It was a rainy day in November. A day not unfamiliar to many business travelers. But, this day was different, the destination was not the goal. It was the journey that was to hold center stage, bathed in a moving bicoastal spotlight, through an immersive marketing engagement with both social, as well as other, media.
"to know me is to fly with me" (Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air)
Recently, I had the unique opportunity to look at various cross-promoted products by way of film and social media and speak with many of the people behind them when I, as a VIP Guest, was…
And, out of this very awesome bicoastal adventure, I found many lessons that can benefit all in the marketing and promotion of their own products, in both online and offline worlds.
It started like this…
Saturday, November 14
3:50 PM, The Terminal
This airline terminal, of American Airlines, has now filled with many different types of people, from such industries as movie, journalism, technology, business, etc., all contributing to the pervasive spirit of reserved elation and excitement – as networking and introductions ensued, in wait for a nice, bubbly party.
4:10 PM, Taxiing Begins
… for our scheduled 4 PM flight as I scour underneath rows of seats looking for the elusively scattered, power plug. Being sure to, like in the "Up in the Air" movie premiere we are about to be party to, not overlook these quirks that many the frequent traveler grows to not loath, but rather welcome as numbering among those endearing qualities that cement one’s affections for another, or makes that quirky place, even one as transient as air travel, the experience, altogether, your home.
It is this sentiment that the movie seeks to capture, and does so superbly. It is this experience, and many more, the traveler’s experience, that resulted in American Airlines’ substantial involvement in this project.
4:21 PM, Lift-off
It starts off a rainy day as the journey begins, flying into the thick of clouds. The darkness brought about soon, rapidly disappears as the plane emerges into the dusty blue sky, with hints of setting sun. The sounds, the dull roar of peace settling over the cabin as the festivities, the reason for this journey, are about to begin.
Here, everyone is a stranger, much like typical business travel with which we are all most familiar. Although, in this case, invited by either American Airlines or Paramount.
And, it ended like this…
7:29 PM, Touch-down
… 11 minutes ahead of schedule!
Sunday, November 15
4:45 AM (next day), Breakfast @ Hilton
… consisting of a turkey sandwich and a venti white mocha.
6:03 AM, Return
I began my journey back to NYC, the final leg of this adventure, by heading back to the airport in preparation for my un-delayed, non-VIP, Economy class flight.
First Class Experience
… from my vantage point in Economy class on this AA Charter flight. American Airlines’ social media program is still somewhat new, making for a great study subject. I started out by sitting down with American Airlines’ Billy Sanez, Director of Corporate Communications and Advertising & Promotions, and Chris Vary, Social Media Director, to begin my look into the inner workings and sharable lessons of this event.
On Social Media Strategy
American Airlines (AA) identifies two basic social media types that they seek to reach out to…
- the very engaged / engaging individual, and
- the reader / listener.
In the process of attracting these individuals, they ‘follow a lot of people,’ …
- targeting following customers, as well as what they follow,
- cultivating friendships with communities that are friends with their passengers.
Billy refers to all this as "family building." By doing so, they see themselves as creating a community of engaged people. Their social media goal is in building a community consisting of people "with real voices and opinions" who "talk about it (AA), enjoy it (AA), tell us (AA) how to fix it (AA)."
On the "Up in the Air" Movie and Premiere
Among American Airlines’ considerations for getting involved in this project were they…
- felt the story was "real," and the people of AA, and in-turn, their customers, could easily relate to the story, travel quirks and all, and
- saw the overall project as a great way to show off their product, what they do — that they can take "him" (Ryan Bingham, the main character in the movie and on the broader stage, the generic traveler) there.
On Pitfalls to Avoid & Advice
Some great advice Billy Sanez had for others seeking to launch a social media initiative boiled down to commitment.
Launching a social media initiative should be done because it is good for business, meets the needs of the business and product, not because it is cool, not because everyone else is doing it, not because you feel like you have to do it.
For American Airlines, the social media initiative is a great way for them to reach out to target audiences across a diverse array of channels that the various social media participants represented, everything from business and entrepreneurial, to fashion and consumer electronics.
When launching a social media initiative the company "must commit to it." You are setting yourself up for failure if you do not approach the social media initiative as a long-term strategy — much more than a brief initiative for a single event.
Being committed to a social media initiative is more than planning for the long-term, but also making sure to have the proper and sufficient resources behind it. For example, having enough resources to monitor all the content out there that pertains to your product, can be seen as a good start.
Lessons from 20,000 Ft
This successful move premiere was driven by a very effective social media campaign and all-encompassing event. Some takeaways that everyone with a product can learn from this strategy are:
- Create an immersive product experience.
Most effective about this first ever movie premiere in the air was the totally immersive experience that they, American Airlines and Paramount Pictures, sought to envelope everyone in, simultaneously reaching out to and leveraging diverse social media communities. I became the main character in the movie, I was Ryan Bingham (George Clooney)!
Immersing the user, or event participants, in the product experience makes more relevant the product’s characteristics, its benefits, its purpose for existing, while founding a strong and lasting emotional connection.
