Week after week, I have these conversations with leaders to get a chance and understand how you turn a crisis into a success. For this week’s fireside chat, I was rather excited to host my guest owing to the immense scope of learnings that I would get to learn from talking to Debojo. An old friend, Debojo, has been busy for the last decade on some of the most ambitious marketing projects executed in India. He became an entrepreneur at 26, providing digital solutions to diverse industries from Education, Healthcare, Travel, and hospitality post, which he also headed the Marketing Function at Common Wealth Games. Finally, he joined SpiceJet, and since 2016 has been working with its current owner and make it one of the world’s leading airline stock. A multi-lingual, energetic leader with over 19 years of experience. A pioneer among marketing leaders, who have gone beyond their role and managed other initiatives and driven them to success.
Dealing With Crisis is Not New to SpiceJet
During the coronavirus crisis, most of us have seen that SpiceJet has been actively working with the government in these tough times and operated close to 25 flights, as part of the Vande Bharat mission to bring back over 4000 Indian nationals, stranded in the Middle East. They also started charter flights to bring back over 30,000 Indian nationals and pivoted to carry Cargo and deliver essentials across the world.
This Entrepreneurial DNA at SpiceJet is not new, and its roots can be traced back to the change it experienced in 2016 when the airline was about to become bankrupt. It’s owner, Mr. Ajay Singh, infused cash and took control of its operations.
Making Survival A Success Formula
Reminiscing those days, Debojo shares that one of the biggest challenges that the airline faced was to gain customer confidence as the crisis was internal, but the impact was on the end customer. They had a limited amount of fleet, and the government restricted us from taking any future bookings. The first three months in 2016 were all about survival, and by April, the effort of the commercial teams saw the airline have the highest load factor in the country with an occupancy factor of 88%.
Debojo did not credit this success to only the commercial teams but to the culture that also drove the engineering and operation teams on the ground that helped in improving SpiceJet from number 5 to the number 1 airline in On-time performance, dislodging our competitor whose positioning was OTP for the longest time.
Making Marketing Work During A Crisis
Their approach to marketing at the time was also careful and calibrated. As many hotels, airlines in the post-COVID world, look at a relaunch strategy, I believe SpiceJet’s example from 2016 can serve as a simple framework to plan the relaunch strategy. At that time, they experimented with digital channels and continuously targeted in reaching new audiences with new content to increase awareness, after they had reached enough people and started seeing engagement, they shifted to Print Ads to position the airline as a stable and well-performing industry player.
He further adds that the essentials of marketing continue to remain the same, understand the customer, know who your audience is, and have the right metrics in place. What has now changed is how we communicate this message. According to him, the three things marketer should invest in to get success are
- Data and Audience management
- Hyper-Personalization of Communications
- Consistent Engagement of Value Proposition
In the specific instance of COVID-19, we had to move from the promote mode to listen mode, very quickly, and tailor our communication in accordance with the queries our guests have. Leveraging technology, we could provide a chatbot that helped guests get answers to as many COVID19 questions that they had. The time we saved from answering those queries were invested in communicating about canceled tickets, credits, and how the same can be used in the future.
Moving Forward without relying on historical data
Debojo states that India has always been a price-sensitive market, and SpiceJet has stayed ahead of the curve and our competitors. While some practices in revenue management might take time to change and it might be some time before the industry adopts a new framework on arriving at the right pricing, the interim time will see brand salience playing a crucial role combined with the safety measures taken. Almost 20% of the consumers in India are looking to pay a premium if an airline ensures better health and safety, which has never happened in this market before.
Innovations That Build Trust to Get Travelers On-Board
SpiceJet is continuously investing and innovating to make the experience safer and seamless. Initiatives around health and safety such as synthetic-leather seats that would make sure no virus, microbes, the dust gets attached to the same as its not porous and make cleaning easier. This also extends to SpiceJet’ new in-flight entertainment system where they are testing safety features,
To my utter surprise, Debojo shared an insight, which most fliers are unaware of. According to him, the air circulated within the plane is the cleanest when compared to any other form of transportation. The airflow is from ceiling to bottom as a gush to ensure that you do not breathe the same air, and the entire air is refreshed 30 times in an hour.
SpiceJet is also working with partners to ensure that the entire experience from entering the airport to check-in, onboarding is contactless to ensure zero contamination. Today, Air Travel is the safest mode of transport.
Opportunity for Brand Sites to Increase Direct
Guliz Ozturk from Pegasus earlier this year, told us about the opportunity brand sites have to increase bookings by consistently communicating with passengers and making sure that the right information is timely available to travelers, so that they rely on your website to not only book tickets but also make sure they get the right experience when they travel.
While Debojo principally agreed with Guliz’s idea, he argues that the direct booking phenomenon is prevalent in the west, where some airlines also have stopped distributing on other channels and take bookings only on their website.
However, India’s aviation industry will rely on third-party partners as they have captured most of the market and can offer discounts to consumers that we cannot afford.
Our conversation concluded as expected, with Debojo being optimistic about SpiceJet’s future and the aim of the management to expand in international markets, which other foreign airlines are no longer able to service, due to reduced demand and increased operating costs.
Myths cleared, hope restored, and lessons learnt. The journey of capturing perspectives continues to help professionals in the travel and hospitality industry understand how better can they cope in the new normal.
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About the Author
Apurva Chamaria is the Chief Revenue Officer of RateGain, one of world’s leading SaaS company’s serving over 20,000+ customers in the travel and hospitality industry across 100+ Countries. In his role, he leads sales, marketing, alliances and customer success across the world. Prior to joining RateGain, Apurva was the Global Head of Corporate Marketing for HCL Technologies, an US$ 8 Billion global IT major.
He is a sought after speaker in the travel and hospitality technology space on the topics related to cognitive revenue management, smart distribution and guest experience. He has been a speaker at various industry recognized events such as NoVacancy, THINC, World Travel Market, and many more. He is also a contributor to publications like Phocuswire, Skift, HT Brand Studio, LinkedIn Conclaves and others.
He is a columnist for the Pitch and Digital Market Asia magazines. His book “You are the key – unlocking doors through Social Selling” (Bloomsbury) hit #2 in the Amazon India Best-Sellers list. For his contribution and excellence in the field of marketing he has been awarded the ‘Marketer of the Year’ by World Leadership Forum in 2016, ‘Digital Marketer of the Year’ by IAMAI and ‘B2B Marketer of the Year’ by Paul Writer. In 2018, he was feted as 40 under 40 by the Campaign Asia magazine.