Rebecca White, business lead for marketing and insight, Heathrow, loves passengers. With a role which encompasses all passenger-facing communications and activities, this is clearly vital. The 76 million passengers who come through Heathrow year after year are a diverse and powerful consumer base, but White is keen to explain how Heathrow’s unique presence as a global brand unites this distinctive group of consumers around Heathrow’s core values.
“We’re trying to make sure we do two things for our passengers.” Says White. “The first is to make sure they’re really well informed in terms of what products, services and experiences they can have at the airport. The second revolves around creating a much more desirable and relevant Heathrow experience for them. We know that for many of our passengers Heathrow is the beginning or the end of some of their greatest journeys, and they see it as an important part of the overall experience. We take it really seriously; we’re not just there to be the station for them to leave or arrive or connect. We have the opportunity to really enhance their time before they get on the plane.”
The culture surrounding airports is unique; they are exciting and noisy and ever-changing. This must give you a unique relationship with consumers?
“It’s fascinating. People see it as a place where their real life stops for a period of time. And some people find that’s actually lovely, this point in time where they can unplug from their real world, and enjoy a space and an experience which is just about them and what they want. And some people find it really unsettling, because they don’t like being disconnected from what’s going on in their life. What we’re trying to do at the airport is first realise that Heathrow itself has real global salience. We’re quite emboldened by the fact that globally, even if people haven’t flown through us or come to the UK, they know what Heathrow is- that it’s London’s portal, the way that you come to the UK, if not Europe.”
You have an interesting dynamic between the B2B and B2C communications at Heathrow. How are you consolidating those two very different voices?
“The biggest challenge we’ve got is probably complexity, both of the finite services and products we offer, and in the way we communicate with people. What we’re trying to do here at Heathrow is speak to passengers in the most coherent, inspiring and logical way, but with an emotional resonance. It has to be messaging that is not just transactional push, it has to be something that will prompt a behaviour change or a reconsideration.
“One of the “aha!” moments we’ve had of late was realising that we need to act more like a B2B to get that scaleable message across to people. But we have to talk like a B2C, we have to maintain that direct connection with passengers, to make sure that people realise that Heathrow is relevant to them. We don’t want to become a corporate entity and only talk to the power brokers and decision makers. We want to make sure we maintain that relevant everyday connection with our passengers, because to be honest, we know that the passengers are the most powerful stakeholder in the room. Most of them have a supercomputer in their bag, a smartphone or an iPhone, and within an instant they can make a purchase, comment on a service, shift a trip. Across the industry, unless we have those passengers and our story with them absolutely at the forefront of what we’re doing, we’re kidding ourselves.”
So passenger input is having a real time impact on the intricacies of their own experience?
“We don’t want to go back to the old days, where people feel like they’re being pushed through like cattle, pushed from pillar to post. The heart and soul of it is asking: “why are we doing this in the first place?” We start every objective by asking what the passenger will get out of it. If we’re asking: “how do we make this more operationally efficient, how do we make sure we’re eliminating complexity along the chain,” well then we’ve got the wrong mind-set, we haven’t put the passenger’s needs at the start, and we’ve not been clear in how we’re going to improve their experience. From a marketing communications perspective we’ve realised the power is with the passenger.”
How do you break down a timeline of the customer journey to make sure that you’re having the right impact?
“One thing that we’ve been really conscious of is that an experience with us doesn’t start at the terminal door. We’ve got quite a big role to play in that pre-planning stage, and we find that customers really do look forward to their time at Heathrow. They want to know where they can eat, where they can shop, what their kids can do. We need to make sure that within that pre-planning stage, people are making the time they’re spending at Heathrow as valuable as possible. The worst thing for us is having people sitting down for too long, being bored.
“One thing we’re learning from other airports around the world is that the stronger you make that airport experience, the more you become a desirable destination yourself. People do start planning their journeys knowing that if they go via Heathrow, it will be great. There are consumers who say that the airport’s irrelevant, it’s just a means to an end to get to another destination. But what we are finding is that people are becoming far more seasoned as airline travellers. People are wanting to pick the best places and best destinations to go to. And I think that us being much more conscious of our active role in that journey is a good thing. It takes the responsibility even further. We’re not just providing a safe and secure and reliable service, we’re making sure it’s memorable, or exciting, or calming, or whatever the passenger might want it to be.”