Alaska Airlines: Driving Marketing Through Data

Two years into a period of continuing volatility, how can marketers make sense of the consumer landscape? According to Alaska Airlines, the answer is data -- and with that answer comes a partnership with Google.

Susie Vowinkel, Google’s industry director, travel, said search data offers critical information that can help marketers target and message consumers. For instance, the company saw searches for “can I travel?” grow by 800% year over year in mid-2020 as frustrated consumers turned to digital to figure out when and how they could travel again. They also searched terms like  “border restrictions” in great numbers.

While the outlook is better this year, uncertainty is likely to continue as markets remain in various stages of reopening, said Vowinkel . Also, different sectors continue to recover at different paces, with leisure still leading the recovery while business travel lags.

According to Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director, marketing and advertising, the company realized early on in the crisis that it could leverage machine learning, particularly when it came to the predictive lifetime value of customers. At the beginning of the pandemic, data from Google showed that people were still traveling, but close to home -- or working while they were away from home. As a result, the carrier offered promotions targeting those trends, including a remote work package for Hawaii in partnership with Marriott.



One trend machine learning is revealing: “Meaningful” travel will take center stage as the country emerges from the pandemic. While “experiential” travel has ruled for the last few years -- as travelers took cooking lessons in destinations or sought “wellness” through yoga -- “meaningful” takes on a whole new dimension. It connotes being with family or otherwise seeking to get more out of life through adventures away from home.

Part of that phenomenon, said Vowinkel, will be “life moments” travel, including weddings, anniversaries, changing jobs and other milestones. Google/Ipsos research show 78% of people facing those life moments are considering travel related to those events. While the airline’s offers themselves may not have changed dramatically, said Bowman, messaging has shifted as Alaska has leaned more into the “meaningful” message.

While early messaging was promotional, said Bowman, the marketing tone has evolved to target those who will spend significantly on travel in the coming years -- a prized demographic. That can be helpful in creating more efficiency in travel spend, including with Google.

Looking ahead, said Vowinkel, loyalty is more up for grabs as customers review and transform their travel habits. Consumers are more open to booking with companies they haven’t used in the past. In fact, additional Ipsos/Google research showed one in three  say they‘re open to a booking with a travel company they haven’t used before. Consequently, said Vowinkel, it’s more important than ever for brands to inspire. As an example of fluctuating patterns witness the explosion of the vacation rental industry as travelers sought more space, privacy and  longer stays in the destinations they visit, she said.

To meet these changes, Google provides myriad tools for its partners. They include: Google Trends (what the world is searching); Flight Demand Explorer (demand for air travel); Mobility Reports (how people’s movement change depending on local situations); and Destination Insights with Google (monitors travel trends.)

While volatility will persist for the foreseeable future, Alaska Airlines’ partnership with Google shows that when it comes to marketing, it is possible to both “pivot” and to look ahead through the intelligent and continually monitored use of data.

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