DF&TR must create new customer engagement model, says CircleSquare

By Andrew Pentol |

CircleSquare Experiential interview chartExperiential marketing specialist CircleSquare is urging the travel retail industry to challenge the status quo of customer engagement and consider a new extended customer journey approach.

In what the company describes as a ‘defining moment’ for the channel, the agency, which recently took part in this publication’s Adapt & Survive Skype video series, says the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis is accelerating a digital transformation the industry was ‘bound to go through’ to stay relevant.

With passenger numbers likely to be depressed until 2023, according to the International Air Transport Association, CircleSquare believes the relative numbers of a smaller customer base are becoming increasingly important and that a new approach is urgently needed.

Stephane Zermatten, Partner, CircleSquare said: “We can’t rely on the airport’s natural traffic anymore. We need to think differently. We need to come up with a new customer engagement model that allows us to increase footfall, dwell time and engagement with our customers — a model that even takes the conversation away from the prices.”

CircleSquare, which has offices in London, Hong Kong (where Zermatten is based), Singapore, Dubai and Taipei, demonstrated its experiential know-how 10 years ago with the launch of Hendrick’s Gin into the channel. Zermatten said: “Since then, to some extent, every brand has done a variation of this, with an underlying model that remains identical.


“This has been via an in-store or concourse activation with little thought given to communication beyond what is happening inside the airport.”

Stephane Zermatten, Managing Partner, CircleSquare

Zermatten (pictured left) says the travel retail industry should follow the lead of local markets in terms of how brands engage with customers. “There is no more online and offline engagement, but a complete channel agnosticism.

“Customers expect to be engaged with a consistent and relevant message delivered seamlessly across all touch-points of their journey.”

He added: “Obviously, for travel retail this implies a collaboration between all stakeholders. I’m glad to see these discussions are gaining traction in the industry.

“Brands also need to consider collaborating with their local market counterparts in order to communicate seamlessly along customers’ entire journey.”

An example of this is the work undertaken by CircleSquare last summer in partnership with Luxottica. “We targeted shoppers on social media with personalised messages before their trip, effectively driving awareness of the campaign and creating footfall to the physical activation at Hamburg Airport.

“The result was one single campaign across digital media and physical retail space.”

Zermatten also highlights the relaunch of Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer shop on the AOE platform last year. “This is another great recent example of how a retailer can engage with shoppers across a long journey and deliver personalised experiences to the consumer.”

The aforementioned new approach to customer engagement should also encompass advocacy and repeat purchase.

“It is important that customers take a little piece of their in-store experience with them, to share online or pass on to their friends. This will ensure the connection with the brand continues after the purchase,”

Zermatten noted. “In Singapore for example, the average passenger travels six times a year. Is that not an opportunity to work on loyalty at a local level?”

Digital and online initiatives are expected to be prominent in the post Covid-19 world, but physical retail remains alive. “Touching, smelling and physically experiencing products will come back in time, but the role of the shops needs to change.

CircleSquare Luxottica campaign

CircleSquare used social to drive awareness of a Luxottica activation at Hamburg Airport last year.

“Physical retail has to be defined by experiences that cannot be delivered on a mobile phone. It has to become less transactional and more experiential.”

Zermatten concluded: “We have to look at our customers’ entire travel journey, from booking to destination and challenge our way of working together. Real value will come from delivering a seamless shopping experience spanning digital and physical touch-points.”

CircleSquare Oakley Hamburg activation


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