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How Mango Airlines has Succeeded in Customer Engagement (CEO Interview)

Everyone reading this blog, I’m safely assuming, books most of your airline tickets online. Without question, it is the easiest and most cost-effective way (for all parties involved) to make a booking. So it makes sense that a startup airline would focus its distribution strategy around direct online sales. However, imagine if you were tasked with launching an airline in a market where only 10 percent of the people have reliable Internet access. And of those, a small percentage trusted online payment systems. What would that do to your customer engagement and distribution strategies?

I had the great opportunity to interview Nico Bezuidenhout, CEO of South Africa’s Mango Airlines who faced the exact challenge described above, at Aviation Outlook Africa in Johannesburg last week. I have highlighted different topics we discussed below, with the full video interview available at the end of this post.

Mapping Distribution Strategy to the Mission

Mango was launched in 2006 with a very specific task: expand South Africa’s aviation market. In what was already a relatively small market to begin with, Mango was diving into direct competition with both an established legacy (South African Airways) and low-cost carrier (Kulula) that seemed to have both ends of the market covered. So Mango built a cost structure that made air travel accessible to South Africans to whom it was previously just a dream, and therefore was able to elbow its way into the crowded market.

But creating the airline and flying the planes is only half the battle. How did Mango sell enough seats to become successful, considering the majority of those potential first-time flyers fell under that 90 percent of the population without online access?

Engaging Customers on Their Level

For most of the world, we know of a few ways to book air travel. If we can’t do it through an airline’s website, we know of other online booking engines we can go to. If that doesn’t work, we probably know of a local travel agent, or an airline’s local office. But would you ever consider adding an airplane ticket to your grocery list?

Because Mango knew that many of it’s desired first-time travelers were not online, they went to where these people did congregate—selling tickets through grocery stores and other retail outlets. Because only 10 percent of the South African market has a credit card (another challenge), it also developed an innovative credit scheme where it would accept credit purchases through some of these retailers. As a result, Mango was successful in doing exactly what it set out to do—make air travel accessible to people to whom it previously was not—effectively creating a new market segment.

So, What About Social?

Despite this innovative distribution strategy, Mango has also ironically established quite a reputation for its deft use of social media—for brand recognition, to communicate special deals, and even as part of its recruitment strategy. But does this make sense when Internet access is available to so few, as pointed out earlier?

Of course it does. As Bezuidenhout points out, while only 10 percent of the population has Internet access, that also overlaps 93 percent of the current aviation market. In other words, almost everyone who can afford to fly, or does so regularly, is also part of that 10 percent online.

A Success Story–Haute Fashion!

One of Mango’s best social accomplishments to date was the dress pictured below, which was modeled at this year’s Vodacom Durban July—a horse race that doubles up as one of the premier social and fashion events in South Africa. Created almost entirely from discarded boarding passes, the dress created a huge viral buzz for Mango, sending a message to the world that Mango is both an environmentally-conscious and fashionable airline. Through photographs that were tagged on facebook and eventually picked up by blogs, as well as the traditional media mentions that those led to, the dress generated millions of impressions for Mango.

A Culture Built From Engagement

Whether through retail partner sales outlets or its innovative social media efforts, Bezuidenhout is big on relationships, and it shows. Managing an airline that succeeds on cost structure means that Mango obviously cannot offer customers some of the luxuries that legacy carriers do. However, Bezuidenhout and his staff go to great lengths to differentiate by engaging its customer base, being responsive and truly listening to understand what makes Mango customers happy.

See my full interview with Bezuidenhout below! It’s a little quiet, so listen carefully :-)…

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One Comment to "How Mango Airlines has Succeeded in Customer Engagement (CEO Interview)"

  1. Ben says:

    This a very cool article. It really is amazing to see the creative and intelligent ways companies accommodate and adjust to various marketing difficulties. I think its pretty interesting to see the role social media plays even in a country whose airline market is so technologically thin. Citing a personal example, I recently used a ticketing online company called Ticketbud (http://www.ticketbud.com) when I was selling tickets for a fundraiser I was hosting and one of the extra features was easy access and links to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It was truly amazing to actually see how powerful social media was as I was quickly and cheaply able to spread the word about my events and various deals I was offering to so many more people than I usually could reach. Mango definitely took full advantage of social media and it looks like they’re reaping the benefits. Again, great article. Cheers!

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