Delta Air Lines Marketing VP's Advice: Innovate and Explore

Red-eye flight
Red-eye flight

Delta Air Lines is an innovative marketer taking bold digital strides. In a recent interview Bob Kupbens, Delta's VP Marketing and Digital Commerce, shared five directives from his position at the world's biggest airline.

Integrate Across Channels

While many marketing organizations still run paid, owned and earned media as separate channels, Kupbens has all under his control.

"It allows us to be more consistent in content, copy, and tone of voice," he said. "We have an overall marketing plan that allows us to pull down volume in one and still be consistent in the other."

And that includes social media. "Thinking about social as a separate channel doesn't work," he said. Opportunities exist "in the links between the channels."

Start With Customer Engagement

Delta doesn't start with a digital strategy. "We look at four experiences: in flight, in the airport, on the phone, and online. But digital has made its way into all of those... WiFi keeps us connected in flight, our mobile phone has our boarding pass and gate info, and people are comparing prices online as they're talking to an agent."

Effective marketing is about having a customer engagement strategy, he offers, not digital for the sake of digital.

Embrace Technology and Data

"So much of what we're delivering on the marketing side is a function of some technology implementation," said Kupbens.

Marketing execs today don't need to be data scientists, but they do need to understand analytics and customer data. "And more importantly, " he adds, "the capabilities of each channel to deliver."

Create Marketing Metrics

"The goal of marketing is to make people aware of the things Delta can provide that others can't. But that's not enough," said Kupbens.

Delta has both marketing and digital commerce responsibilities under one role. It's a trend happening across many industries and it brings an added ROI focus -- and pressure -- to positions that once managed only brand building.

"Marketing needs to pull through to conversions," he explained. "It's harder to calculate ROI on a broadcast ad but it's easy on paid search. We create metrics even on the marketing side."

Innovate and Explore

At one point, Delta sold tickets inside Facebook. "We wanted to test out social commerce so we found a partner and took a shot."

That shot didn't land but in an often too-cautious marketing world this playful "fail fast" mentality can pay huge dividends.

Kupbens is now experimenting with another Facebook initiative: group travel planning inside social with its Away We Go app.

Succeed or fail, that initiative points toward an awareness by Delta that the real power in social lies in bridging the behavioral data outside Facebook, not just accessing a fan base for service and brand building.

And once Delta starts collecting social permission data -- here comes the mandatory airline idiom -- the sky's the limit.