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What Delta and Tom Ford have in common

More than $8 billion in product investments are a hallmark of Delta’s evolution from a commoditized experience – a seat on a plane from point A to point B – to an array of offerings for all customers. Tim Mapes, Delta Senior Vice President – Marketing discussed the airline’s approach to appealing to and providing products aimed at different types of customers with CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg on stage the recent Phocuswright 2015 conference.

“I think the biggest thing that we focus on, with the customer at the center of everything we do,” Mapes said, “is the continued evolution from what was, at one point almost a one-size-fits-all model … to how do we provide experiences, products and the distribution of those products for [distinct customer] segments.”

Delta in 2014 announced five distinct products  – air travel options with varying amenities included in the cost of the fare – available to customers on its flights. This month, when Delta made the move to offer its Delta Comfort+ product as a fare for U.S. flights (previously available as an add-on seating option), the airline also updated delta.com to clearly display all segmented fare options ranging from Delta One to Basic Economy. Similarly, Delta works with its joint venture airline and distribution partners to ensure the same level of transparency to its products through those distribution channels.

“When you look at our marketing line, Keep Climbing,” he said, “the idea is very much based actually on the Japanese concept of Kaizen which [requires that]: every element of the customer experience, from [that affected by] the CEO to the janitor has got to continue to improve every day.”

While the airline has made its fares and content available more than 90 percent of global distribution systems, online travel agencies and metasearch engines, it rejects the notion that it should share its product and fare data with every third-party app or website displaying air travel options to customers.

“The same way [fashion designer] Tom Ford doesn’t sell his suits through [‘Cheapo Suits’ and] every distribution channel, Delta has no intention of sharing and distributing our content in places we don’t think are brand accretive,” Mapes said making a comparison to Delta’s approach to working with partners whose attributes align with its brand and strategy.

He continued, explaining that channels displaying airfares need to evolve to more clearly distinguish the features and benefits of different products.

“There’s a difference between ‘dinner,’ which tends to appear in most distribution systems,” Mapes explained, “and a chef-driven meal [and other differences that] most distribution today still doesn’t fully merchandise and demonstrate.”

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