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Letting Passion Take Flight (INTERVIEW)

Robert Friedman, VP Marketing at American Airlines
Gil Haddi
January 6th, 2014
As the Vice President of Marketing at American Airlines, Robert Friedman is responsible for all the traditional elements of marketing including promotions, sponsorships and branding, while on the other hand, he is also in charge of the customer's experience and journey beginning at planning and booking all the way to the day the customer arrives to airport and boards the aircraft. Loving his position, Robert Friedman explains that he has the most interesting job in the industry. He gets to be creative when planning the strategy and design for clubs and airport lounges, and plays his hand in technology as well with the web and mobile applications that make it easier for customers to plan and book their trips. Furthermore, everything inside of the aircraft, down to details such as the seats, the in-flight entertainment and the food and beverage can be accredited to Robert's hard work and dedicated team.

Three questions with Robert Friedman:

1. How does your team come up with creative ideas and consumer insights?

First and foremost we listen to customers, as well as our employees who have first-hand interaction with customers. We often use surveys and focus groups and we also have events where we bring in customers and have a dialogue with them face to face at a dinner or one of our clubs and lounges so they can provide us with their valuable feedback and ideas in an interactive, participatory manner. Then we have a really talented team that comes up with ways to accommodate our customers' ideas and requests. Our high-value customers are those who travel primarily for business, and we focus our effort on regarding their customer experience, making that our primary focus.

We've developed a new brand strategy and asked thousands of customers and employees what they expected from new American Airlines. We have an iconic American brand and the key elements of that brand, such as the Silverberg fuselage of the aircraft and the primary American colors, have been maintained. At same time, we've modernized the exterior with a very bold tail pattern that represents America and our proud history as an American airline. The new design represents elements our customers associate with America and Americanness, symbolizing entrepreneurial and original thought. We developed a bold new look that will resonate with customers and employees alike.

2. How do you create a culture of innovation?

An innovative culture starts with a clear vision focused on what are we trying to achieve and who we are trying to achieve that for. Building autonomy throughout the entire organization to experiment and test what works and what needs to be tweaked, creates a continuous loop that employees and customers are a part. The airline industry is somewhat unique in that we have a tremendous base of fixed assets yet we are always providing options and customers can tailor their flight based on their individual needs. We keep our core group of customers in mind but we are always looking for new ideas and trends that will benefit everyone.

Rituals take a lot of different forms as we've developed as a brand over the past few years. Our most valuable customers, that generate a large percentage of our income, make up only 3.5% of our customer base so we keep that focus in mind. While we can't tailor for every individual need, we've created sub-segments, even within that 3.5% group, as we recognize that our customers aren't all looking for the same things, in order to understand what the needs are among those sub-segments. We maintain a very clear focus on what we are trying to achieve and for which customer base, then we develop products that meet those needs.

3. How will American Airlines continue to be a leader in innovation?

Our customers want to be connected and comfortable while traveling. Every new aircraft will feature onboard WiFi, in-seat in-flight entertainment as well as power ports at every seat because those are the critical details that are important to today's and tomorrow's business customer. We are the first US airline to offer international WiFi so you can be flying over the ocean and still remain connected. Comfort-wise we've revamped first and business class seats, and provided extra leg room for seats in the main cabin as a 'Main Cabin Extra.' Comfort is about feeling at ease throughout the travel experience and apps play a major role in that as well. We offer the most mobile apps out of any airline so that our customers can remain connected with the airline.

The overall look and feel of the onboard environment is key. We have engaged designers to make the interiors feel like home, like our customer's favorite hotels, and the food and beverage servings, down to the cutlery and glassware, are evocative of their favorite restaurants. Our customers don't want their lives interrupted, so we try our best to offer them life uninterrupted.
References: linkedin, aa