Looking to build human connect to gain consumers: Akasa Air’s Belson Coutinho

The co-founder, chief marketing and experience officer at Akasa Air, speaks with Campaign India on the sidelines of the brand’s first multimedia campaign being rolled out

Sep 08, 2022 04:08:00 PM | Article | Raahil Chopra

Akasa Air, the latest addition to the Indian skies, has rolled out its first multimedia campaign, titled 'It's Your Sky'.
 
The campaign broke on 8 September across print, digital and OOH. The print campaign has been released in six languages - Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati and English.
 
 
The campaign is based on the insight that air travel in the country has so far been highly transactional.
 
In a conversation with Campaign India, Belson Coutinho, co-founder, chief marketing and experience officer, Akasa Air, explained how Akasa Air wants to change that.
 
Edited excerpts:
 
The idea behind this campaign? Why was television not considered for the launch?
 
We did consider everything, but it's always about where your audience is. For this campaign, we thought TV wouldn’t make sense. What you see has to be impactful and effective, and so we arrived at outdoor, print, digital and social.
 
Will the outdoor campaign be running only in the five cities you currently operate in?
 
Yes, it’s more targeted. We have it across these five cities at strategic points like airports.
 
When it comes to the airline industry, the perception is that customers look at price points while booking tickets or loyalty points. With Akasa Air yet to have the loyalty point system in place, is the price the only way of acquiring consumers?
 
The essence of the campaign and what we are doing as a business is about being ‘customer-centric’. There’s a tremendous opportunity and a need in a very transactional environment to create that something inclusive for our customers. We want our service to be delivered through warmth and empathy. I think that the softer side, backed with the right product experience, and affordable fares, is what will help us sustain. 
 
Affordability and bringing value is something we’ll always look to do and fares are always market-driven, but the service side of it is the USP and differentiator, which we are riding on.
 
We also have a conviction and confidence in the people who are going to deliver this. We have put in a lot of effort and time for the right selections for our in-flight and ground staff colleagues.
 
We have a set of values we all believe in and that will hold us in good stead. To create reach and engagement, we are using digital and social channels.
 
What’s the approach you’re taking on digital?
 
We have been completely organic with our growth on social media. I don’t worry about how many fans or followers we have. It’s more about the visibility and engagement we are trying to create. I believe these messages are going in the right spirit.
 
As we start building customer profiles, that communication will be personalised and targeted and will reach out to them in the way they like to consume content.
 
It’s still early days, but what’s the feedback customers have shared with you?
 
Our teams are demonstrating the beliefs we spoke about. It’s not only the ground staff and in-flight colleagues, but also the teams managing customer feedback. We are focusing on how we take the feedback that we get in its true sense and spirit, and reach back to the customer to provide the right solution, if required. We make sure customers don’t go through a long IVR process. 
 
The campaign coincides with the start of the festive season. How do you aim to break the clutter of not only your competitors but all the communication that’s going to be rolled out?
 
As marketers talk a lot about creating content, and yes you need it to engage with your customers in the right manner, but our philosophy is about keeping it simple. We don’t want to complicate the whole content creation process.
 
Right now, the content we are using on social media is about what is relevant and simplistically put together to create that connection. Whether it’s connecting and being relevant and being relevant in the non-product and service side of it or using a mix of language that people find easy.
 
When you were at Jet Airways, the JP Miles program was highly appreciated and had its fanfare. Can we expect one soon for Akasa Air?
 
There are a few strategic service-led initiatives that are going to come our way in the next few months. In the lead-up to the launch, we wanted to create a product and service ecosystem that is differentiated and good enough for us to go to market. We also felt that we didn’t want to do too many things too fast, and not make them impactful. There are a few areas in which we are seeing the opportunity, and we’ll see unique/relevant things from a consumer engagement space.
 
You’re currently flying to five destinations. What are the expansion plans?
 
We add an aircraft to our fleet every 15 days. If you see the number of flights that we have to the current destinations, they have scaled up immensely. When we go at this speed, we’ll have around 18-20 new flights coming up by the end of March 2023. I haven’t seen a scale-up of a startup airline in the number of aircraft and destination flights at the pace we are coming up with. It’s a pretty fast growth, which is well thought through.
 
We’ve seen protests at advertising-related festivals for agencies running campaigns for brands that affect the environment. What’s Akasa Air doing to take on climate change?
 
We are building a culture at Akasa Air and sustainability is a topic and area very close to our hearts. Right from our founder, sustainability is serious for us. We don’t just think it’s a nice thing to do or a marketing opportunity. It’s something that we want to do to create a visible impact.
 
We have started in a small way, but have a well-thought-out plan to look at ourselves as doing something good in the sustainability space for a long time to come. Our uniforms are made of recycled pet bottles. Our shoes are created from recycled rubber. Our packing on board is also sustainable. We believe these things are baby steps in our journey towards sustainability. We are not doing this from a marketing or optics point of view, but to create that internal culture and do something that makes a difference.
 
The challenges in the airline marketing space?
 
I look at challenges as opportunities. The first opportunity we see, is about knowing the customer and we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Every marketer talks about this ‘single-view of a customer’. We are putting together a lot of effort for this opportunity that exists in the aviation industry. There’s this tremendous amount of data that gets churned out in travel. The opportunity I see is in creating compelling engagement and offers, and even enhance our products.
 
Secondly, how can we leverage the ecosystem that we are creating to take the brand experience to the next level? The partner ecosystem that we work with can together help create a significant amount of innovations and value adds. I don’t think many brands and companies leverage them. These will help us do things differently and bring the value add that the consumers are looking for.