Tie Startup Expo: Learnings from the Vice President of Marketing, Lufthansa Airlines.

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India has firmly established itself as a major centre for entrepreneurship the world over and the recently held Startup Expo organized by TiE and Lufthansa only served to further reinforce this. It was a mammoth affair that brought together players from across the ecosystem, be it investors, entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups and SME’s. This grand affair culminated at The Epicentre in Gurgaon and saw over a 100 startups demoing their products as well as a special section for food startups, which we couldn’t get enough of.

Various sessions took place through the course of the day and we were lucky enough to attend some of them. However, one session that particularly stood out was conducted by Mr. Alexander Schlaubitz, Vice President, Marketing, Lufthansa Airlines.

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He started the session with a simple yet impactful line: “Innovation begins with empathy.” Innovation has been described in so many different ways but this one really jumped off the page. What it meant was that innovation begins with people developing a deep connection with the people they serve and how brands always prosper when they’re able to operate with empathy for the world around them.

Now, we all understand empathy on a personal level but widespread empathy means getting every person in your organisation to have a gut level intuition for all the people who buy your product or service.

How many people have had that moment when they’ve been staring at their competitors product saying “Hey, we had that idea like 2 years ago, what happened?”

Well, be it because people got in the way with irrelevant questions or because you eventually became convinced that it wasn’t a good idea, it fundamentally comes down to that fact that everyone in your organisation isn’t on the same page. Widespread empathy solves that! For example, most employees at Nike who develop running shoes are runners themselves. So, even if the market research isn’t the best, the product always ends up being awesome.

Applying widespread empathy to everything you do is what Mr. Schlaubitz demonstrated oh so well. For instance, he observed that all the Lufsthansa hoardings throughout the city and inside the airport were the same. Keep in mind, if you have a hoarding at the airport, your customer has already booked a ticket and is at the airport as opposed to someone on the street who needs to first be convinced to do all of those things. So how can the message be the same?

So, Lufthansa designed multiple hoardings at the airport which revolved around three things that one feels before catching a flight; Pre-vacation excitement, pre-business trip anxiousness and sadness, because you’re leaving someone whom you’re really going to miss.

So, on one hoarding they created something along the lines of, “Don’t be sad, they’ll be back soon” which, interestingly also doubled up as a tissue dispenser. Simple as peas and yet so effective. Another great thing they did was install a printer outside every arrival gate which allowed you to print a personal message for the person whom you’re waiting on. So whether it was “baby, I’m so glad you’re back” or “welcome home doofus”, the choice was yours. Every printout had a tiny Lufthansa logo to ensure brand visibilty and top of the mind brand recall.

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Innovation begins with people developing a deep connection with the people they serve.

Another thing he harped on was to always make sure your brand is three things: relevant, honourable and differentiable. We completely agree with you, sir. He said that just because an activity has a digital backbone doesn’t mean it needs to be put out in pixels and this thought took the 360° Lufthansa experience idea on-ground.

He also gave us a brilliant answer to the million dollar question that was on everyone’s mind at the expo. What’s the one primary thing that differentiates a startup from a large corporation? The respect for the usage of human capital, he said. Spot on, we’d say!

The primary thing that differentiates a startup from a large corporation is the respect for human capital.

So remember guys, it’s all about widespread empathy. If you have that in place, all else follows. The key to good marketing and brand building isn’t spending pot loads of money but it’s all about understanding your consumer, empathising with them.

Take Lufthansa for example, a brand that probably has no shortage of marketing budgets but a small inexpensive idea like installing a printer at the arrival gate as mentioned earlier in this post, struck a deeper chord amongst customers than most big budget ad films. An activity like that made customers feel like Lufthansa really cares about them, so the next time they think about booking a flight, the first thing that comes to their mind will be Lufthansa. How’s that for innovation?!

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