entities like IBS Software are not only letting airlines to shape up program features as per the evolving customer needs, but also support innovative partnerships and deeper integration with other channels and airline systems.
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