What are you overlooking?

Boardingpass Everyone is scrambling to find the next new thing in marketing.  How do we break through the clutter?  What high tech wonder can we harness to get our customer’s attention?  How can I be one step ahead of the competition?

Recently, I was reminded that sometimes we just have to look at things a little differently to find the answer.  No new medium, no new gadget — just seeing something that was in front of us all along.

I know it won’t surprise you to learn that I was getting on a plane recently.  I had changed my flight so I was in the last group of people to be called to board the plane.  The line was moving right along and for some reason I noticed that people were actually looking at the gate agent.  They were having a brief exchange of some kind.  People were smiling.  "How weird is that," I thought.

As I got closer, I could hear the gate agent.  As he scanned each person’s boarding pass, he was greeting them by name.  He varied the greeting…"welcome aboard, how are you doing, good to see you, thanks for flying with us"….but he ended them all with the person’s name.

Here’s a guy who was creating instant customer impressions.  No marketing budget.  No memo.  No meetings.  He just realized that everyone’s name was printed on the boarding pass and he could use that fact to create a "talk about" moment.

Sure, he called me Andrew instead of Drew (I just assumed I was in trouble!) so it wasn’t a perfect execution.  And I’m sure he knew that every once in awhile he was going to mispronounce a name.  But he forged ahead anyway.  And it was absolutely noteworthy.

Our names have been on boarding passes for years.  This is the first time I have ever had a gate agent call me by name as I passed by.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing to be a remarkable thing.   Think of the thousands of gate agents who could have done the same thing, but it never occurred to them.

What have you overlooked?

10 comments on “What are you overlooking?

  1. Tom says:

    It shows how far marketing has moved AWAY from the fundamentals that calling someone by their name is considered innovative.

    I saw this blog post / advert recently:


    And am amazed for the same reason. Who else should we presume runs opticians ?

    I guess the learning from this is: do the obvious, well, and you’ll JUST beat people’s expectations- which leaves plenty of roon for improvement too.

  2. Hey Drew,

    Your post is interesting to me because it challenges our ability to mimic effective human-to-human behavior online. To make myself more clear, imagine if this gate agent said “Drew, I’m so glad you changed your flight so we could have you on our plane.” Would that be weird or comforting? What if you had changed your flight from another airline and the gate agent said “You made a good choice switching to Air Canada. We’re glad to have you aboard Drew.” My guess is that might spook you a bit. What if he said “Drew if you’re staying at the new Hyatt Place, with all the technology hook-ups, let us know your opinion.” If you were staying at the Hyatt Place – that might totally freak you out! Right?

    We have semantic marketing technology – Semanticator – that is capable of delivering that level of personalized brand experience online. We can detect if a visitor has visited a competitor’s website. We can even assess a visitor’s level of commitment to a competitor. As an example, if a visitor had enrolled in NorthWest Airlines WorldPerks rewards program in the last couple of weeks, Semanticator ( http://www.semanticator.com ) would know that, and it could be used by Air Canada to recommend the Aeroplan program. We can detect visits to complementary websites – in this case lodging or rental car websites. So, we are able to make a solid inference on where a visitor will be staying and what car rental company they’ll be using during their trip.

    Obviously, there is power in greeting visitors, the trick is doing it in a way that comforts or makes more convenient without freaking them out! That will always be our responsibility as marketers.

  3. Bill Gammell says:


    I think we’ve missed on some of the “boring” things like voice mail messages, invoices, 404 “web page not found” screens, automatic e-mail “out of office” alerts, business cards, sales receipts, parking, waiting lines, company bathrooms, etc. The list of things to make the profane into something profound is endless.

  4. Tom,

    It probably depends on the industry, but when it comes to air travel you are so right. People are so used to being treated like cattle that the slightest sign of humanity is remarkable.

    I think in many cases, just MEETING expectations is a wow. Sad but true.


  5. John,

    The boarding pass wasn’t creepy because I knew how he got my name. But if he’d started spouting off all teh destinations I’d had in the last month or knew I preferred Hotel A over Hotel B, that would have been creepy.

    I’ll be curious to learn more about how you coach clients to, as you say, comfort not freak someone out.

    How has your company dealt with the inevitable Big Brother comparisons?


  6. Bill,

    So true. We work with clients to identify all of those “touchpoints” and brand each and every one of them. As you say, part of what is remarkable about having something “special” happen is because by themselves, the little things (sales receipts etc.) are utterly un-remarkable.


  7. Drew,

    Here’s an example of how we reduce the spookiness of our Semanticator technology:

    In the automotive industry, we have been altering our clients’ home pages based on competitive threat. So, if our client is Chevrolet – we might be on the lookout for those also shopping Ford – specifically the Ford F-150 pickup. Now, when they arrive at our Chevy website, we might greet them with a comparison of the F-150 to the Silverado. And, to remove the spook factor – we would also compare to the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra.

    That approach turns spooking into helpful and convenient. Best of all, it’s working!

  8. Chris Posey says:

    Nice post Drew. Making personal contact is such a simple and frequently overlooked aspect of services marketing. Maybe it’s just that managers assume that their front-line service employees are making personal connections? I don’t know, but there’s really no excuse for not implementing such a simple and FREE initiative. Tom, you’re right: this is just plain fundamental. Marketing departments and HR departments needs to be discussing things like this.

  9. John,

    Seriously fascinating. I need to check out your site and get some more information. I’ll bet it’s working!


  10. Chris,

    All too often, we marketers go searching for the newest, flashiest thing instead of making sure we’ve got the basics perfected.

    I wonder what the CEO of Coke or Nike would say if they saw thank you notes on the company’s marketing plan?


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