- Leverage diverse social media communities.
The organizations behind this event did not limit themselves to movie and celebrity outlets. They reached out to key community participants and buzz makers across a variety of industries, a variety of market influences. In addition to myself, some of the other opinion makers at the event were…
Specializing in Consumer Electronics, Video Games
From Black Web 2.0
Specializing in Fashion, Beauty, Entertainment
From I’m Not Obsessed!
Specializing in Mobile, Advertising, Business
From The Upper Westside Journal
Specializing in Movies, Hollywood
From First Showing
By not limiting themselves to only the generic movie channels, American Airlines and Paramount were able to reach out to a much broader audience, generate more buzz across more spheres of influence. Anywhere there were individuals primed for either or all products being promoted, American Airlines and Paramount Pictures, increased their chances of reaching them.
The products of American Airlines and Paramount Pictures where excellently showcased and thoroughly enjoyed by all at this premiere in the air. Some steps that can be taken to further build upon these successes are…
…as to the event…
- Have a pre-flight get together to introduce key players, American Airlines and Paramount responsible for assembling this trip, and those who will be available throughout the course of the event, as well as their VIP guests, and consider even allowing for a brief group Q&A to get the reporting and social media juices flowing.
- One of the parts of this trip that everyone was talking about, and I was particularly looking forward to, was the live in-flight concert by Sad Brad. Disappointingly, while I could clearly see Brad, hearing the concert on the plane proved impossible for all but those sitting right next to him. But, this quirk of air travel, and of trying something new, and something that should definitely be attempted again, provided a good learning experience — such as testing out the more technically challenging components of the trip beforehand. It would have been great to have been able to listen to the concert by plugging our goodie bagged Bose QC 15 headphones into the entertainment system.
- An often overlooked aspect of scheduling social media events is the "down time" for the participants to engage their social media audiences, work on their article writing, etc. For this event it would have been very helpful to have had built-in down time at the hotel, the night of the event, as well as the day after for writing and posting, before sending everyone on their way home — exhausted from the travel, thereby delaying the desired product buzz building.
…as to the target audiences…
- While I had access to Wi-Fi on my flight back from LAX to JFK, I did not have access to power. And, without access to power I would not be able to avail myself of the Wi-Fi or get much work done on my bicoastal flight, like working on this article. For both the event and the audiences being targeted by the event’s products, the biggest ‘Should Do’ relates to access to power. Prior to takeoff on the first leg of the trip, I was able to secure power, but only after crawling around on my hands and knees looking for the seemingly, randomly placed power outlet (my assigned seat, as well as its row, did not have an outlet). If you are targeting business travelers, social media types (the creators as well as the readers) your perks need to consist of more than Wi-Fi, but must include power at EVERY seat, not scattered throughout.
- Providing free Wi-Fi is essential, and was successfully accomplished. Beyond the necessity of easy access to power for such devices as laptops and cell phones, essential on a non-stop bicoastal adventure, it is worth considering, to encourage people to engage their audiences better by…
- advising people to spread out their coverage over days / weeks, leveraging various familiar mediums (e.g. text and pictures) and their respective services (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc.) to further support the buzz building, and
- depending on budget and other capabilities, provide devices that encourage posting, twitter devices, Internet enabled digital cameras already connected to the plane’s Wi-Fi, etc.; because the more effort your remove from the process, the broader and more sustained will be the coverage received.
Of all the perks and quirks surrounding this adventure, of all the planning and preparation done on all sides, at the end of the day, it came down to the core, the support, the backbone that made everything run smoothly, with which I was most impressed. I do a great deal of traveling for my consulting and have had many an unpleasant and apathetic encounter with customer support. On both this trip, as well as my standard Economy class flight back to NYC, as well as when I had to call the 800# to make last minute travel changes, the customer support, the flight attendants, were entirely and consistently helpful and attentive from one coast to the other, and back again.
No matter what your product is, no matter how cool the immediate event is, always remember that it is the support infrastructure that your clients, your product’s users, often most frequently interact with, that sets the tone for the overall product experience, leaves a lasting, influential impression, that will have a direct impact on current and future opinions is the customer support.
Your social media endeavors and product events pale in relation to having a sound support infrastructure, cheerful, accessible, helpful individuals, like American Airlines’ Jenny Harrington, there to help your product’s consumers throughout their product experience. Every product needs at least one Jenny Harrington.
"warm reminders that I am home" (Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air)
Fly, Fly Again
I turn down requested product reviews on this blog all of the time, but this one, universally unique, had me at ‘movie premiere on an airplane’. My advice to other companies looking to replicate much of what was done here …
encourage social media engagement, and
foster emotional ties between the product and those participating
… in your product campaigns and announcements and you will be able to have similar, repeatable successes as was done at the "Up in the Air" movie premiere with American Airlines and Paramount Pictures as we flew from JFK to LAX.
Also, I’d love to know how the lessons from this experience have benefited you and your product, or changed the way you are thinking about your next marketing / promotional endeavors. Leave a comment, email me, tweet me.
Enjoy & Share!
The Product Guy