Recovering From Travel's Long, Cranky Summer

It has not been a fun summer for travelers in the face of airline delays and cancellations, soaring hotel prices, challenges in getting a rental car and all-around hassles as the industry struggles to deal with the unprecedented demand resulting from loosened pandemic restrictions.

Mark DiMassimo, founder and creative chief of DiGo, an integrated advertising agency, thinks all these image-battered companies can maintain customer loyalty in the face of these challenges if they deploy when he calls positive behavior change marketing, which involves building a branded service culture that will win over customers and keep them loyal even in the face of disruptions.

It’s all about your people, said DiMassimo, and the ability of a company to build unique relationships with their employees. He sums up his philosophy this way: all successful travel brands are service brands, giving as examples Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Four Seasons Hotels. He explains that success is all about how employees make guests feel.



Service brands are driven by service cultures, said DiMassimo, and service cultures are driven by employment culture. With Southwest Airlines,  for example, that branded service was about being cheap and cheerful.

How does this translate into marketing? Said DiMassimo: “It’s about advertising promises that only  employees can keep.” When Avis said, ‘We’re No. 2 so we try harder,’ said DiMassimo, it was a way of organizing  employees. Travel can be scary and stressful, and what a customer craves is being seen as a person, not as part of a pack.

And when things do go wrong, apologizing is not a strategy. Customers will forgive brands that stand out as service cultures for mistakes and will continue choose them. DiMassimo said he was on both JetBlue flights several years ago that incurred record-long and headline-generating runway delay times. He remained loyal to the carrier because its human culture was so “amusing and reassuring.” He blamed the industry and not the airlines.

It is in challenging periods like this when brands are either undone or defined in a positive way. To stand out now, he said:

  • Brands must advertise.
  • They must advertise about their service culture.
  • They must make promises that management will have to fulfill.

It’s up to management to pick a target, a reputation for employees to live up to. Walmart will greet you at the door and promise low prices. Focus on something you can keep doing through crises, said DiMassimo, and that will serve as your unique service culture and brand.

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