Image: Vance Walstra

United Airlines debuted its Polaris business class at the end of last year, as a holistic experience including a dedicated lounge, unique amenities and a new seat design, creating a luxury sub-brand within the “friendly skies.”

APEX EXPO video sponsored by West Entertainment

Mark Krolick, United Airlines’ vice-president of Marketing, explained the role that customers, crew and digital platforms played in designing and marketing the airline’s new branded Polaris experience. “We did more research and data analytics than we’ve ever done before, and we spoke to our flight attendants. It’s unbelievable how much knowledge our flight attendants have,” Krolick said. “There was as much research with our employees as there was with our customers.”

“We did more research and data analytics than we’ve ever done before.”

United turned to social media and digital platforms to complement traditional advertising, like TV spots. “We wanted a marketing mix that was right for the product,” he said. “Social media doesn’t replace any of the traditional marketing channels – it just makes them more powerful.”

Using customer data to inform social media campaigns allowed the airline to better target advertising and evaluate feedback. “The intersection of big data and social media is really important,” Krolick said. “If you don’t have that, you have information on social media which might be irrelevant. Otherwise, you’re chasing your tail. Knowing who is saying what, and which data is most important to your company is critical.”

The airline also established a dedicated microsite that explains the product and gathers customer feedback. “The microsite is very transparent with our customers on how we’re doing with our product,” Krolick said.

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.