Two Sundays ago, I slept overnight in Chicago O’Hare International Airport due to a snowstorm on the East Coast (You’re only put up in a hotel for non weather-related cancelations). Of course, I use the word sleep lightly. It mostly consisted of a constant zoning in and out, and at one point waking to the sound of a vacuum and the sight of stranger staring at me from the other side of our shared bench at 3AM.
To give you an idea, here’s a picture of my bed in the United gate section:
And, because life is irony in its purest form–the following message from my airline dangled right above me:
Wonderfully, both, indeed. Given my alertness and the circumstances, I couldn’t help but start thinking of a way to improve upon United’s marketing. Their messaging is on point and aligns well with their established brand image/personality. All around the terminal you can find banners and cardboard tents near point-of-purchase/check-in. They seemed to be touting 2 different product benefits which can be purchased on their flights. The first is what I showed you, seats which will lay a flat 180º for a good flight’s sleep. The second benefit being sold was the ability to upgrade to 5 additional inches of legroom on the flight.
As an airline, terminals are the perfect opportunity to reach your consumers simply because of all the wait-time after security and from layovers (Yes, that’s a big fat DUH). So, why not take it a step further from the ads and make it an experience? After all, that’s what United is trying to sell–the comfortable experience of 5 inches additional legroom, the experience of laying down flat to sleep on long international flights.
Alright, imagine this: you’ve purchased a trip from EWR to LAX through United. You don’t want get stuck in security and risk missing the flight, so you arrived hours earlier only to pass through without a hitch. Well, now you have some time to kill, but at least you won’t miss the flight. As you approach the designated gate number you see a group of people buzzing around a corner area. What’s all the fuss? They’re interacting with an installation of United’s seat offerings–an exact replica of how they’re arranged in the plane. People can actually experience for themselves how much a difference 5 inches makes as well as the lay-flat seat option. With all that time to spare, you give it a go. You sit down and slide the chair back five inches from the one set in front of it. Pretty roomy, you can actually stretch your legs! And, since there’s plenty of time before you fly, you make the decision to upgrade your legroom right at the gate. Why not? You just tried it for yourself, and you know it will be worth it on the 6 hour flight ahead of you.
A similar scenario can occur with the lay-flat seats available on their international flights for business and first class. Although you might not purchase the lay-flat benefit the first time you play with this experiential installation, you might strongly reconsider when it saves your night sleeping in the terminal. The benefit of having this kind of experiential installation is that it doubles as a consolation to the weary business traveler left stranded and hotel-less. If I have a positive brand experience, which includes an inconvenient moment made convenient by your product benefit, why wouldn’t I consider purchasing it on my next flight? Besides, it’s tested by the most reliable source I know in terms of what’s right for me, me.
If United thinks about it, this not only could increase sales of those offerings, it might make them appear more like they’re thinking about me (the guy with their potential money). And, like most consumers of anything, I like when brands show they think about me.